UNRWA: Stop Israel's violent campaign against us

UNRWA: Stop Israel's violent campaign against us

Mr. Lazzarini is Commissioner General of the United Nations Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

The war in Gaza has resulted in blatant disregard for the UN mission, including outrageous attacks on the employees, facilities and operations of the UN Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Middle East. (UNRWA).

These attacks must stop and the world must act to hold their perpetrators accountable.

As I write this, our agency has counted at least 192 UNRWA employees killed in Gaza. More than 170 UNRWA premises were damaged or destroyed. Schools run by UNRWA have been demolished; Some 450 displaced people were killed while sheltering in schools and other UNRWA facilities. Since October 7, Israeli security forces have arrested UNRWA personnel in Gaza, who have reported torture and mistreatment during their detention in the Gaza Strip and Israel.

UNRWA personnel are regularly harassed and humiliated at Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. The Agency's facilities are used by Israeli security forces, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups for military purposes.

UNRWA is not the only UN agency in danger. In April, World Food Program and UNICEF vehicles were hit by gunfire, apparently inadvertently, despite coordination with Israeli authorities.

The attack on UNRWA spread to East Jerusalem, where a member of the Jerusalem municipality helped incite protests against UNRWA. The protests became increasingly dangerous, with at least two arson attacks on the UNRWA compound, and crowds including Israeli children gathering outside our offices chanting “Let the UN burn.” burns”). At other times, protesters threw stones.

Israeli officials are not only threatening the work of our staff and our mission, they are also delegitimizing UNRWA by describing it as a terrorist organization that encourages extremism, and by labeling UN leaders as terrorists who collude with the Hamas. In doing so, they set a dangerous precedent with the systematic targeting of United Nations personnel and premises.

How is it possible ? Where is the international outrage? Its absence allows contempt for the United Nations and opens the way to impunity and chaos. If we tolerate such attacks in the context of Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, we cannot uphold humanitarian principles in other conflicts around the world. This attack on the United Nations will further reduce our levers for peace and defense against inhumanity throughout the world. It should not become the new norm.

While Israel has long been hostile to UNRWA, following the heinous attacks of October 7, it launched a campaign to equate UNRWA with Hamas and portray the agency as promoting extremism. As part of a new phase of this campaign, the Israeli government has made serious allegations that UNRWA employees were involved in the Hamas attack.

There is no doubt that those accused of criminal acts, including in the deplorable attack on Israel, must be investigated. This is exactly what the United Nations does. These people must be held accountable through criminal prosecution and, if found guilty, must be punished.

The Office of Internal Oversight Services, the main investigative body of the United Nations system, is overseeing this investigation. It examines allegations concerning 19 of the 13,000 UNRWA personnel in Gaza. To date, one case has been closed due to lack of evidence. Four cases were suspended because there was insufficient information to continue the investigation. Fourteen others remain under investigation.

But we must distinguish individual behavior from the agency's mandate, which is to serve Palestinian refugees. It is unfair and dishonest to attack the UNRWA mission based on these allegations.

Aside from these cases, there have been other allegations of collusion with Hamas, which I believe made UN humanitarian workers and assets appear – in the eyes of some – as legitimate targets. This is a danger for UN workers everywhere. The world must act decisively in the face of illegitimate attacks on the United Nations, not only for Gaza and the Palestinians, but for all nations. Last week's adoption by the United Nations Security Council of Resolution 2730 on the protection of humanitarian personnel represents a positive step.

The international community has means to combat international crimes, such as the International Criminal Court. However, the scale and scope of attacks against United Nations personnel and premises in the occupied Palestinian territories over the past seven months require the urgent establishment of a specialized and independent investigative body, through a resolution of the UN Security Council or the General Assembly, in order to establish the facts and identify those responsible for the attacks against UN agencies. Such an investigative body can ensure accountability and, above all, help reaffirm the sanctity of international law.

We must effectively defend the institutions of the UN and the values ​​they represent before the symbolic trampling of the charter establishing the United Nations. This objective can only be achieved through principled action by the nations of the world and through a commitment by all to peace and justice.

Translation: SD for Palestine Media Agency

Source: NY Times