Wednesday, February 07, 2024

‘No evidence’ to support Israel’s claim that Hamas has infiltrated UN relief agency: report

Israel-Gaza live updates: UNRWA warns operations will be shut down soon  without funding | WBAL Baltimore News

A report released on February 5 found there was “no evidence” to support Israel’s claim that the main United Nations agency providing humanitarian relief in Gaza contained members of Hamas.

Following Israeli reports of Hamas infiltration, aid to UNRWA – The United Nations Relief and Welfare Agency – was suspended in a move which some claim will lead to “mass starvation.”

British journalist Lindsey Hilsum described how she gained access to the Israeli dossier (which has not been received by the U.N.) whose contents led the United States, the U.K., the EU, and fifteen further nations to freeze funding in a move which her report claims will lead “to mass starvation.”

“The document repeats an allegation the Israel Defense Force has made many times,” Hilsum noted.

Quoting directly from the dossier, she stated “that the Hamas terrorist organization has been methodically and deliberately emplacing its terrorist infrastructure in a wide range of U.N. facilities and assets”

Hilsum continues, “But [it] provides no evidence to support its explosive new claim that U.N. staff were involved in the terror attacks on Israel.”

Hilsum’s report, aired by the U.K.’s Channel 4 News on February 5, details the global impact of the Israeli dossier. Inspired by these unevidenced claims the U.N. agency, “on which up to 2 million Gazans depend,” has been deprived of over $600 million.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken affirmed the allegations whilst also conceding the U.S. had done nothing to verify them. His admission was ignored by the press.

In remarks reported by the Jerusalem Post on January 29, Blinken said, “We haven’t had the ability to investigate [the allegations] ourselves, but they are highly, highly credible”

The Jerusalem Post report continued:

[Blinken] spoke after Israel provided UNRWA with data alleging that 12 of its staff had been part of the October 7 attack.

Blinken closed out his comments with a determination to see ‘measures are put in place so that this doesn’t happen again.’

Yet this did not happen – and the “measures” considered by Israel now include laws to criminalize UNRWA across Israel.

Claims made by Netanyahu

Hilsum’s report follows comments made last week by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said, “UNRWA is totally infiltrated with Hamas.”

His remarks, reported by the Times of Israel on February 1, were followed by a statement on Twitter showing that the Israeli government seeks to destroy UNRWA, and not merely suspend its funding.

Speaking with a U.N. delegation in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said, “It’s time that the international community and the U.N. itself understand that UNRWA’s mission has to end.”

A separate report by the JNS – Jewish News Syndicate – reported the Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant describing UNRWA as “Hamas with a facelift.”

Israel has mounted a concerted international media campaign, both online and offline, in support of its actions around the war.

Netanyahu has repeatedly attacked the press in Israel, while international agencies describe the dangers of covering the war in Gaza as including “attacks, arrests, threats and censorship.”

Impact on US media

The push for information dominance has led to international exposure for the claims against the U.N. aid agency, for which Israel has supplied no evidence. These claims were backed by reports in the U.S. media of widespread Hamas infiltration of UNRWA.

On Sunday, January 28, the New York Times reported that “Israeli officials have presented evidence they say ties workers at a Palestinian aid agency in Gaza to violence during the Hamas-led attack on Israel.”

As the JNS said in an additional report, the New York Times repeated on January 29 a claim that 12 of the approximately 30,000 workers of UNRWA were active in the October 7 attacks:

The New York Times broke the story that 12 staff members took part in the Oct. 7 massacre – in which Hamas terrorists rampaged through Israel’s south, murdering some 1,200 persons, mostly civilians.

The Wall Street Journal, in a report on the same day, echoed the claim – adding that 10 percent of UNRWA had ties to Islamic militias:

At least 12 employees of the U.N.’s Palestinian refugee agency had connections to Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel and around 10% of all of its Gaza staff have ties to Islamist militant groups, according to intelligence reports reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Response to charges of genocide

On the day the International Court of Justice ruled that charges of genocide against Israel were plausible, the United States declined to comment on the case.

Instead, the Biden administration released a statement announcing the immediate suspension to all financial support to UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Welfare Agency which funds humanitarian efforts in Gaza.

Following the confidential Israeli dossier, the U.S. government claimed that members of Hamas were embedded in the organization.

The EU and 16 other nations followed suit.

In ordering Israel to halt any actions likely to result in genocide, the International Court of Justice ruled:

Israel must take immediate and effective measures to enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance [to Gaza].

Israel’s immediate response was the opposite. In violation of the genocide convention, it has not taken measures to ensure basic aid to Gaza. Instead, it published a dossier to direct its allies to shut it down, leading a media assault in service of a long-term plan to expel UNRWA from Israel completely.

Numerous online commentators are alleging the Israeli accusations are revenge for the fact that UNRWA staff were the source of many of the charges against Israel presented to the ICJ court hearings such as here and here that resulted in an unexpected, nearly unanimous decision against Israel.

In a segment from Breaking Point it was also alleged that the current number of UNRWA staff alleged to have been involved in the Oct. 7 attack is now down to 6 of its 30,000 staff.

Chris Gunness, the former chief spokesman for UNRWA, said in the report that this represented the “weaponizing” of UNRWA, and could spark a widespread famine. According to Gunness, removing this aid “will devastate the lives of 1.2 million people who were on UNRWA’s  food lines even before the 7th of October and that’s going to get longer… It will undoubtedly if unsuspended lead to mass starvation.”

Gunness pointed out that UNRWA provides for millions more displaced Palestinians across the region.

Apart from emergency aid UNRWA runs schools, hospitals and other services for 5.9 million Palestinian refugees across the Middle East.

Gunness claims the move is one which seeks to “weaponize” humanitarian aid, and is therefore a criminal act.

It is utterly shocking that the donors who accuse UNRWA of instrumentalizing aid… are themselves weaponizing UNRWA.

It is a violation of international humanitarian law… and arguably of the genocide convention itself.

The move has renewed calls from Likud Member of the Knesset Nir Barkat to permanently oust UNRWA from all of its operations in Israel. The former mayor of Jerusalem tried to pass such a bill in 2019, seeking in the same year to outlaw UNRWA completely. The Times of Israel reported last week he was attempting to revive his plan, which would criminalize UNRWA activities in all sovereign Israeli territory.

It is a plan which presages future Israeli policy on humanitarian aid to Palestinians, as Barkat has been touted as a contender to succeed Netanyahu in the future as Prime Minister.

Vetted by Israel

Hilsum reports that UNRWA employs 13,000 Gazans who were all vetted by Israeli security services “as recently as last May.”

UNRWA immediately fired the employees named in the dossier, despite there being no evidence provided to demonstrate their involvement in the October 7 attacks.

Hilsum’s Channel 4 report shows EU foreign policy chief Josip Borrell saying, “We cannot punish 2 million people by depriving them of the support that UNRWA is providing.”

In a statement reported February 4, Borrell agreed that the defunding of UNRWA would worsen the situation of over a million people already facing food shortages:

While some important donors suspended funding, there is a wide recognition that UNRWA is central to providing vital aid to more than 1.1 million people in Gaza suffering from catastrophic hunger and the outbreak of diseases.

Defunding the agency would put hundreds of thousands of lives at risk.

In a later post on Twitter, Borrell stated the suspension of aid amounted to “collective punishment,” which is defined as a war crime under international conventions. He maintains that an investigation is necessary to substantiate the claims of Hamas “infiltration” made by the Israelis.

Pending the results of a U.N. investigation, updated on February 5, the EU has joined the US-led bloc of nations in suspending all aid to UNRWA.

Crisis in Gaza

Israeli civilians have repeatedly blockaded convoys of aid attempting to enter Gaza via the Egyptian border.

In an interview with LifeSiteNews, the auxiliary bishop of Jerusalem, Mgr. William Shomali, said that direct aid to the Holy Family Parish in northern Gaza was only possible via helicopter. Two such drops had been made by the Jordanian government, one to the neighborhood, and one directly to the Church compound.

In a situation where over 27,000 civilians have been killed, and where destroyed roads are flanked with the rubble of former houses and hospitals, coordinated relief efforts are vital to distribute dwindling food and water supplies to the people of Gaza, which includes the small Christian and Catholic community.

UNRWA statement 

UNRWA’s statement on January 27 came ahead of the Channel 4 report and its revelations.

UNRWA is the primary humanitarian agency in Gaza, with over 2 million people depending on it for their sheer survival. Many are hungry as the clock is ticking towards a looming famine.

The Agency runs shelters for over 1 million people and provides food and primary healthcare even at the height of the hostilities.

The statement concluded with an appeal from Philippe Lazzarini, U.N. commissioner general:

I urge countries who have suspended their funding to re-consider their decisions before UNRWA is forced to suspend its humanitarian response.

The lives of people in Gaza depend on this support and so does regional stability.

‘This war is media war’

Lazzarini spoke out earlier in December, warning of the “smear campaigns” against Palestinians and the aid agencies which provide humanitarian relief:

This war is also fought on TV screens and on social media. It’s also a media war. I am horrified at the smear campaigns that target Palestinians and those who provide aid to them…

I am asking you to help us push back against misinformation and inaccuracies. I know that some of you are constantly doing fact-checking but fact-checking is absolutely key if we want accurate information.

“I am horrified at the smear campaigns that target Palestinians and those who provide aid to them.”@UNLazzarini: As Commissioner General of @UNRWA, I have experienced this more than once, since our Agency is also one of the targets in this war.

— UNRWA (@UNRWA) December 16, 2023

Efforts by the Israeli government to censor the media in Israel intensified following the October 7 attacks, with Ha’Aretz reporting on a “campaign to abolish freedom of expression” led by the communications minister, Shlomo Karhi. In addition, the approximately 118 journalists killed in Israel during the conflict, mostly as a result of IDF actions, is reported to have exceeded the number of journalists killed in any other war since WWII.

The October 27 report combines a domestic effort to enforce Israeli government control over domestic news with a strategy to dominate international coverage of its actions.

As Lindsey Hilsum’s report shows, this strategy has been successful in moving international governments to support the aims of Israel – despite the absence of evidence.