Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Disband UNWRA (National Post)

The United Nations should disband its main Palestinian aid organization, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNWRA).
The agency was conceived almost six decades ago to help Palestinians displaced after Israel's 1948 War of Independence. But it has since become intertwined with some of the most radical elements in Palestinian society. Indeed, UNWRA may in fact be worsening the Palestinian plight by facilitating the four-year-old terrorist war that has so devastated life in the West Bank and Gaza. At the very least, UNWRA's affiliation with terrorists is bringing shame upon the United Nations.

This disgrace has been acute of late. This past weekend, Peter Hansen, UNWRA's commissioner-general, disclosed in a CBC interview that members of Hamas are on the agency's payroll. In May, after Palestinian terrorists killed 11 Israeli soldiers in the Gaza strip, UNWRA ambulances were caught on tape smuggling terrorists out of the area. Late that same month, an Israeli newscast broadcast footage showing armed terrorists using UNWRA ambulances to flee. And last week, the Israeli army released additional footage that depicts more incidents in which UNWRA relief vehicles have been used to ferry terrorists throughout the disputed territories.

UNWRA's complicity goes beyond terrorist ground transportation. On several occasions, UNWRA-administered schools in Palestinian camps have been found to be teaching anti-Semitism and hatred of Israel. Israeli troops searching Palestinian schools in Ramallah in September, 2002, found classrooms plastered with posters glorifying suicide attacks. The Israeli government and some aid agencies have also concluded that UNWRA turns a blind eye to Palestinian theft of food and medicine destined for refugees from UN warehouses, for sale on the black market.

Mr. Hansen's reaction to such allegations exemplifies the agency's see-no-evil approach: UNWRA may employ Hamas members, he says, but they are not actually terrorists. Rather, they are supposedly from the organization's medical, educational or political wings. It's similar to the line Ottawa used to offer for not outlawing Hezbollah and its fundraisers in Canada: Yes, Hezbollah employs terrorists, the Department of Foreign Affairs would concede, but what Canada is permitting is only fundraising for Hezbollah' 'humanitarian' operations, such as its hospitals and schools.

Canada's government eventually disabused itself of such nonsense, and so should the world community in regard to UNWRA: Though Hamas may operate community services to help build support and spread propaganda, its raison-d'etre has nothing do with healing people, but rather killing them. Hamas observes no hard and fast internal distinctions in its operations, and the organization's ultimate goal -- the destruction of Israel -- remains constant. Every Hamas member drawing an UNWRA salary frees up money in Hamas's budget for terror operations.

In the short term, eliminating UNWRA would pose logistical challenges: Other agencies and nations would have to step in to deliver the humanitarian assistance the agency provides. But in the long term, it would be in the Palestinians' own best interests. When the refugee camps were originally established, the world community imagined they would be temporary -- and that neighbouring countries would soon find a permanent home for their occupants. But Arab nations refused to co-operate, preferring instead to keep the Palestinians locked up as an ongoing diorama of Arab victimization. Thus are Palestinians kept in an endless state of dependency and transience, with many still entertaining delusions that they will someday be allowed to return to their ancestral homes in Israel.

It has long been believed that UNWRA would keep operating until Palestinians and Jews made peace. But given the organization's role in abetting terror, the world cannot wait that long.