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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

UNRWA tries to sweep incidents under the rug

I again asked the UN Spokesperson whether he could confirm or deny that a humanitarian aid convoy was hijacked by (presumably Hamas) gunmen, as reported by the official Jordanian news agency. (My initial posting on the event is here, my earlier correspondence with him is here.)

My question was:
Have you yet been able to confirm whether any trucks meant for UNRWA were attacked as Petra reported?
The reply this time is:
No which suggests it may not be true as our gaza office r normally quick to get back to me. pls send link to your site so I can see who you are. Thanks. C
When dealing with official spokespersons, one must parse their words carefully. For example, Mr. Gunness can be seen here on TV saying that he is "99.9% certain" that no terrorists were in the UNRWA school that was damaged from IDF bombs in an incident that killed 40 people, but the interviewer doesn't ask whether any fighters were immediately outside the school nor whether there were any explosives in the school itself, that could have detonated from secondary explosions set off by IDF shrapnel in shooting back at mortar fire. This explanation is consistent with both what the IDF and UNRWA spokespersons said but most reporters would not think to ask about it.

In this case, Chris is saying that he did not receive any answer from Gaza yet (he is based in Jerusalem,) which "suggests" that the incident never happened. It may also "suggest" that it did happen and that the Gaza UNRWA employees are not anxious to blame anything on Hamas, ever.

Finally, a newspaper has tried to get more information. From the Jordan Times:
Anonymous armed men captured a 13-truck convoy laden with foodstuff donated by Jordanians after entering the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian official told The Jordan Times Tuesday.
Now we have two sources.

Neither the convoy’s drivers nor the trucks, which entered Gaza at the Karm Abu Salem crossing, are Jordanian, said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The drivers were released; the hijackers drove the trucks.

The shipment was unloaded from a Jordanian convoy after it crossed into the Palestinian territories and then carried by non-Jordanian trucks rented by UNRWA into Gaza.

The Palestinian Authority official said: “This is not the first incident of this kind. We have learned that the food items, which were supposed to be given to Gazans for free, were being sold in the marketplace in Gaza City.”

On Monday, an 11-truck convoy carrying food items from Kuwait was also seized at gunpoint, he added.

The Jordan Hashemite Charity Organisation spokesperson denied he was informed of any hijacked aid convoys.

Government officials in Amman did not know about the case or were not available for comment.

UNRWA spokesperson Sami Mshasha told The Jordan Times on the phone from Jerusalem that he was not aware of any hijacked aid convoy, being busy with arrangements for the visit of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to Gaza.

Mshasha said he would follow up on the report, but remained unavailable despite repeated attempts by The Jordan Times to contact him.

There were details here that were not in the original: the number of trucks hijacked, the thought that a Kuwaiti convoy was similarly hijacked, and a couple of details at odds with the original report (such as that the truck drivers were released.) UNRWA's reluctance to get back to the Jordan Times reporter is also very interesting.

I don't think that I will get any more information from UNRWA. My guess is that the reports are essentially true; it is very consistent with reports on how Hamas acts for the past year and, as we have seen, there has not been a denial about this one nor any of the four previous instances that I enumerated, only spin. The UNRWA in Gaza, just like the reporters there, live in a constant fear of Hamas (and are generally sympathetic with Hamas' political aims as well) and as a result one will have a hard time finding the truth from named sources who are afraid that they will be shot in the legs, or worse, for making Hamas look bad.

Parenthetically, after Chris realized I had sent the link, he asked me:
where do u fit in politically? C
I answered:
I'm not sure why that is relevant, but you can see from my site that I would be considered a fairly hawkish Zionist. I spend a great deal of time trying to understand the Palestinian Arab psyche, and I am much harsher on their leadership than on the people.
Also parenthetically, I had a correspondence with this same UN spokesman last April, where he tried to diminish a fairly ugly incident where the UNRWA on the West Bank was attacked by Palestinian Arabs and shut down for three days, an incident that UNRWA never put on its website:
HI there,

There had been problems but these have now been avoided for the time being.

Chris
As I posted then:
To the UNRWA, violent attacks by the people they are meant to help are embarrassing events that should never be mentioned to the public because the UNRWA is emotionally invested in making sure that the Palestinian Arabs appear purely as victims and never - never - as being partially responsible for their own problems.
This is the fundamental reason why Israel is regularly castigated by the UNRWA, but Hamas gets a free pass.

UPDATE: More correspondence:
Is there condemnation on your site (which your link didn't get me into) of the white phosphorous attacks on neutral UN compounds? Does it carry the Secretary General statement calling for those responsible to be punished? Chris

And my response:
My site is a blog and it clearly has biases. While I do not attempt to be a comprehensive news source and my choices of stories reflect my bias, I do attempt to be as accurate as possible. (Which is not altogether different from the mainstream media, although they are not willing to admit their biases from either the right or the left.) The blog is a part-time hobby and there is no way for me to cover everything, so I tend to try to find stories that others do not cover. (And, yes, I am quite critical of UNRWA on the site.)

I touched on the white phosphorus issue, and one of my commenters wrote a comprehensive essay on the topic. My understanding is that its use is legal for illumination and for smoke screens, and that there is no evidence that the IDF used it in an illegal manner. In my opinion, it makes no sense for the IDF, as well armed as it is, to use that tool as an offensive weapon since there are plenty of legal weapons at its disposal, and it makes even less sense for the IDF to target civilians nor UNRWA facilities deliberately. The Red Cross said that they had no evidence of illegal use of white phosphorus as well. (My guess is that some of the phosphorus shells may have been exploded closer to the ground than was intended and some people may have been hurt as a result, but I am no military expert.)

My latest posting on our correspondence is here:http://elderofziyon.blogspot.com/2009/01/unrwa-tries-to-sweep-incidents-under.html with links to earlier posts. You are welcome to comment, of course.

Thanks again,