Israel – UN Relations

The current round of violence in the Middle East has caused much worldwide debate. Europe and the rest of the world have been in the Palestinian camp, while the U.S. has generally backed Israel while trying to maintain relations with the Arab nations it strives to ally with in its war on terrorism. At the same time UN officials have leveled extreme charges against Israel. So what else is new? In terms of how Israel is treated by the UN, perhaps nothing. But the seriousness of the present situation cries out for the UN to act as an honest broker, while continuing UN bias against Israel suggests that the UN will not play a constructive role in finding a solution to the present crisis.

UN Treatment of Israel and Refugees
There are almost 200 members of the United Nations, and of those only Israel has been assigned reduced membership privileges. The most vivid illustration of this is that Israel has been the only member nation consistently denied admission into a regional group; the Arab states prevented Israeli membership in the Asian Regional Group, Israel’s natural geopolitical grouping. Without such membership, Israel was not able to be nominated for most important UN positions, such as membership in the Security Council. (Syria, which hosts many terror groups, including Hezbollah-explicitly declared a terrorist organization by the U.S.-currently sits on the Security Council.) As a result, Israel sought entry into the Western and Others Group, and was finally granted temporary membership in that group in May 2000. Moreover, the UN Security Council has devoted almost a third of its resolutions to criticizing Israel-despite the fact that Israel is the size of Rhode Island, is inhabited by only 6 million people, is the only democracy in the Middle East, and is surrounded by 21 hostile Arab governments and 250 million Arabs.

Moreover, the slaughter of at least 800,000 people in Rwanda, ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia, China’s occupation of Tibet, or horrific violence in East Timor have not led to a General Assembly “emergency special session”-a rebuke Israel regularly suffers, most recently in December 2001. In fact, since 1982 there have been 12 “emergency special sessions” and each and every one has been called in order to criticize Israel. (For a record of all UN resolutions, sessions, and actions, go to
the UN’s web site at

And then there is the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). UNRWA was originally established in 1949 to assist the approximately 600,000 Palestinian refugees created by the 1948 war. It is important to note that this war was started by five Arab countries attacking Israel because they refused to accept the UN partition plan that would have given the Jews a state much smaller than what is currently Israel proper (i.e., excluding the West Bank and Gaza Strip).

An equivalent number of Jewish refugees from Iraq, Egypt, Yemen, and other Arab countries were created by the 1948 war, and were resettled by Israel. For both domestic political reasons and to keep pressure on Israel, the Arab nations have done nothing to resettle these Palestinian refugees, even though the West Bank and Gaza Strip were under Jordan and Egyptian control, respectively, until 1967. UNRWA now administers 27 refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza, and another 32 camps in neighboring Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. UNRWA spent $310 million to administer the camps in 2001, and counts nearly four million Palestinians as refugees, including those whose grandparents never saw Palestine.

The UN’s engagement with Palestinian refugees has no parallel. For example, the number of Jewish and Arab refugees pales in comparison to the 15 million refugees created by the partition of India, whose descendants now number 100 millions, and yet the UN remained outside that conflict and did not create any political or economic incentives for the refugees not to resettle. Meanwhile, the UNRWA camps have become hotbeds of terrorist activity.

Israeli Incursion into Jenin and UN Reaction to Jenin
The UNRWA camps, which include one in the West Bank city of Jenin, are centers of suicide bombers and bomb factories. Jenin specifically is the suicide bomb capital of the world. The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, whose director is former US Middle East chief negotiator Dennis Ross, says that many of the leaders and operatives of the terrorist groups responsible for suicide bombings, including Fatah/Al-aqsa Brigades, Islamic Jihad, and Hamas, used Jenin as their base of operations, including Keis Adwan, commander of the Az-a-Din-al-Kassam brigades (the Hamas military wing) in the northern West Bank, who was personally responsible for the death of some seventy-four Israeli civilians. Of the 100 terrorists that carried out suicide bombings since October 2000, Israel reports that 23 were from Jenin. In March 2002 alone 128 Israeli civilians were murdered by terrorists, a loss proportionally almost twice the number of Americans killed on September 11th. The sole purpose of Israel’s recent incursions into these camps was to stop these unconscionable acts of terrorism, evidenced by Israel’s withdrawal from these cities once its mission of damaging the terrorist infrastructure was at least partially accomplished.

In its recent incursions Israel uncovered illegal arms caches, bomb factories, and a plant manufacturing the new Kassam-2 rocket, designed to reach Israeli population centers from the West Bank and Gaza. UN officials have not questioned how these weapons could exist in camps they administer. Either UNRWA officials are incompetent, or more likely they turned a blind eye to the weapons. (The UN also abetted terrorists in another recent incident, when in October 2000, Hezbollah guerrillas crossed the border from Lebanon into Israel and kidnapped three Israeli soldiers [including one Israeli Arab], all of whom they subsequently killed. Observers from the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon did nothing to stop the kidnapping and in fact videotaped it. Inexplicably, they then hid the videotape. Only after eight months of intense US pressure did the UN finally admit to possessing the tape, but yet UN officials still balked at showing it to the Israeli government since they said that might “undermine U.N. neutrality.” [See the Wall Street Journal April 18, 2002].)

Meanwhile, Palestinians have claimed that Israel perpetrated a “massacre” in Jenin. The UN has parroted these charges when in fact no evidence has been produced to corroborate these claims. For instance, UNRWA commissioner general Peter Hansen said, “We will not exaggerate if we say that a massacre was carried out there.” He went on to describe the Israeli raids as “a human catastrophe that has few parallels in recent history.”

Now, despite the fact that Jenin has been open to the press and UN officials for over three weeks and no credible evidence has been
produced to support these charges, this calumny continues. Israel, with its modern air force, could have leveled the whole of Jenin without sending in ground troops. Israel sent in ground troops to target Palestinian terrorists and avoid civilian casualties, putting its own soldiers at great risk. Palestinian gunmen fought Israeli troops in densely populated urban areas, and Israel found that the Palestinians had rigged dozens of houses, alleys, and even the street itself with explosives. The part of the camp that was destroyed-whose rubble has been prominently featured on the front pages of world newspapers-was only 100 square meters (see for aerial photos).

The Palestinians first charged that thousands were “massacred” and now claim hundreds, but as of April 30 AP reported that aid workers have recovered 50 bodies, mostly young men, which supports Israel’s claim that the number of killed were in the dozens, the vast majority combatants. Israel lost 23 soldiers in the offensive. In the Arab press Palestinian fighters have described booby-trapping houses,
streets, and themselves (including some women and children), and fierce neighborhood-to-neighborhood guerrilla warfare. (Interviews of Palestinian fighters with Al-Jazeera (Qatar), April 8, 2002; with Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), April 7, 2002; on; on, April 20, 2002; with Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), April 7, 2002. For complete excerpts go to Tabaat Mardawi, an Islamic Jihad terrorist interviewed by CNN on April 23rd, added that he and other Palestinians had expected Israel to attack with planes and tanks. He spoke enthusiastically about Israel’s decision to send in infantry. “It was like hunting … like being given a prize. I couldn’t believe it when I saw the soldiers,” he said. “The Israelis knew that any soldier who went into the camp like that was going to get killed.”
Certainly non-combatants were inadvertently hurt in Jenin, as in all war zones, but there is no evidence of a “massacre.” Palestinian and UN charges to the contrary are once again creating a dangerous perception that will feed Arab hatred of Israel. “Clearly, innocent lives may have been lost [in Jenin],” Secretary of State Colin Powell told US senators on April 25th. But, he added, “I’ve seen no evidence of mass graves, and I’ve seen no evidence that would suggest a massacre took place.”

Mary Robinson, the head of U.N. Human Rights Commission, has done her part to perpetrate bias against Israel. The April 15 statement issued by the UN commission she heads declares that, “The international community cannot permit the indiscriminate killings of Israeli civilians or the wanton killings of Palestinian civilians… It cannot be right to wage war on civilian populations.” The moral equivalency here is astounding; not only is the commission affirming that Israel wantonly kills civilians, the commission is equating these unsubstantiated charges with the actions of Palestinian terrorists who deliberately murder innocent men, women, and children.

Indeed, the UN Human Rights Commission’s focus on Israel is inexplicable. In its annual hearings in the spring of 2001, Israel was singled out in one agenda item and then the subsequent agenda item covered 60 other countries. Perhaps this again is not too shocking, given that the US does not currently sit on the UN Human Rights Commission but Libya and Syria do. (Go to to see the declarations and compositions of UN commissions.)

Predictably, the UN has called for a commission to investigate what happened in Jenin. Israel initially agreed to a commission, but raised a number of concerns about the composition of the commission and the scope of its activities. To allow the possibility of proving its assertions that its military conducted itself with restraint and that Jenin was a center of terrorist activity, Israel specifically wanted military and counter-terrorism experts to be full members of the group, and insisted that activities by Palestinian militants in the camp also be scrutinized. The UN did not satisfy these requests and insisted that the commission comprise three diplomats historically hostile to Israel, including the former head of the International Red Cross, an organization that bars only one country (Israel) from membership. As of the print deadline Israel and the UN were still at an impasse.

A final point about Jenin is that during the fighting, Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, along with two Arab Israeli Knesset members, Mohammad Barakeh and Ahmed Tibi , challenged the army’s plans to bury Palestinian gunmen separately from civilians killed in the fighting. Arab legal and political recourse within the Israeli system is worthy of note given the negative portrayal of Israel by international human rights organizations.

The ability of these activists to bring a challenge to military operations in the midst of a war once again buttresses the fact that Israel acts as a democracy and goes to great lengths to respect political and human rights, positions all the more remarkable given Israel’s tenuous international position.

What Next?
In November 1975 the UN passed a resolution equating Zionism with racism. This infamous resolution was only repealed in 1991. One would hope that the UN would have used the last 10 years to depart from this disgraceful chapter by working to become an honest broker in the Middle East conflict; unfortunately this has not proven to be the case.

[Editors Note: Counterpoint articles welcome in the Fall.]