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UNRWA’s Gunness fights against accusations that the UN agency assists Hamas

The above clip taken from a Fox News broadcast aired last week shows the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) spokesperson Christopher Gunness and anti-Palestinian activist David Bedein debating US funding to the UN agency.

Bedein claims that two incidents during Israel’s summer offensive on Gaza in which weapons were found in closed and empty UNRWA schools proved that the agency was assisting Hamas.

Bedein’s latest film: “UNRWA goes to war,” a clip of which was aired by Fox News during the debate, alleges that UNRWA promotes anti-Semitism and incitement to violence in its schools. It is one of several films Bedein has made attacking the UN agency. Bedein co-wrote one of his films, For the Sake of the Nakba, with a supporter of the notorious Kahane Chai (Kach) group- designated a terrorist organisation by multiple countries, including Israel.

“These are the people accusing UNRWA of inciting violence in our schools,” said Gunness to Memo.

He responded to the accusations during the debate by calling them a “catalogue of falsehoods” and criticised Fox News as “joke journalism on a noddy network” for giving Bedein and his film airtime.

A statement issued on the UNRWA site fought back against the allegations: “As in his past discredited films, the film maker repeatedly shows non-UNRWA schools, non-UNRWA students and a non-UNRWA teacher claiming they are associated with UNRWA.” They categorically denied the accusations.

Gunness noted: “The only reason Fox News, David Bedein and every other journalist on the planet know this story (the rockets found in UNRWA schools) is because when we discovered these rockets in schools which had been closed down for the summer and were mothballed, they were discovered in routine UNRWA inspections and we proactively condemned the flagrant violation of our neutrality.”

At the time of the discovery UNRWA released a statement which read: “UNRWA strongly and unequivocally condemns the group or groups responsible for this flagrant violation of the inviolability of its premises under international law.”

The discovery gave ammunition to Israel’s supporters who defend the military’s destruction of civilian homes and infrastructure with claims that they have been recruited by Hamas militants to fire rockets at Israel. The civilian deaths that ensue as a result of their targeting therefore rests squarely on the shoulders of Hamas.

This is an example of a typical line from Mark Regev, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, taken from the transcript of a CNN interview:

“Hamas is shooting out of civilian infrastructure, out of homes, out of urban neighbourhoods, out of mosques, out of schools. Their rockets are raining down on Israel.

Now, what are our options as Israel is to say, no, we can’t shoot back? We can’t shoot back because we might inadvertently hit a civilian?……They (terrorists) have found, by using civilians as human shields, they can target innocent civilians with impunity.”

During Operation Protective Edge, the summer offensive in Gaza, 65 UNRWA schools were hit directly or indirectly by Israeli shells. For example, a UNRWA school in Beit Hanoun, sheltering 800 people was struck on 24 July resulting in 11 deaths, including 7 children, two women and a UN staff member. The precise location of the Jabalia Elementary Girls School housing 3,300 of internally displaced people was communicated to the Israeli army seventeen times, to ensure its protection; the last being just hours before it was shelled killing 21 civilians on 29 July.

Civilians, including children, must never be targeted, and civilian structures and infrastructure are presumed not to be legitimate targets. Only military objectives can be lawful or legitimate objects of an attack. In order to qualify as a military objective, the object must be used for a military purpose and its total or partial destruction would result in a definite military advantage.

Rockets hidden in some closed UNRWA schools does not mean the UN agency for refugees assists Hamas, and certainly can never mean you can bomb UNRWA schools, especially when they are functioning as shelters for thousands of displaced civilians.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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