On multiple occasions since hostilities have recommenced between Hamas and Israel in recent weeks, Israel has come under fire in the media and from the international community for striking U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) schools and facilities that housed refugees. The attacks on UN schools and facilities in Gaza by Israeli forces have been tragic but also incredibly perplexing. With so many nations outraged again Israel, it seemed incredibly reckless and stupid for Israeli military to continuously hit UN facilities.
But now it seems that one reason that the Israeli military continues to fight in areas near UN facilities has been due to the discovery of weapons stockpiled in UNRWA facilities. On three separate occasions, UNRWA has discovered rockets stockpiled in their schools. What has been incredibly disappointing is that these discoveries have not been reported much by members of the non-Israeli media, which tends to only fuel the belief in Israel that the world media is vehemently anti-Israel. However, the hiding of explosives in schools by Hamas is something that needs to receive wider attention by the media and needs to be condemned by the international community.
Now before I continue and everybody wants to rip my head off a la Jon Stewart for writing a piece on Israel/Palestine and questioning my allegiances and my humanity, I want to lay a few things down. I strongly believe in Israel’s right to defend itself from aggression. However, I also strongly believe in the right for an independent Palestine to exist. These two beliefs are not mutually exclusive. I also fundamentally believe that many Israeli policies towards Palestinians are greatly flawed and the longer it persists, the worse off Israelis and Palestinians will be. Hopefully not too many of you are foaming at the mouth right now.
Returning to the subject at hand, the fact of the matter is that rockets were rediscovered in UN facilities and then what was even more shocking is that the UN gave the weapons to the local authorities, which for all intensive purposes is Hamas (who put the weapons there in the first place). Returning these weapons is absolutely mind-boggling. When you return weaponry back to the people that placed it there, then there’s a problem on so many levels.
Firstly, giving back weapons to either party in a conflict zone is fundamentally wrong. Those rockets should not have been returned to Palestinian authorities nor should they be given to the Israelis. Giving weapons to anybody that has a stake in the outcome of the fighting and assuming the weapons will be peacefully dismantled is simply a forlorn hope. The weapons must be removed by either international observers or some other means that doesn’t see them recycled back into the conflict.
Secondly the storage of weapons in UN facilities frequented by children and refugees should be sending huge red flags up in the international community, especially the United Nations. The UN already has a recent dark mark on its record next door when it went solely through the Assad regime to distribute aid in Syria for the first 3 plus years of the Syrian conflict. Having weapons found in their Gaza facilities and then returning them to people that may use them doesn’t look too good for the UN either. Whether the rockets were put there unknowingly, or through the threat of force, action must be taken to discover how this occurred and how to ensure that it never happens again.
The UN needs to quickly assess all its facilities and determine if any of them are being used by Hamas not just for rockets but also as structures that house entrances to the underground tunnels. On Wednesday, 3 Israeli soldiers were killed in a booby-trapped UNRWA health clinic that housed an entrance to one of these tunnels. If no action is taken to ensure that UN facilities are free of militant activity, then UNRWA and the UN at large risks a severe loss of credibility (many already see UNRWA as completely biased) in Israel/Palestine and Palestinian civilians will continue to be put at risk by Israeli airstrikes and military activity around these areas.
The point that should be taken away from this blog post is that shooting schools and UN facilities is absolutely wrong, but Hamas giving Israelis a potentially legitimate reason to target such facilities is even worse. By not monitoring activity within their facilities, UNRWA puts civilians at risk and continues to give false credibility to Hamas that Israel is the only problem and that they are blameless. Ensuring that UNRWA facilities are weapons free won’t stop all of the violence in Gaza, but it will hopefully reduce attacks in the vicinity of these schools and health clinics.