ZOA Condemns UNRWA For Anti-Israel Propaganda Piece On Israel’s Military Operation In Gaza
November 2, 2009

The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) has condemned the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the U.N. body charged with protecting Palestinian refugees of the 1948-49 and their descendants, for sponsoring a propaganda production in the form of a one-man play describing Israel’s shelling of an UNWRA warehouse in Gaza during Israel’s military operations in Gaza against Hamas and other terrorist groups during December 2008 – January 2009. The play’s performer, Chris Gunness, who also wrote and directed the performance, is the chief spokesperson for UNWRA in Gaza.


In the show, titled ‘Building Understanding: Epitaph for a Warehouse,’ Gunness plays the part of a warehouse and describes how he is “the victim of an excruciatingly painful fire that burned me down” when the building was bombed by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) using what he claims is illegal white phosphorous. Yet, in an interview last January, Gunness said that it was not clear that white phosphorous had been used in the Israeli shelling, as Hamas and the U.N. originally charged.  Subsequent probes by Israeli military officials proved that phosphorus material from smoke, and not as a substance in weapons, was measured in minimal quantities and far within the limits of international law.


Gunness portrays Israel as an aggressor, hitting the United Nations warehouse randomly, and perhaps intentionally, in order to further injure the Gaza civilian population, thereby dismissing Israeli claims that Hamas terrorists were firing missiles at Israel from right next to the warehouse. The play has been banned in a Tel Aviv theater, and a performance scheduled for a theater festival in Akko (Acre) was cancelled at the last moment. At another performance in Tel Aviv, a large part of the audience walked out in mid-performance (David Lev, ‘UNWRA Stages ‘Propaganda Play’ against IDF,’ Israel National News, October 27, 2009).

This is only the latest in a number of worrying aspects of UNRWA’s work. A 2008 study of UNRWA sponsored by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy criticized its screening process for local employees. At that time, Gunness defended UNRWA’s employment policy, pointing to its practice of checking each applicant’s name against a U.N.-issued list of terror activists, and of requiring a signed affidavit from each employee to ensure that he or she has no affiliation with a terror group. However, the U.N. does not have an agreed definition of terrorism and the Arab and Muslim states have vetoed the adoption by the U.N. of any definition of terrorism that does not provide an exemption for Palestinian terrorism waged against Israelis. Moreover, the vast majority of UNRWA personnel in Gaza are local Palestinians, with only 25 foreigners being based in Gaza before the Hamas seizure of the territory in 2007.


In September 2009, it was found that UNRWA has excluded from its curriculum for Palestinian children in Gaza schools education about the Holocaust of Europe’s Jews in World War Two. The exclusion was at the behest of Hamas, which controls Gaza. Karen Abu Zayd, the commissioner-general of UNRWA, said that the curriculum at UN schools in Gaza would not refer to the Jewish Holocaust. “Anyone can have a look at the school books. Really we focus on human rights in the curriculum. We don’t mention any Jewish Holocaust.”


ZOA National President Morton A. Klein said, “ZOA condemns this latest evidence of UNRWA’s naked anti-Israel bias and activism. With this latest report, it is clear that UNRWA can no longer pretend to be an impartial, professional refugee organization. UNRWA has permitted the most vile, anti-Jewish and anti-Israel propaganda to be taught in Palestinian schools under its control and has permitted its personnel to be composed of members of Hamas, an organization not only dedicated to Israel’s destruction but also to the murder of Jews. The extent to which UNRWA’s operations have been distorted to Hamas’ purposes is evident from the shocking report that it has agreed not to teach Palestinian children about the Holocaust.


“The U.S. has supplied a large proportion of UNRWA’s budget. In 2006, the U.S. contributed $135 million to UNRWA’s budget of over $500 million. We urge the Obama Administration to use the leverage of U.S. funding to bring about the restructuring of UNRWA’s entire program. UNRWA sees it as its brief to maintain as refugees not only genuine Palestinian refugees of the 1948-49 war, but all their descendants. It thus enlarges the problem over time, instead of reducing or solving it. UNRWA’s functions should be subsumed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). But, as minimum, U.S. aid to UNRWA should be withheld until it ceases its anti-Israel, anti-peace actions which destroy any prospect of genuine peace and reconciliation.”

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