By Michael Rubin, April 18, 2002
On Monday, France, Belgium and four other European Union members endorsed
a U.N. Human Rights Commission resolution condoning “all available means,
including armed struggle” to establish a Palestinian state.
Hence, six EU members and the commission now join the 57 nations of
the Islamic Conference in legitimizing suicide bombers. By their logic of moral
equivalence, terror is justifiable because its root cause is Israel’s occupation.
That Palestinian terror predates occupation, or that suicide bombings
became a tactic of choice only after the initiation of the Oslo process, is too
inconvenient to mention.
Unfortunately the U.N. goes beyond giving rhetorical support for terrorism. In a
variety of ways, its agencies have been complicit in Middle Eastern terror.
Start with the refugee camps. The U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine
Refugees began operation in 1950. The establishment of Israel, and its
simultaneous invasion by five Arab states, resulted in the creation of
approximately 600,000 Palestinian refugees. An equivalent number of Jews
fled their homes in Iraq, Egypt, Yemen and other Arab countries, and settled in
As disruptive as it was, the number of Jewish and Arab refugees pales in
comparison to that created by the partition of India. There are today more than
100 million descendants of the original 15 million Indian and Pakistani refugees.
The U.N. remained outside the conflict, and provided no political or economic
incentive for refugees not to settle. Too bad the same restraint has not
characterized the behavior of the U.N. and Arab states in the Middle East.
As it is, UNRWA and the Arab League hold Palestinian refugees in limbo.
UNRWA operates 27 refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza, and another
32 camps in neighboring Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. It counts nearly four
million Palestinians as refugees, including those whose grandparents never saw
Palestine. (If U.N. High Commission for Refugees criteria are applied, the figure
is significantly lower.) In 2001 alone, UNRWA spent $310 million on the camps.
It is these camps that have been at the center of violence between Israeli forces
and Palestinian gunmen. On Feb. 28, following a series of Palestinian terror
attacks in Israel (including an attack on a young girl’s bat mitzvah celebration),
Israeli forces rolled into the Jenin and Balata refugee camps. They remained for
Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer explained the Israeli strategy: “We
are interested in one thing only, to stop and disrupt this wave of suicide
attacks. We intend to go in and get out.”
U.N. officials were instantaneous in their condemnation. Kofi Annan called on
Israel “to withdraw immediately.”
High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson labeled the
incursions “in total disregard of international human rights.”
On March 21, a UNRWA spokesman called on Israel to compensate the
agency for damage to its refugee camps.
Israel’s raids did damage the camps. But as a result of the operation, 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.
Confronted with evidence of illegal Palestinian mines, mortars and
missiles, no U.N. official questioned how it was that bomb factories could exist
in U.N.-managed refugee camps. Either the U.N. officials were unaware of the
bomb factories – which would suggest utter incompetence – or, more likely, the
U.N. employees simply turned a blind eye.
Unfortunately, UNRWA is not alone in reinforcing the U.N.’s reputation as an
organization incapable of fighting terror.
On May 24, 2000, Israel unilaterally pulled back from southern Lebanon,
a withdrawal the U.N. certified to be complete. Terror did not end, though. On
Oct. 7, 2000, Hezbollah guerrillas crossed the border and kidnapped three
Israeli soldiers (including one Israeli Arab), all of whom they subsequently killed.
Observers from the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon videotaped the
scene of the kidnapping, including the getaway cars, and some guerrillas.
Inexplicably, they then hid the videotape. Questioned by Israeli officials, Terje
Roed-Larsen, the U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process,
chided Israel for “questioning the good faith of senior United Nations officials.”
When after eight months the U.N. finally admitted to possessing the
tape, officials balked at showing it to the Israeli government since that might
“undermine U.N. neutrality.”
That U.N. observers protected and defended guerrillas who crossed a
U.N.-certified border, using cars with U.N. license plates while under the cover
of U.N. flags, was apparently of no consequence to UNIFIL. Pronouncements
aside, U.N. moral equivalency in practice dictates that terrorists are equal to
states. Fighting terror compromises U.N. neutrality.
The U.N. has turned a blind eye to terror in Iraq as well. Throughout the spring
and summer of 2001, a series of bomb explosions wracked the safe haven of
northern Iraq. Kurdish authorities long suspected the complicity of certain U.N.
drivers who crossed freely between the safe haven and Iraq proper.
On July 19, 2001, Kurdish security arrested a Tunisian U.N. driver found
in possession of explosives. A Yemeni national serving as deputy director of the
U.N. mission in northern Iraq demanded that the driver be released before any
investigation could be completed; he was. The U.N.’s reputation, in other
words, trumps protecting innocents from Saddam Hussein’s bombs.
The U.N. has a terrorism problem. Syria, a nation that hosts more terror groups
than any other, sits on the Security Council. Along with Iran, Syria is a prime
sponsor of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. Just two months after Nasrallah
declared that “Jews invented the legend of the Nazi atrocities” and that Israel
was a “cancerous body in the region . . . must be uprooted,” Mr.
Annan bestowed international legitimacy upon Nasrallah by agreeing to an
U.N. officials can make all the high-sounding pronouncements they desire, but if
the U.N. wishes to defuse regional tensions and signal that terrorism is not
acceptable, then there must be no equivocation. Perhaps Mr. Annan can be
forgiven for not being aware that U.N.-funded refugee camps housed arms
factories, or for allowing U.N. complicity in terror cover-ups in Lebanon and
But in a Middle East where perception is more important than reality, Mr.
Annan’s silence is deafening and his moral equivalency is interpreted as a green
light for terror. The main casualty is U.N. credibility.