Sunday, February 26, 2017

26-Feb-17: Hamas' new Gaza leadership, and what it says about educating towards a desperately worse future

What UNRWA hath wrought in Jerusalem: From a documentary film made by the Center for Near East Policy Research [Click YouTube to view it now]
(UPDATE: After reading this post, you may be interested in this follow-up piece of ours: "27-Feb-17: UNRWA is shocked, shocked, to discover...")
[This post, like a number of others before it, has been translated to Polish ("Nowi przywódcy Hamasu w Gazie i co to oznacza dla edukacji ku coraz gorszej przyszłości") by courtesy of Malgorzata Koraszewska over on the Listy z naszego sadu website. Our sincere thanks to her, and great appreciation to readers of this blog in Poland.]
One of the ugliest dimensions of the conflict between the Arabs and Israel is the tight, bear-hug relationship that exists between the oddest of United Nations agencies - UNRWA - and the Islamist terrorist group Hamas. There's fresh and disturbing evidence today for those willing to look, as opposed to those who systematically look away, preferring not to know.

The United Nations has a major stake in taking care of the world's refugees. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is based in Geneva and has won two Nobel Peace Prizes (1954 and 1981). Its origins were not so auspicious. It began life as a creature of UN General Assembly Resolution 319 (IV) in December 1949 with a mandate to operate for three years. That was later broadened by additional UNGA resolutions until today. Its mission is
to provide, on a non-political and humanitarian basis, international protection to refugees and to seek permanent solutions for them... [source]
A person would have to be especially mean to object to goals like those. Giving support on a humanitarian, non-political basis - what could be more appropriate? Providing them with protection, and especially for their children - the most helpless of the helpless - is often the thing that fragile, dispossessed people most lack. And seeking a solution? Well - obviously.

Which brings us to the Palestinian Arabs who, uniquely among all people of the world classified as refugees, are not served at all by UNHCR.

Is this a screaming injustice? No. That's because they, and only they, among all the world's unhappy people with a deep grievance, have a "refugee" agency all their own. And, as we noted in an earlier blog post ["14-Aug-16: Who actually cares that foreign aid is diverted from needy Gazans to terror? Not who most people think"], what an agency it is. Just to highlight some key points:
  • The odd distinction: UNHCR deals with all the world's refugees except for those addressed by UNRWA. UNHCR has by far the larger work load but a staff (of about 9,700) that's only about one third the size of UNRWA's.
  • The astounding disparity in resoources: "UNHCR has one staff member for every 5,500 refugees and other persons of concern. UNRWA has one staff person for every 182 people registered by UNRWA." [Source, March 2015]
  • The sheer vastness of the UNRWA payroll: UNRWA's latest headcount was "over 30,000... most of them Palestine refugees and a small number of international staff, in two headquarter offices (Gaza and Amman), five field offices (Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and West Bank), and in four Representative/Liaison Offices (New York, Geneva, Brussels and Cairo)" ["Working at UNRWA" - accessed this morning]. It's an open secret that many, probably most, of those on the UNRWA payroll do essentially nothing. It's a welfare scheme designed to subsidize Palestinian Arab indolence and lack of productivity - on the West's nickle. Until this decade, almost no Arab money ever arrived at UNRWA.
  • Calculated opacity: Almost all other U.N. agencies report to an executive board, allowing at least some chance of functional oversight. UNRWA reports directly to the entire 193-member General Assembly, where responsibility is broadly dispersed and easily avoided. According to a paper in 2010 by the agency's own chief of legal affairs, Lance Bartholomeusz, UNRWA enjoys the added flexibility of having no clearly defined mission: "its mandate is not conveniently stated in one place and must be derived from all other relevant resolutions and requests."
  • Perpetual non-motion: Thus unencumbered, UNRWA has ensured its own survival by transforming itself into the patron of Palestinian grievance, conferring refugee status down the generations... ["The U.N. Handmaiden of Hamas", Claudia Rosett in the Wall Street Journal, August 07, 2014
Beyond all the anomalies and the waste, corruption and inefficiency in this truly grotesque picture, there's also the matter of the identity of interests shared by (a) UNRWA and (b) the Islamist terrrorists of Hamas. This again is something about which we have written in numerous past blog posts. See for instance "30-Jul-14: Is Europe's uncritical funding connected with Hamas' ongoing terrorism?" and the references there to UNRWA's official spokesperson, the unlovely Chris Gunness, who
frequently echoes Hamas messaging in the mainstream media, and European officials then amplify his talking points in their capitals. His Twitter account and interviews are replete with indictments of Israeli actions in Gaza, but his condemnations of Hamas rocketing of Israeli civilians are muted, if they are issued at all.
Gunness comes in for well-deserved excoriation in an important 2014 review by researcher David Bedein in the Jerusalem Post analyzing what UNRWA's schools actually impart to the Gazan Arab children who suffer the misfortune of falling into their clutches:
UNRWA’s 30,000 employees make no pretense of neutrality. UNRWA employees are organized in professional unions without any affinity to organizations that advocate peace. In Gaza, the UNRWA workers union and the UNRWA teachers union have elected Hamas in successive elections to lead their unions since 1999, with 93 percent voting for Hamas in the 2012 elections. A mantra that [UNRWA spokesperson Chris] Gunness repeats frequently, most recently on Fox News, is that “there is no evidence that Hamas terrorists are on the payroll of the UN.” However, the European Parliament funded a study that documented Hamas takeover of the UNRWA unions in March 2009... ["One for the Gunness Book of Records: The myth of an UNRWA policy of peace that does not exist", Jerusalem Post, December 25, 2014]
Now for some new revelations, courtesy of a bulletin issued this past Thursday by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Center in Tel Aviv.

It refers to elections recently held for the Hamas politbureau, Hamas' peak institution in the Gaza Strip. We wrote ["13-Feb-17: Another Shalit Deal milestone: Four terms of life imprisonment but this murdering jihadist now heads Hamas in Gaza"] about the identity of the jihadist who emerged as Hamas' new head of operations in that process.

Dr. Suhail Ahmed Hassan Al-Hindi addresses a protest rally directed
against UNRWA in Gaza, October 2016. The subsequent strike led to
a settlement with UNRWA 
management. Al-Hindi is flanked
by other Hamas figures [
Image Source]
The Amit Report notes that Sinwar was one of fifteen people elected to lead Hamas, and that their ranks are
dominated by members who hold extremist views.
One of those newly-elected extremists, Dr. Suhail Ahmed Hassan al-Hindi, has for the past five years been chairman of UNRWA's staff union in the Gaza Strip - a union controlled by Hamas, and one that has demanded, and gotten via sanctions, strikes, riots and shutdowns, major concessions from UNRWA's management.

Confronting UNRWA on resource issues, budgets and salaries amounts to confronting the donors who fund it. UNRWA's funding throughout its seven decade-long history has been overwhelmingly - almost exclusively - provided by the governments of Western countries, led by the United States. [For background: "05-Jun-16: Where does the money for the ongoing decades-long UNRWA fiasco come from?"]

In the most recent such round of demands against UNRWA management in October 2016, Al-Hindi - flanked by key Hamas figures - announced a series of demands including a general strike [see Alreselah (Arabic) October 25, 2016]. That confrontation eventually resulted in a December 2016 "fundamental understanding with UNRWA [that] ended its protests and sanctions" [Amit Report quoting, December 20, 2016]

The reality of Hamas infiltration of UNRWA gets some minor degree of media attention from time to time, but generally is resolved by the Hamas side being bellicose and noisy and the UNRWA side backing down. In 2009, for instance, John Ging, an Irish lawyer serving as director at the time of UNRWA operations in the Gaza Strip, threatened to fire UNRWA employees who belonged to Hamas or organizations with similar terrorist agendas [background here] after those affiliations emerged and got some attention. The threat was never carried out and he left the position. (He has been at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in New York since February 2011.)

This is relevant to Dr. al-Hindi. In addition to his labor relations position at UNRWA, he holds down a day job as principal of an UNRWA education facility, Palestine Boys' Elementary School. An October 5, 2011 report on the English-language Ma'an News Agency website mentions his key role
Al-Hindi stands outside UNRWA headquarters in
Gaza on October 5, 2011 as he leads a teachers'
strike against the UN agency  [Image Source]
Thousands of teachers on Wednesday protested at UNRWA headquarters in Gaza City over the dismissal of a union official, a Ma'an correspondent reported. The Local Staff Union called for the general strike on Wednesday, the second such action in a week, to protest at UNRWA's suspension of the head of the union, Suhail al-Hindi. Hamas sources said the UN agency had accused Hindi of meeting with Hamas political officials. Buses took some 7,000 teachers employed at UNRWA-run schools to UN headquarters in Gaza city where they held a sit-in, calling for an end to "UNRWA political punishment of employees." "Death rather than humiliation" read a banner held by striking teachers. "Deception, lying and hypocrisy have become the core values of UNRWA," read another.
The strike affected all of UNRWA's 243 schools in Gaza. Hindi told the teachers he would stand against "oppression and injustice" but added that Palestinians saw UNRWA as a symbol of the cause of refugees and that its role should be preserved "until the Israeli occupation is removed" ...Chris Gunness, UNRWA's chief spokesman in Jerusalem, said disputes should be resolved internally and not through actions that undermine agency operations and services to refugees in Gaza.
Pretty clearly, Gunness and UNRWA were aware then, six years ago, that Al-Hindi was a leading Hamas figure. But they had no problems taking him off suspension, and retaining his services in all the years since then.

Al-Hindi's name appears on the list of the members of Hamas' newly-elected political bureau published this month in the Palestinian media. The Amit Report calls this mention "reliable" (attributed to a "senior Hamas source" and quotes the Quds Press news agency in support), which says the same thing. But look what happened:
After his election had been publicly announced, Dr. al-Hindi issued a series of vigorous denials, claiming he had not been elected to the bureau. He even claimed he planned to sue those responsible for the reports. So far, Hamas has not formally related to the issue of his election... His vigorous denials may be the result of the fact that publicizing his election will make difficulties for him (and Hamas) in dealing with UNRWA. In the past UNRWA objected to its staff belonging to Hamas or other organizations, although the agency never took decisive action to enforce its objections. [Amit Report, February 23, 2017]
The report makes some important observations about what this means in terms of the future of Gaza's children:
The election of Dr. Suhail al-Hindi to Hamas' political bureau in the Gaza Strip is another illustration of Hamas' deep penetration into the Gaza Strip's educational system and of the great power of its activists in UNRWA institutions in the Strip. That allows Hamas to systematically indoctrinate Gazan school children with its extremist Islamist ideology. In addition, Hamas' great influence on the educational system in the Gaza Strip enables it to hold paramilitary activities within schools, training young children to join Hamas and the ranks of its military wing. Since Hamas is the power ruling the Gaza Strip, its ideological and military activities in the educational system are not curbed either by UNRWA... or by the Palestinian Authority(which is formally responsible for the educational system in the Gaza Strip, but as in many other governmental areas, its actual influence is limited). [Amit Report, February 23, 2017]
UNRWA itself declares proudly that it operates 252 schools in the Gaza Strip, serving more than 240,400 school students:
These children grow up in bleak conditions, frequently surrounded by poverty and violence. School provides them with one place where they are able to learn the skills for a better future.
We believe the numbers but the "better future" claim is preposterous as we have noted over and again when referring to the culture of terrorism, murder and suicide that is now deeply and very evidently ingrained in the lives of Gaza's children. See "27-Oct-16: Who put those knives into the hands of these two little Palestinian Arab boys?" and "10-Feb-15: The Islamists of Gaza: Yet again preparing children to kill and be killed" and "15-Jan-14: When a society praises itself for turning its children into human bombs, whose problem is that?"

UNRWA, ostensibly an agency that exists to ameliorate the suffering of Arab refugees in reality serves as a cornerstone of the seven-decades-long Arab strategy to keep the Palestinian Arabs displaced, as miserable as possible and in the news. By their own reckoning, UNRWA's people and budget play a huge role in the education of Palestinian Arab children. They are certainly part of the problem and not of the solution.

As misconceived, camouflaged and fraudulent as UNRWA's role in the disaster happening daily in Gaza's education system is, UNRWA does not deserve all the blame for the horror. Other contributors, including UNICEFDefence for Children International, UNESCO, Child Rights International Network, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Washington-based Jerusalem FundSave the ChildrenArab Council for Childhood Development deserve long-overdue attention for the unforgivable and complicit silence and apathy that serve as their indictment.


Josh Korn said...

Do you have anything like a link to a Hamas elections page?

This Ongoing War said...

Not at this stage, though we are looking. You might find some of the background to the Israeli claims useful.