Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Former General Counsel of UNRWA: Critics are Wrong About Terrorists Working for UNRWA

I plan to write a fuller post on the paper by James G. Lindsay, former General Counsel of UNRWA, which was published by the pro-Israeli think tank, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. As befits the liberal Zionist orientation of that group, the paper attempts to stake out a middle ground between the shrill attackers of UNRWA (the usual suspects on the right) and its Palestinian and European defenders. This middle ground is identifiable with the enlightened Israeli position, i.e., critical of Israel but fundamentally accepting the Israel narrative. So, yes, UNRWRA is political and ideological, no, it is not a terrorist cover, yes, the organization has not taken enough steps to promote the liberal peace agenda, no, it does not publish hate-filled textbooks, etc.

Actually, for a report by somebody who clearly was an "insider," it breaks little ground and is based on little inside information. An enterprising journalist like David Makovsky, Lindsay's colleague at the think tank, could have written over 80% of the report, based on published sources. This is no expose of the inner workings of UNRWA.

So it is quite odd that the report is being misrepresented in the press and in the blogosphere as a harsh indictment of UNRWA. It is not. It clearly represents the view of somebody who does not accept the culture or climate of UNRWA, and UNRWA's general dismissal of the report, which Lindsay mentions, speaks to that point.

How is the report being misrepresented? Consider the question of "terrorists" on the UNRWA payroll. This is an old charge against UNRWA, and Lindsay's report is now being trumpeted as an insider's confirmation. Thus, in YNET

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees employs and provides benefits for terrorists and criminals, asserts a former legal adviser to UNRWA who left the organization in 2007. James G. Lindsay, now a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, served as an attorney with the US Justice Department for two decades before leaving to work for UNRWA in 2000

Yet nowhere does Lindsay say anything remotely like this. He says that the UNRWA hires refugees, that the refugees support violence against Israel, and that, in his opinion, better steps should be taken to screen employees. But he rejects Israeli demands for screening, and, bottom line, he basically exonerates the organization:
As shown in the previous chapter, area staff are drawn from a Palestinian population that overwhelmingly supports violence against Israelis, so it would not be surprising if some staff members were involved in such attacks. Yet, of the nearly 5,000 area staff in West Bank and 10,000 in Gaza, few have been convicted of terrorism-related charges. Morever, the relatively few examples of staff involvement in anti-Israeli violence that critics often cite are, for the most part, not clearly convincing.

And in commenting on the Nahd Atallah case, "[Atallah's] use of the UNLP [for allegedly transporting militants] within Gaza..and of the UNRWA vehicle were never established...Despite request from UNRWA, the Israeli authorities did not provide the dates or times when Atallah allegedly misused an agency vehicle."

So, in fact, Lindsay refutes the critics of UNRWA on this point.

The problem with the report is that once again it stakes out a position in the "middle," which represents what I call the liberal Israeli narrative (perhaps I should now include Fatah within that.) I have written about getting stuck in the middle elsewhere. Thus Hamas is entirely demonized; there is no attempt to understand the group as anything but a terrorist organization. Once again, we go back to the ridiculous issue of the Palestinian textbooks, as if bombing civilians and keeping them in a prison were not textbook enough for Palestinian hatred. So, yes, the textbooks don't promote peace, no, they aren't as bad as the critics say they are, etc., etc., Love that middle!

The real purpose of the report is to deligitimize the political rights of the refugees and their supporters, to view the issue of the refugees a humanitarian one that should be solved by resettling them. The author clearly rejects calls for the return of the refugees because he accepts the liberal Israeli narrative. That is his prerogative.

But his appeal to "depoliticize" UNRWA is itself a political one, a partisan stance, just as political as those who want UNRWA to foster Palestinian nationalism. The report would have been less disappointing had it been less partisan, had it attempted to present both sides of the story without landing in the (liberal Zionist) middle that is the accepted discourse in such circles.

It has now been presented to the Obama administration. Let's hope the folks there take it with more than one grain of zahatar.


Mad Zionist said...

By any objective measure, the UNRWA is most certainly a terror complicit organization, unless of course you believe that the arab terrorists who murder Jewish civilians are simply "freedom fighters" (which by default would invalidate your credibility to begin with).

Honest Reporting

Peter Hansen, Commissioner-General of the UN agency in Gaza and the West Bank, made a startling admission in an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation on Monday (10/4):

"I am sure that there are Hamas members on the UNRWA payroll and I don't see that as a crime... we do not do political vetting and exclude people from one persuasion as against another."

Jerry Haber said...

Mad Zionist,

Righteous people have their work done by others. Thank you for citing the Hansen quote. It shows how bizarre it was for the rightwing blogs to point to Lindsay's as inside validation from UNRWA, when Hansen had made his point already in 2004, I believe. (Hansen is also quoted by Lindsay.)

Apparently you believe that everybody who belonged to the Irgun and Lehi were terrorists, even if they did not engage in acts of terror. But the analogy is not precise. Because those groups were primarily terrorist groups, whereas Hamas has both an armed wing and a political wing. I don't know how many social and charitable tasks were performed by the Irgun and Lehi.

Mad Zionist said...

Jerry, are you familiar with Jewish history? I have studied it extensively, and defy you to successfully compare the terrorist organization of Hamas and the underground Jewish defense organizations that fought against the Mufti's Nazi organization. It's as if you equate the Warsaw Ghetto uprising with Islamic Jihad blowing up a school bus of Jews.

Like I said earlier, if you don't consider Palestinian acts of terror against Jews to be terrorism than you have no foundation for discussion, only delusion. To believe this premise makes the entire conversation a non-starter - equivalent to debating WWII with a Holocaust denier (you know, like Abbas).

Jerry Haber said...

Mad Zionist,

Next thing you will be telling me is that the Irgun was fine to blow up the King David hotel because they (claimed to have) called them beforehand. Or that Deir Yassin wasn't a massacre despite what anti-Semites like Ben-Gurion may have said.

I love it when the rightwingers don't get the human rights folks on the left. You want us to justify Hamas the way you want to justify the Lehi. That is the sort of tribalism you understand.

So when we condemn Hamas rocket attacks as well as Israel's bombing civilian installations, that drives you nuts -- because the idea that people have human rights in addition to their national rights is something you just don't get, You think it is a leftwing plot to deligitimize rightwingers.

That is why Gerald Steinberg goes ofter NGO's like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty, International. Since he doesn't believe in human rights -- especially the human rights of Israeli's enemies -- he will attack those institutions as biased. And when they condemn Hamas, Hizbollah, and Fatah, he will generally shut up because he doesn't know how to respond.

So you won't see me defending Hamas or the Irgun or the Muslim brotherhood, or any of the terrorist organizations who justify killing civilians, or soldiers in their barracks, in the name of some higher cause.

I am on the side of the angels. You and the Hamasniks are on the other side.

Mad Zionist said...

Jerry, do you consider yourself to be a pacifist?

Ed M. said...

The King David hotel and Deir Yassin?

In the time frame you are talking about Irgun and company didn't fire glorified fireworks out of a ghetto. They shelled Arab neighborhoods with 3-ing mortar.

Hamas blew up a number of buses during the late 90's and early 2000's. I'm going to ballpark a figure of about eight during a decade. The Irgun and Lihi blew up or machine-gunned at least 41 in three months in 1948 (my cite is CO 537/3855: Confidential reports from the British Criminal Investigation Dept (C.I.D.) to the U.K. Colonial Office on Outrages in Palestine).

I would almost look at it in the opposite direction, Hamas for all their evil simply can't hold a candle to murdering people compared to those groups.

There is a school of thought that these were "revenge" attacks, but that's what every terrorist says. Hamas can explain what it was doing in reactive terms to.

Ed M. said...

Mad Hatter, that MLK quote you have on your blog is a rather well known forgery. If you are obsessive enough, check the source document. I think "honest reporting" which you have cited even acknowledged this at some point but decided it was "truthy".

Jerry Haber said...

Mad Zionist


Mad Zionist said...

Ed, if you have comments about posts on my blog I would ask that you please leave them at my site in the future.


Regarding the words from Dr. King I posted, they are 100% authentic. You are undoubtedly confusing those comments, which are real and on the record, with the letter he allegedly wrote equating anti-Zionism with racism that was proven to be a hoax.

Mad Zionist said...

Ed, this quote regarding the Irgun is priceless:

Hamas for all their evil simply can't hold a candle to murdering people compared to those groups.

For now, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you are just naive, and not malicious towards Jews. With that, let me ask you to research, in non-Palestinian sources, the "White Paper" and "Black Sabbath" as a start to your education and enlightenment.

I would recommend as a starting place for learning the truth about Irgun without the Arab propaganda here:

It's written by Professor Yehuda Lapidot (Hebrew University), a first hand witness and world's leading expert and author about the facts on the ground relating to the Irgun.

Ed M. said...

MZ, you brought up blowing up school buses, I give you 41 examples of Lihi and Irgun elements blowing up buses in a three month time. These events are chronicled and archived at

If I was animated by Jew hatred, and blamed all the ills of the world on a conspiracy ran out of a smoky cave in the Negev desert it wouldn't make what I said any more or less true.

The MLK thing is interesting, I'm going to look into the provenance there. It's possible he said that, he said some seriously foolish things about Jamaica being an example of racial equality at the time.

I've got a feeling this one is bogus to though. It's too provocative for 1968 and in the wrong direction that King was moving in. I'm not even sure what "territorial integrity" would mean in that year.

Mad Zionist said...

Ed, I think you made a mistake on your link. I went there and found nothing. Did you go to the link I provided? I highly recommend you check it out.

Ed M. said...

This may work better:

I have access to the archives at work and didn't know it wasn't free.

If you hit this and put bus in the search they are going to charge you £8.50 for 10 jpegs. I wasn't trying to make money for the UK archives, it's just best in historical disputes to use original source documents. If you want to believe the UK made up everything it chronicled during the time that's on you, but that's a pretty wild conspiracy charge.

I've been working through Lapidot's writing so far nothing he says is historically wrong, it's just that he edits out massacres carried out by the Zionist side of the time. It's a narrative of seeming, nihilistic, pointless violence by Arabs against a hapless, bunch of victims and that's just not what happened.

I'll be interested to get to Deir Yassin and figure out how he weasel words that.

Seriously, if this is really a subject that interests you as much as it does you should know the history better than the fairy tale you are trying to pull off.

Jay Dub said...

I've always felt that it's an extremely superficial distinction to make between Hamas's "armed" wing and their "social" wing. The social wing is still working on Hamas's behalf and toward the same goals aka the destruction of Israel.

Of course, that's beside the point, given all the documentation about UNRWA's ties to Islamic Jihad (do they have a "social" wing?), Hamas, PFLP etc.

"Former top Islamic Jihad rocket maker Awad Al-Qiq, who was killed in an Israeli air strike last May, was the headmaster and science instructor at an UNRWA school in Rafah, Gaza. Said Siyam, Hamas' interior minister and head of the Executive Force, was a teacher for over two decades in UNRWA schools.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill say they are also concerned that terrorist propaganda is being taught in UNRWA schools. A notebook captured by Israeli officials at the UNRWA school in the Kalandia refugee camp several years ago glorified homicide bombers and other terrorists. Called "The Star Team," it profiled so-called "martyrs," Palestinians who had died either in homicide bombings or during armed struggle with Israel. On the book's back cover was printed the UNRWA emblem, as well as a photo of a masked gunman taking aim while on one knee.",2933,479940,00.html

I also wonder why UNRWA never mentioned this or criticized Hamas for hijacking its aid:

Anonymous said...

MZ, Ed M., some/many/all (I wouldn't know) of the mentioned documents from the UK archives, covering Jan 1 - Apr 26, 1948 are here:

Anonymous said...

I'm a musician, and I also work at a local metal-processing company, to pay the bills. So the company now has "ties to the musical community"? Humbug.

A notebook? As in "notepad" or "scrapbook"? I've got several, with the manufacturer's logo on them. Guess they must be very frightened now, imagine what I could write in them!

Mad Zionist said...

If this is really a subject that interests you as much as it does you should know the history better than the fairy tale you are trying to pull off.

You should try and do a better job of analysis than simply putting all the facts and opinions you dislike into the "fairytale" category, while acting 100% assured your viewpoint is infallible. Surely in the right setting you're more capable of objectivity than this, but I do at least gi I provided, as it shows your mind may still be opened a crack. Perhaps there is hope!

Ed M. said...

Actualy, I didn't even want to argue with you, MZ.

I was taken aback by Jerry Haber writing about the King David Hotel and bitching about soldiers in barracks. Soldiers in barracks are military targets. It's in your job description. When you enlist or are conscripted it's your job to die.

In the time frame he is talking about there was an awesome degree of violence directed at civilians in good, ole, random terrorism of the kind where you just blow the wrong kind of people up. In it's intensity it makes the whole second intifada look like a joke. It's as well documented as anything else in the twentieth century, there is no serious argment to be had about it.

Jerry Haber said...


Soldiers in military barracks are not legitimate targets according to the laws of war. Only if they are engaging in actual warfare, can they be legitimate targets.

Jay Dub said...

"Soldiers in military barracks are not legitimate targets according to the laws of war. Only if they are engaging in actual warfare, can they be legitimate targets."

Imagine these scenarios, and feel free to answer my questions with your opinion:

U.S. troops are stationed in barracks in Lebanon as "observers" and are currently not engaged in fighting or in a state of war. Is it a violation for Hezbollah to bomb the barracks?

If it had been Israeli soldiers in the barracks would it make a difference? In other words, if there's a declared state of war, are enemy soldiers stationed in the barracks a justifiable target?

German troops are stationed in Normandy defending the coast, but they're not engaged in fighting. Is it a violation for Allied planes to bomb them on June 6 hours before amphibious land assaults? Are they in a state of actual warfare merely based on a declared state of war? Are they in a state of actual warfare merely based on defending a position during a declared state of war? Is there a difference between this scenario and the Israelis in the barracks in Lebanon scenario? If the soldiers were conducting drills or parades at the time would it really matter?

And if ground soldiers are not defending or attacking air forces, are they ever engaged in actual warfare when air forces bomb them?

Kind of an interesting debate, one dominated as much by a person's own feelings and subjectivity. Isn't it kind of impossible to set objective rules and standards for these scenarios?