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Politics & Security

EDITORIAL | Dismantle United Nations Unit Involved in Attacks on Israel

Japan and other donor nations must find ways to extend assistance to Palestinian refugees directly after United Nations workers aided the terrorist group Hamas.

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An UNRWA building was destroyed by an Israeli tank attack in Hanounis, southern Gaza, on January26. (©Getty via Kyodo)

If the reports are true, the outrageous acts in question would severely damage trust in the United Nations. Furthermore, they would undermine the UN's basic principles of humanity and neutrality. 

The allegations involve several employees of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East or UNRWA. Instead of humanitarian relief work in Gaza, they are suspected of involvement in the massive terror attack launched on Israel last October by the Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas

The United States, Great Britain, and Japan, among other nations, have temporarily halted additional funding for UNRWA. It would be unforgivable if funds for humanitarian aid were in fact diverted to terrorist acts. A moratorium on funding contributions is certainly warranted until the truth of the matter is known. 

The UN is obligated to cooperate in punishing any officials involved in terrorism. Furthermore, it must reform itself, including dismantling UNRWA.

According to the US State Department, it is not clear what positions the 12 suspected staff members have with UNRWA. Their alleged involvement in the attacks was revealed when Israel interrogated detained Hamas fighters. The UN has already terminated contracts with the staff members suspected of involvement and initiated a fact-finding investigation. 

A truck, marked with United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) logo, crosses into Egypt from Gaza, at the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip in Rafah, Egypt, November 27, 2023. (©Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

What UNRWA is Supposed to Do

Since its establishment in 1949, the UNRWA has provided education, medical care, and other assistance to Palestinian refugees and their descendants living in Palestinian-administered territories. Those include Gaza as well as parts of Jordan. The United States is the largest donor nation. Indeed, the Biden administration has provided more than $700 million USD since 2021.  

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a statement, saying he was "appalled" by the accusations. Regardless, the UN must work with Israel to get the facts as soon as possible and make them public. 

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Questions have long been raised about whether UNRWA has the neutrality required of UN organizations and staff. Those allegations include its practice of regularly employing anti-Israeli teachers. 

UN Watch, a UN monitoring group, also issued a report in November 2023 on the problem. They found that teachers working for UNRWA had posted messages on social networking (SNS) sites that "celebrated" the terrorist attacks by Hamas. UN Watch also called for the dismissal of those teachers.  

Many people gathered at an UNRWA-run school in Rafah, southern Gaza, on January 28. (© Kyodo)

Betraying the UN's Fundamental Values

The impact of this problem is not limited to the Middle East region. UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini said of the allegations, "Anyone who betrays the fundamental values of the United Nations betrays the people we serve around the world." 

Furthermore, it puts other UN workers at risk. The safety of UN staff working in various locations must not be negatively affected. 

In addition, assistance to Palestinian refugees should continue without UNRWA being involved. We would like to see Japan work with the US and other countries in providing their assistance directly. 

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(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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