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Absence of Evidence: Israel’s Case Against UNRWA

Statistics are often given lanky legs that take their user far. But how they are used, and how they are received, is striking. The current figure of 27,500 dead is a blighting, grotesque fact. But as they are Palestinians, the issue is less significant to certain parties than, say, 140 Israeli hostages being held in Gaza.

As with much in the noisy clatter of Middle Eastern violence, the value attributed to numbers alters in the shade of ideology and self-interest. Massacres become acts of self-defence; acts of self-defence become unconscionable inflictions of murder. It also follows that an organisation of 30,000 employees, working in the field of humanitarianism, aid and salvation, can be plastered as terrorist sponsors for having 12 individuals in their service allegedly involved in a murderous assault on Israel on October 7, 2023. Despite the relative smallness of this figure, the entire organisation itself becomes a target.

What, then, of the evidence? The state of Israel was initially adamant that 12 such individuals in UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) had participated in the October 7 attacks by Hamas, sharing the details on January 29 with several media outlets. The accusations were made via a thin dossier amounting to no more than six pages. Little by way of evidence was supplied, though Israel was content to make further claims that almost 10% of the agency’s staff had ties to Hamas. As UN Crisis Group expert Daniel Forti writes, “Thus far, Israel has not provided evidence in writing to the UN to substantiate its allegations.”

For a gaggle of Western states and donors, that hardly mattered. The mere mention of the Satanic Twelve had made their way into public and political consciousness, and something had to be done about it. Funding to the aid body was swiftly suspended by the United States, Germany, the European Union, Sweden, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom. The organisation was smeared and threatened with functional incapacity and prospective oblivion, an outcome that would also, inevitably, doom Palestinians. Unchallenged accusations that the agency had long been a Hamas front – an article of faith among Israeli nationalists – were bandied about with abandon.

The United Nations, for its part, was unusually fleet footed in responding to the dossier. Contracts were terminated. Inquiries were announced, along with promises of stern self-examination, purging and cleansing. On February 5, the UN Secretary General António Guterres announced that an independent panel had been created with the specific purpose of assessing “whether the agency is doing everything within its power to ensure neutrality and to respond to allegations of serious breaches when they are made.” The panel will be chaired by former French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, who will work alongside a Scandinavian complement of the Raoul Wallenberg Institute in Sweden, the Chr. Michelsen Institute in Norway and the Danish Institute for Human Rights.

With the setting up of such heavy machinery, the picture started getting foggier. Then a smiting report from the British news outlet Channel 4 took issue with the scanty material supplied in the document. As the network’s Lindsey Hilsum stated, “We got hold of Israel’s dossier against UNRWA – why did the donors including the UK withdraw funding on such flimsy unproven allegations before an investigation?”

Channel 4 goes on to reveal that the dossier “contains no evidence to support Israel’s explosive new claim other than stating, ‘From intelligence information, documents, and identity cards seized during the course of the fighting, it is now possible to flag around 190 Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihadi terrorist operatives who serve as UNRWA employees. More than 10 UNRWA staffers took part in the events of October 7.”

Even the usually less than critical CNN network reported that it had “not seen the intelligence that underlies the summary of allegations”, going on to mention that the summary did “not provide evidence to support its claims.”

When Ophir Falk, an advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was asked by CNN anchor Anna Coren to provide evidence of the claims, he refused to do so. When asked why the alleged culprits had not been arrested, he merely replied that “the first step is for them to be fired.”

Outlets such as The New York Times and Wall Street Journal were less than concerned by the gaping lacunae and skimpiness of Israel’s case. Instead, the latter could even go so far as to claim that the dossier provided “the most detailed look yet at the widespread links between the UNRWA employees and militants.” The ABC World News Tonight was clumsy enough to suggest that the UN had “not denied the claims”, implying a veneer of veracity.

Now, other countries are finding absence of evidence from the Israeli side more than awkward. Australia’s Foreign Minister, Penny Wong, had to also admit that she had not been furnished with much in the way of evidence. “We have spoken to the Israelis and we have asked for further evidence,” she told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s 7.30. When asked why she did not ask UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini about the subject, she simply reiterated the point that she had asked the Israelis directly and was not aware if Lazzarini had evidence. “He may, I don’t know what he has.”

With trademark oiliness, Wong countered that the allegations were what mattered. “I think it is clear from UNRWA’s own actions that they regard these allegations as serious.” They had done so by “terminating the employment of a number of employees and putting in place an inquiry – in fact, there are two inquiries.” Effectively, the agency was to be punished for its own enterprising efforts to investigate the claims, leaving the accusers free to level whatever charges they saw fit.

In the meantime, Lazzarini has been scrambling to fill the funding void, making visits to the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Kuwait. The dying and starvation in Gaza continue with the prospect of even more horror as Israel’s armed forces prepare their offensive on Rafah. A fine thing, then, to see donor countries for UNRWA, some of whom continue funding Israel’s military efforts, to moralise about terrorists and the agency.


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  1. Steve Davis

    The speed with which funding was suspended is alarming.
    The allegation had barely been made and suspension followed immediately.
    As though it was all orchestrated.

  2. uncletimrob

    This is yet another reason why Israel will ultimately fail in their battle against Hamas – It seems that at a minimum they lied in this instance.

    Amongst the other reasons are:
    – they have killed over 27,000 Palestinians in their campaign for how many Hamas
    – they have injured another 50,000 or so
    – there are about another 7,000 missing
    – they have destroyed a functioning society
    – they have destroyed critical infrastructure such as hospitals and schools, let alone homes
    – they have displaced nearly 2 million people
    – they are creating a population of young men and women (and their parents) who have no life, no security, no health care, and no future
    – they are creating a group of angry young men who will follow whoever promises to give them hope – one guess who that will be…

    Israel may well “win” this battle with Hamas, but I’d be very confident that without the support of the US in particular, that they would lose the war.

    Any sympathy I may have had for Israel in the past has well and truly gone. By the way I am not condoning in any shape or form, the hostage taking. It was an act of stupidity at the very least.

  3. Clakka

    Well put article, Binoy.

    No surprise that the Israeli claim, came within a day or two of the ICJ decision and ‘orders’. Seems Netanyahu and his flunkies will do anything to change the narrative.

    The suspension of donations to UNRWA is appalling, and could be seen as an international crime of actions failing to prevent genocide. Wong is clearly under duress, and resorting to illogical babble.

    Just like the AJA’s claim of ‘gas the Jews’, and their ‘evidence’. It took months to formally find not only was the claim false, but that the ‘evidence’ – a video recording wherein the audio had been significantly tampered with. But of course, that didn’t matter as it changed the narrative.

    Mission accomplished.

  4. RomeoCharlie

    uncle, you might not be condoning anything done by Hamas, including ‘the stupidity’ of taking hostages. I for one, and I don’t think I am the only one, resent the constant references to the events of October 7 as wicked/catastrophic/horrendous etc. etc. I think Hamas took an opportunity to act against an occupying power in the only way it could and, as we now know many of the deaths, both military and civilian, were actually caused by the IDF, with Israel’s other claims of widespread rape and the beheadings of babies also debunked. Taking hostages was a legitimate reaction by Hamas to the thousands of Palestinians held, often without trial, many mere children, in Israeli prisons. They are legitimate bargaining chips. One might say keep it to the serving personnel but Israel has no compunction about slaughtering innocents. The unseemly haste with which countries, including our own, punished the UNWRA by withdrawing support shows the level of spinelessness Israel’s allies, again including Australia, continue to show in the face of growing evidence that Israel will lie, lie and lie again as part of its propaganda war running in parallel with its actual war against the Palestinians. No claim by Israel about anything to do with Hamas should ever be taken other than with a grain of salt. How many more times do we need to have Israel’s duplicitous claims demonstrated before we say enough is enough? Well said Binoy.

  5. Roswell

    WMD Mach 2.

  6. Douglas Pritchard

    What does Israel have that brings quite sensible nations to their knees?
    Well, i suggest, its the nuclear weapons which uncle Sam has facilitated.
    And the essential ingredient is an individual who behaves as a criminal, in charge of a rogue nation using armaments originating from USA.
    Its bank robbery on the world stage, and it takes some very ethical nations to question its right to exist.

  7. leefe

    It’s amazing how due process goes out the window when the accusation comes from the right quarters.

    Most of the world is now bending over so far backwards to be seen to be fair to Israel, that they are quite obviously not being fair to anyone not in that camp.

  8. LambsFry Simplex.

    It has resonances.
    The hook up between the religious Klan Crackers/ gun worshippers in the US and the the hard core Jabotniks.

  9. OldWomBat

    Again Israel’s increasing right-wing government gets a free run where whatever they say has to be accepted as “the truth”. All nations should be held to the same levels of account and responsibility.

  10. ajogrady

    The Israel experiment has failed. Zionist Israel is now a rogue pariah state answerable to no authority, even though the evidence points to it being a strategic military outpost for the USA who have now lost control of it. Zionism is a European political movement that has morphed into nothing more then a brutal satanic cult of inhumane comiving extremist, evil degenerate savages and notorious pathological lying monsters whose victims are not only Palestinians but also the Jewish religion irself, unforgivable. Zionist have not only stolen Palestinian land but Zionists stole the Jewish religion.
    Zionist Israel remains a constant and violent reminder of how embarrassingly flawed, futile and not fit for pirpose Western diplomacy and US hegemony is.
    What reasonable thinking person could have ever imagined that “never again” IS happening again. The macabre reality is it is being perpetrated by those who should know better. Zionist Israeli’s are, to their own detriment and folly, repeating the history that will forever now be the most shameful of a very shameful Zionist Israeli history. The holocaust has been revisited and is being used as a template by those who were the central advocates of “never again”, Zionist Jews. Like Satanic slaves Zionist Jews are emulating the horrors of the Nazi’s final solution, the holocaust.
    Now Zionist Israel is relying on world sympathy fatigue and amnesia. They are biding their time for the world to look away so that they can finish the job they started back in 1948. That is, the elimination of the Palestinian people through cruel and unusual collective punishment and ethnic cleansing genocide. With luck, they hope, the world will stop their bleeding-heart moaning about Gaza and the plight of the Palestinians. The joy of the eradication of the ‘Palestinian Problem’ will, God willing, be complete in 2024. There is a long strategic pattern of behaviour that has been in full view for all world leaders to see and should have taken notice of.
    Not so! “Never again” means “never again” especially for Zionist Jews.
    The war in Gaza has shone a very bright light on the 75 years of Palestinian pain, torture and dehumanising torment at the hands of the colonizing Zionists. The UN has become a toothless tiger and a favourite whipping boy for Zionist Israeli to continually undermine and demean while
    the complicity in war crimes by Western enablers, particularly the US, has bought the “civilised” world to not only a tipping point but a breaking point. The genie is out of the bottle and barbarism and inhumanity rules supreme. Who now has the authority or virtue of actions to hold anyone to account ever again?
    In the future, every criticism of Russia, Iran, North Korea and China will be undermined by uncomfortable comparisons with the “civilised West’s” support for genocide and the many war crimes committed, some of the most disturbing being the desecration and destruction of 18 cemeteries and destruction of 26 hospitals in Gaza, unforgivable. Add that to the over 300 medical staff and the 122 journalists targeted and assassinated plus the slaughter of all the animals in the zoo.
    Washington’s confected alternative to international law, the so-called “rules-based international order”, is now exposed as nothing more than a hypocritical protection racket effectively operating on a mantra that echoes double standards that has left it in tatters and free fall.


    Gaza is exposing Western Liberals for the frauds they are

  11. Clive

    Fact-checkers must be busy, did someone say ‘Protocols of the Meetings of the Zionist Men of Wisdom’?
    Looking at the USA it is easy to see how far gone are the political class in terms of Protocol #9. “During the period of transition from Gentile to Jewish political control in every state there will be a secret government by the Jews, brought about through the manipulation of the press, misleading public opinion, mass terror, weakening the initiative of the Gentiles, misdirecting their education, and sowing discord among them.”

  12. Steve Davis

    ajogrady, thank you for the link to the Pearls and Irritations article.

    The article headline supports the point I made at Democratic Socialism vs Communism by Denis Hay — “…all traces of liberalism must be eliminated if we are to have a stable, peaceful, prosperous world.”

  13. andyfiftysix

    First thing i have to say is that Israeli politicians calling 12 people terrorists with no evidence is a bit rich. Anyone not in line with zionist thinking is a terrorist to them.
    As the article says 30,000 employees and only 12 have hamas sympathies? I would say, show me the evidence.
    Israel has been trying to shut down this organisation for years, the logic being make life so unbearable that they leave. If Palestinians leave, they will never be allowed back, more land for jews. ITS WRIT LARGE on their foreheads.

    RomeoCharlie, correct, “No claim by Israel about anything to do with Hamas should ever be taken other than with a grain of salt. How many more times do we need to have Israel’s duplicitous claims demonstrated before we say enough is enough?”

    uncletimrob, no it wasnt an act of stupidity. It was calculated to be as outrageous as humanly possible. The intention was to create an incident that could not be ignored………israel took the bait….. as was calculated. Call this inhuman calculus and you would be right, but when you have nothing to lose humanity goes out the window.

  14. Pingback: Absence of Evidence: Israel’s Case Against UNRWA - independent news and commentary Australia

  15. Ben Overitt

    Rhetorical question: are the media gullible or complicit?
    We are supposed to believe that a well-organized attack took place on 07 Oct 2023 at multiple locations against an unguarded border fence and that this was what triggered the Gazan genocide and destruction of the world’s largest open air prison. Apparently HAMAS operatives with their motorized gliders and running film crews, who did a wonderful job of capturing the action and subsequent terror acts, just happened to stumble upon the situation.
    What a vast, random coincidence. No chance of treacherous Israeli involvement against their own people? Nope.
    The above scenario is highly believable for news outlet editors, but not so much the general public.
    Now that Gaza is done in, what next, or should that be where next? No point at stopping when you’re on a resource & real estate acquisition roll. Lots of targets, all that oil in the region, an alternative canal? Why not start a war? Suck in allied forces to protect the great example of democracy and human rights shown by the Zionists – yes, no?

  16. New England Cocky

    The over-riding concern is that the Netanyahu Strategy is ”to driver ALL Palestinians into the sea” or concentration camps in the Egyptian desert where they become the responsibility of international aid agencies.

  17. Steve Davis

    As much as I admire the Pearls and Irritations site for its high quality articles, it must be said that occasionally an exception slips through the cracks — this time an article with something of a connection to the Gaza tragedy.

    A few days ago a 2019 article critical of human rights in China was re-published. Slipping through the cracks once is unfortunate. Twice is… well, draw your own conclusions.

    A list of alleged Chinese abuses of human rights was given without context or evidence. That’s just shoddy journalism. When it comes to perceived enemies and rivals of the Western powers, unfounded allegations from unreliable sources are accepted without question as we saw in Gaza with allegations against UNRWA. But importantly, in a discussion such as this, the substance of such a serious matter should not be reduced to a few dot points.

    As well as misrepresenting the rights of Muslims in China with the lie that “Islam is largely proscribed” (it is not), the author had the temerity to push for an Australian campaign to marshal an international coalition to lecture the Chinese on what we expect from China in the area of human rights. Can you believe this? Australia lecturing others on human rights. Beijing would die laughing.

    In regard to Muslims in China, there are more than 24,400 mosques in Xinjiang where most of China’s Muslims live, more than 10 times the number in the US where the Muslim population is about half of that of Xinjiang. To be fair to the author, she did not go down the path of US allegations of Uyghur genocide, but the tenor of her piece came from the same mold.

    And the genocide allegation is a good example of the lengths to which the Western powers will go to discredit rivals, but the facts expose the accusation to be a lie. Over the past six decades, the population of Uygur people in Xinjiang has swelled from about 5 million to nearly 13 million, their average life span has increased from 30 plus years to about 72. The living standards of local residents have improved dramatically over that period, as shown by the per capita disposable income increasing by more than 200 times. This would be the most inefficient genocide in history.

    We seem to be lurching from crisis to crisis on the basis of rumour and innuendo. Will a crisis involving China be next? Pearls and Irritations needs to lift its game.

    Is there a problem with Australia’s approach to human rights in the PRC?

  18. andyfiftysix

    Steve davis, the problem with china is that the cloak of secrecy surrounding any trial means we are left to speculate.

    98% conviction , however seems too high to have any credibility. So in a vacuum, we can make up our own minds. Cynical bastards that we are, we will draw the conclusion china obviously wants us to draw…they are cruel heartless bastards. And serves them right for being so secretive. Its a problem of their making.

    as for us lecturing them, thats fine so long as we can take being lectured to. I dont see a problem in telling them they are acting like arseholes. Hypocrisy works both ways but truth should not be supressed because we feel guilty.

  19. Steve Davis

    Andy, one of the problems we have with dealing with claims made against perceived enemies and rivals of the West, is that we cannot accept allegations that we see in the Western news media without doing thorough follow up research.

    A great example of that was Sir Geoffrey Nice, Q.C, the British barrister, knighted by the Queen for his services to Britain, who became notorious for trying to frame Yugoslavia’s President Milosevic at the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal.
    He claimed that the Kosovo Field speech made by Milosevic proved Milosevic was for a Greater Serbia. But Milosevic produced the real speech proving that he had said the exact opposite of what Nice claimed, that he had called for inter-ethnic tolerance. Nice was proved to be a liar.

    I was unaware of this at the time because these outrages, these attempted miscarriages of justice are not reported in the West, but I clearly recall seeing Milosevic going into court each day with a huge stack of documents.

    So take a few pot-shots at Chinese court proceedings if you wish, but we are in no position to demand their adherence to our standards. The same goes for human rights.

  20. Pingback: Absence of Evidence: Israel’s Case Against UNRWA – Equilibrion

  21. Pingback: This week in nuclear news – Equilibrion

  22. Frank Sterle Jr.

    What a nightmare situation for the Palestinian non-combatants! Who plausibly is going to be able to stop the Israel Defence Forces and immorally opportunistic prime minister Netanyahoo, especially with their state-of-the-art mostly-American-taxpayer-supplied weaponry, including nuclear?

    There have been tens of thousands of innocent Palestinian non-combatants killed by Israeli assaults, largely the result of the decades-long Israeli occupation. This time, however, there not only were casualties in Israel but a significant number, even though they’re still far fewer than the Palestinian death toll.

    Normally, there are rockets fired from Palestinian territory, intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile defenses, and Israel retaliates in their usual many-fold-measures way with smart bombs [etcetera] supplied by U.S. taxpayers, typically killing civilians or school children. The IDF’s frequent ‘defense’ is a claimed belief that their targets were using Palestinian non-combatants basically as human shields.

    It’s Israel’s, and too much of the West’s, business-as-usual perception thus inevitable non-intervention. Palestinians are considered disposable. Generally, Israel and Westerners, including our legacy news-media, have been getting accustomed to so many Palestinian deaths over many decades of struggle with Israel.

    For quite some time, maybe even decades, they have been perceived thus treated as not being of equal value to those within Israel. This may help explain the relative poverty, with Palestinian children picking through the mountains of Israeli waste basically dumped on territory annexed or on the way to being annexed.

    Therefor their great suffering and deaths are somehow less worthy of our actionable concern as otherwise relatively civilized nations. Atrociously, the worth of such life can/will be measured by the overabundance of protracted conditions under which it suffers.

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