Following is an edited version of a UN Watch article published yesterday on the opinion page of The Jerusalem Post:
In a recent interview with The Jordan Times, UNRWA Commissioner-General Peter Hansen said, “I challenge [the Israeli government] to produce anything I’ve said that’s been one-sided or unbalanced.” As the only nongovernmental organization exclusively mandated to monitor the integrity of the United Nations, UN Watch will gladly pick up that gauntlet. The UN Charter requires UN officials to have “the highest standards of efficiency, competence, and integrity.” Hansen fails this test, having demonstrated his pro-Palestinian bias on several occasions.
Hansen’s partiality was most prominently on display last year during Operation Defensive Shield. He demanded on April 7, 2002, that Israel “end this pitiless assault on civilian refugee camps.” Months later, in a July 22 press release, Hansen admitted that “undoubtedly, there were weapons and munitions that had been produced in the camps, as had been the case in Jenin.” Having headed UNRWA for over seven years, Hansen could not in good faith have been ignorant of terrorist activities in the camps.
Jenin was also the subject of Hansen’s most infamous statement. On April 18, he led a UN delegation there, after which he said: “I had hoped that the horror stories of Jenin were exaggerated and influenced by the emotions engaged, but I am afraid these were not exaggerated and that Jenin camp residents lived through a human catastrophe that has few parallels in recent history.” The most well-known of these “horror stories” was Saeb Erekat’s claim to CNN that 500 Palestinians had been killed. Not only did Hansen’s statement give this Palestinian lie a UN endorsement, his reference to a human cost with “few parallels in recent history” exposed Hansen’s one-sided sympathies. Only three weeks before Hansen’s statement, a suicide bomber murdered 29 Israelis on the eve of Pessah in Netanya – killing indiscriminately an even greater number of civilians than were killed accidentally in Jenin. One of the deadliest terror attacks in Israel’s history apparently slipped his mind.
Hansen has also tried to suppress Palestinian abuse of UNRWA facilities. UNRWA’s July 22, 2002, press release asserted that UNRWA is responsible only for the integrity of its own facilities, not the policing of the entire camps, and “[Hansen] could say with absolute certainty that there were no questionable activities in any UNRWA installations.” Yet, at the December 5, 2001, meeting of signatories to the Fourth Geneva Convention, Hansen admitted: “Outside parties have entered UNRWA schools in the Gaza Strip and shot at Israeli positions,” and “armed Palestinians have on occasions entered UNRWA schools in the Gaza Strip during the last year.”
Hansen may also have covered up the involvement of Palestinian UNRWA employees in terrorist organizations. Reacting to the death of two UNRWA employees, including Osama Tahrawi, in an Israeli missile attack in Gaza last December, Hansen said: “This loss of civilian lives, of people working for a humanitarian UN Agency, is completely unacceptable.” But was Tahrawi a civilian? The al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades reportedly claimed him as a member, and his mother told a New York Times reporter: “All the young men here left their houses. Some had guns, some not. Osama had a gun.”
These are just a few examples – independent of any Israeli government allegations – of Hansen’s failures to live up to the standards expected of an international civil servant. Additionally, Israel claims that one UNRWA employee admitted to using an UNRWA ambulance to transport arms for Hamas, while another used an UNRWA vehicle to hide armed terrorists en route to an attack.
In the end, Hansen himself provided the most damning evidence of bias. In the very same interview in which he proclaimed his objectivity and issued his challenge to the Israel government, he dropped all pretense of neutrality. After characterizing the two sides to the conflict as “asymmetrical” militarily, he asserted that Israelis and Palestinians were also “asymmetrical in the legitimacy of their cause.”
The challenge for Hansen is going to be defending that statement and keeping his job.