1709616804 The confrontation between the Hebrew state and the UN agency

The confrontation between the Hebrew state and the UN agency UNRWA, who blame each other, is intensifying

Gilad Erdan, Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations, during a Security Council meeting at the UN headquarters in New York on February 20, 2024. Gilad Erdan, Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, during a Security Council meeting at the UN headquarters in New York on February 20, 2024. SETH WENIG / AP

Accusations and unfriendly exchanges are increasing between Israel and the United Nations (UN) Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA). The head of UNRWA, Philippe Lazzarini, confirmed information to the New York Times and said that there was an internal, unpublished report from the UN agency that referred to “hundreds of prisoners released by Israel” through the Kerem Shalom border crossing. and having suffered mistreatment.

Although UNRWA is not responsible for issues related to detention, as it is the only agency present in Kerem Shalom, it has collected witness statements. “We have seen these people come back from detention, some after a few weeks, others after a few months. And most of them were completely traumatized by the ordeal they had experienced,” explained Philippe Lazzarini.

“It’s a broad spectrum of abuse,” he added. “People are systematically humiliated, people are photographed naked, they are verbally and psychologically abused, threatened with electric shocks” or even “sleep deprivation, the use of extreme noise to prevent sleep”, “use of dogs for intimidation”. Some of these prisoners were UNRWA employees, he noted.

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The agency had earlier on Monday accused Israeli authorities of committing “acts of torture” against some of its employees detained in the Gaza Strip since October 7, 2023. “Our staff have reported to us cruel things during their detention.” “Interrogations by the Israeli authorities” such as “torture, ill-treatment, abuse and sexual exploitation,” she said in a statement sent to Agence France-Press (AFP).

“Some of our staff reported to UNRWA teams that they had been forced to confess under torture,” when they were questioned “about UNRWA-Hamas relations and involvement in the October 7 attack on Israel,” it added them added.

Israel accuses the UN of being “a terrorist organization in the Gaza Strip.”

The Jewish state authorities have denied these allegations. In a statement, the Israeli army rejected “blanket and unfounded allegations regarding the sexual abuse of detainees in Israel Defense Forces facilities.” “These claims are another attempt to create false equivalences with Hamas’ systematic use of rape as a weapon of war,” she added.

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An episode in tense relations between Israel and the United Nations had already taken place on Monday, when the Jewish state recalled its ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, to denounce UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres' “silence” over alleged sexual violence Hamas during the October 7 attacks. Israel accused the United Nations of trying to suppress a report alleging rape and sexual assaults during the Islamist movement's attack, which Mr. Guterres strenuously denied.

The work of UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, whose report was released on Monday, “was thorough and diligent. Under no circumstances will the Secretary General do this [Antonio Guterres] has done everything to keep this report secret,” assured Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for the United Nations General Secretariat. That report states that there are “good reasons to believe” that victims of October 7, as well as some hostages held in Gaza, were raped.

“It took five months for the United Nations to finally acknowledge the sexual crimes,” commented Gilad Erdan, pointing to the UN’s “shame laid bare for all to see.” Israel has been accusing the international organization for several months of being slow to acknowledge the sexual violence perpetrated by Hamas members during the October 7 attack.

In a speech to the United Nations General Assembly, Mr. Erdan also accused the United Nations of “itself being a terrorist organization in Gaza.” This refers in particular to the allegations made in late January against 12 of the 30,000 regional UNRWA employees who Israel said were involved in the October 7 attacks, which killed 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to a count by the AFP . The UN immediately separated the living accused employees and launched an internal investigation.

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At the same time, Antonio Guterres commissioned an independent group to assess UNRWA and its “neutrality.” The UN notes that Israel has not yet shared evidence of its allegations with investigators or UNRWA.

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But Israel again accused UNRWA on Monday of having “terrorists” in its ranks. “According to intelligence, more than 450 members of terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip, primarily Hamas, are also employed by UNRWA,” the Israeli army said in a statement.

UNRWA at “a breaking point”

In this context of exchanging accusations and denials, many countries defended the organization before the General Assembly, which founded UNRWA in 1949. “Two million people are completely dependent on the services of UNRWA,” emphasized the Ambassador of Yemen, Abdullah Ali Fadhel Al-Saadi, on behalf of the Arab countries, calling on donors to resume their funding. In fact, around fifteen countries have stopped funding, totaling $450 million (around €415 million), representing more than half of the funding received in 2023.

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Philippe Lazzarini denounced a “deliberate and concerted campaign to undermine” the operations of the “backbone” of humanitarian aid in Gaza, with the ultimate aim of “putting an end to it.” “The dissolution of UNRWA is reckless. “In doing so, we will sacrifice an entire generation of children and sow the seeds of hatred, resentment and future conflict,” he emphasized.

However, Mr Lazzarini welcomed the new contributions announced. In particular, the European Commission has released 50 million euros. The agency “can continue its work and provide vital assistance to Palestinian refugees throughout the region,” he emphasized. “But how long? » “Hard to say,” he said, still describing an organization that is “at the breaking point.”

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