Israel gives UNRWA permission to have four "submachine" guns in Gaza

A chilling report appeared in the Guardian newspaper today, here.

Guardian Correspondent in Jerusalem Harriet Sherwood wrote: “Israeli authorities have approved the delivery of four submachine guns to the main UN agency in Gaza for the protection of its head, John Ging, following assassination attempts and death threats … The UN is thought to use machine guns to protect its personnel in highly volatile and dangerous places such as Somalia. There have been two attempts to assassinate Ging, an energetic and charismatic advocate for the rights of Palestinian refugees. In March 2007, masked gunman fired at least 14 bullets at Ging’s armoured car as it travelled through Gaza. A second attack a few months later left one Palestinian dead and several wounded”.

So now, UNRWA is going to shoot back?

And, if so, what are the possible consequences?

UNRWA — the “United Nations Relief and Works Agency” for Palestinian refugees — has had plenty of problems through the years. But, if it now starts to shoot at Palestinians, its situation in Gaza will become untenable.

What good are four “submachine” guns going to do, if there’s a real attack on the UNRWA Director of Operations, John Ging, who these weapons are reportedly meant to protect?

Maybe the UN should pull out of Gaza, instead of running around with a few powerful weapons.

If the UN begins shooting up the place, there’s no telling what will happen next.

Sherwood wrote that “Chris Gunness, UNRWA’s spokesman, said: ‘We don’t discuss security policy’.” In that case, I wonder where she got this story from? Israeli security services?

Sherwood added: “The weapons were received by the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) last week after the necessary permits were issued, an Israeli spokesman said. UNRWA first requested permission to bring in four German-made Heckler & Koch submachine guns three years ago to supplement the handguns used by Ging’s close protection team, according to the spokesman. ‘We got a formal request five months ago, and they received the guns last week’, he added … Ging, a former officer in the Irish army, has headed UNRWA in Gaza since 2006”.

UNRWA asked “permission” to bring in submachine guns three years ago?

[That is, months after the Hamas rout of Fatah/Palestinian Security forces in Gaza in mid-June 2007, and after the Israeli government decision on 19 September 2007 to declare Gaza “enemy territory” or a “hostile entity”, and after the Israeli military began at the end of October 2007 to “implement” the government decision by imposing racheted-up and unsupervised sanctions on 1.5 million people living in one of the most densely-populated places on earth? Then, the UN asked to bring in submachine guns?]

And, another formal request was made by UNRWA five months ago?

Then, Israeli authorities allowed the submachine guns to enter Gaza just last week?

Of course, UNRWA would never consider bringing the guns in through the Hamas-controlled tunnels…

But, why are “Israeli authorities” allowing four “submachine” guns into Gaza, now?

What is really going on here?

No. Something is not right. It would be better for UNRWA to just leave.

Meanwhile, an UNRWA official in New York, Andrew Whitley, had just been obliged to apologize, two weeks after saying that that Palestinian refugees should be disabused of the “cruel notion” that they might one day be allowed to return…if not to their homes, at least to their birthplaces.

In a letter, written by Whitley on 3 November which was curiously addressed to spokesman Chris Gunness — and then bravely circulated by UNRWA’s courageous Arabic-language spokesman Sami Mshasha — Whitley stated: “I am writing following my realisation – from media reports, statements and letters from individuals, organisations and governments – that part of the remarks I delivered at a conference in Washington hosted by the National Council on US – Arab Relations, on 22 October, 2010, were inappropriate and wrong. Those remarks did not represent UNRWA’s views. I express my sincere regrets and apologies over any harm that my words may have done to the cause of the Palestine refugees and for any offence I may have caused. I have spent much of my long career working for the Palestinian people, and defending their rights, in different professional capacities. It is definitely not my belief that the refugees should give up on their basic rights, including the right of return. I wish to put this letter on the public record out of concern that what I said in Washington could be interpreted in ways that negatively affect the reputation and work of UNRWA, an organisation I have been proud to serve since July 2002. The Agency is at liberty to use my statement in whatever ways it sees fit. There is no need for a reply”.

Sami Mshasha then transmitted this statement under his own covering letter addressed to Al-Awda, The Palestine Right to Return Coalition, based in California, which had organized a protest “action alert” involving its own letter-writing campaign against Whitley’s remarks. Mshasha wrote in his covering letter to Al-Awda: “Received your thanks posted to UNRWA for distancing itself from comments by our New York Director. UNRWA’s Commissioner-General, Filippo Grandi, appreciates your concerns and we, at UNRWA, understand the reasons that prompted you to share these concerns with UN officials. Please find below [here, it is in the paragraph above] a letter from our New York Director to my colleague Chris Gunness. It is self-explanatory. I take this opportunity to invite Al-Awda members to get to know UNRWA better and what we do for and with Palestine refugees. The link below explains about an important campaign launched by the Agency ( Seeking your assistance to share it [n.b. — what do you think Mshasha is referring to here — the link to UNRWA’s new campaign? Or, Whitley’s letter? ] with your members and supporters”.

Al-Awda has said it was “shocked and dismayed that a senior UNRWA official, Andrew Whitley, made a statement to the National Council of US-Arab Relations on October 22, 2010, that the Palestinian refugees should not entertain the ‘cruel illusion’ that they will ever exercise their inalienable Right of Return and that they should start considering ‘their own role in the societies where they are’, or elsewhere. This statement is a grave breach of duty and betrayal by Whitley of the trust vested in UNWRA by the world community and, particularly, by the refugees themselves. As a UN official, Mr Wiltley [sic] undermined the integrity and the credibility of UNRWA and exposed himself as the enemy of the people he is supposed to serve”.

It is, actually, hard to understand exactly why Whitley — a former journalist, a former official with Human Rights Watch, and also an ambitious UN official — would have said such a thing.

Al-Awda has called for Whitley’s departure from UNRWA — which, as can be seen, can sometimes be exquisitely sensitive to public opinion. But, Whitley himself must be close to the obligatory retirement age… Of course, most ambitious UN officials normally hope that their services are so invaluable and so highly appreciated that their contracts will be extended after that.

On 1 and 3 November, Al-Awda posted its “action alerts” on its website, here, and here.

The Whitley letter [addressed to Chris Gunness and circulated by Sami Mshasha] was not the only Agency response to Al-Awda’s “action alert”.

An UNRWA statement is posted on the Agency’s website, here, says:
“UNRWA unequivocally distances itself from the statements made by the Director of its office in New York, Andrew Whitley, at the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations in Washington on 22 October 2010. These statements in no way reflect the policies or positions of the Agency and are the personal views of Mr. Whitley”.

And, if you want more information on that, the UNRWA statement refers you to either Chris Gunness, or Sami Mshasha…

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