On October 15, 2009, the UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) Commissioner-General Karen Abu Zayd gave a biased press conference at the CAPE (Foreign Press Centre) headquarters, in Paris (France). She generally underlined Israel’s responsibility for Gazans’ difficult life under “blockade and occupation”. She also drew a revisionist parallel between Israel’s Cast Lead Operation and the Holocaust. She generally presented the Palestinian narrative as the truth.
That article has been translated in French Le discours biaisé de Karen Abu Zayd, commissaire générale de l’UNRWA.
On October 15, 2009, I hurried to attend UNRWA Commissioner-General Karen Abu Zayd’s press conference in Paris.
Oops! I arrived about ten minutes late.
The audience was scattered.
Ms Abu Zayd was expecting political support from France. She was also looking for new partners, including in the private sector and municipalities.
For about 25 minutes, Ms Abu Zayd often blamed Israel, “blockade and occupation” for Gaza residents’ problems. On the destruction of UNRWA’s buildings, “Israel is willing to pay compensation, especially to what happened to our warehouse. Our report has to be verified by” adjusters. « 37 schools and 11 clinics experienced damages, which were not important, so we were able to repair them ». Moreover, if compensations are paid to UNRWA, « this will be a precedent which will help us” in another topic: the consequences of Intifada.
Noha Rashmawi, a press officer of the Palestinian Authority (PA) Delegation in France, asked Ms Abu Zayd: will UNRWA sue Israel? “No”, Ms Abu Zayd answered. She added that this is not UNRWA’s mission, rather that of human rights NGOs’ missions in « Israel and Palestine ».
Ms Abu Zayd insisted upon the impact of the Cast Lead Operation on the UNRWA. “Obviously, Israel wants us to be operating… We could get everything we need for our ‘summer games’”. She delightfully told that the Gaza children set a Guiness world record by flying 3,167 homemade kites sending peace messages.
I asked the last question upon textbooks used in UNRWA-run schools and the future teaching of the Holocaust in the schools it runs.
Ms Abu Zayd explained that UNRWA has respected “the agreement with UNESCO (Editor’s note: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) for 60 years. The textbooks that we use in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, West Bank and Gaza are the textbooks of the local authorities. We have an “enhancement curriculum” which is human rights, conflict resolution and tolerance. We have negotiated that with all the departments of education of every country where we work. We found that it is a particularly important curriculum in Gaza which is living in this conflict under occupation, and that the children really need to know very seriously about what their rights are… Children make plays, poems on human rights, on their right to play”.
Concerning UNRWA’s recent decision to include the Holocaust in its curriculum for the “higher grades and the preparatory grades, people are interested, but they are worried about their own children having to learn about the Holocaust while they just came through this horrible war in January, when there were so many of their rights, in fact all their rights of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are violated. Palestinians [do not enjoy any] of their rights, especially in the Occupied Territories. That is why people are asking questions... We will develop that curriculum draft with university professors who are advising us, parents, human rights groups », Ms Abu Zayd said.
No time to ask explanations: the press conference was over.
I went up to Ms Abu Zayd to question her about that false parallel between Holocaust and the situation of Palestinians in Gaza. Another journalist had priority. Thus, I moved away. Suddenly, angry Noha Rashmawi talked to me. She justified that parallel alleging a genocide of Palestinians. « How many dead? », I asked her. Moreover, a genocide is an intentional act. She answered: “One dead person is enough!” « This is not the legal definition of a genocide », I replied. “This is my definition”, she told me. A French public TV journalist remained curiously silent beside her.
I finally invited Ms Abu Zayd to explain her parallel. She dryly said: “If you had lived in Gaza and went through the 22 days of that war, that is what you would have in mind”. And she moved away.
UNRWA’s Palestinian narrative
Ms Abu Zayd, who will retire at the end of 2009, often expressed the Palestinian narrative, excluding facts justifying the Israeli policy, and concealed Hamas’ policy.
Moreover, Ms Abu Zayd did not evoke the Hamas’ responsibility for the destructions it caused. Hamas deliberately targeted the civilians of Israel, which caused the Israeli military response, and Hamas exploited its own civilians as human shields, which are war crimes: for instance, it placed its rockets among the Gaza civilian population, near the UNRWA facilities. According to the international humanitarian law, a military objective does not cease to be one if it is located inside a civilian population.
Furthermore, Kites, which symbolize Palestinians’ aspiration for freedom (“open-air prison Gaza”), are a prominent theme in the anti-Israeli propaganda, ranging from movies to art exhibitions.
Last but not least, Ms Abu Zayd had already stated that slanderous Nazifying parallel in an interview to Jerusalem-AFP, without seemingly being questioned. That infamous parallel conceals the relevant reasons that justify the Cast Lead Operation as well as the IDF’s ethical behaviour. It was underlined by the hateful pro-Hamas “Arab street”’s demonstrations during the Cast Lead Operation in order to demand boycott and condemnation of Israel by the UN Security Council and the International Court of Justice (The Hague, Netherlands). It was also expressed in particular in a United Nations Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP) conference at the UNESCO Headquarters on April 29 and 30, 2008.
That demonizing parallel also aims at two perverse goals: withdrawing the Jewish Diaspora’ support to the Israeli state and marginalizing the Jewish Diaspora in their own countries. If the Jewish Diaspora remains on the Israeli side, then, the public’s opinion will perceive it as badly as it perceives Israelis. Furthermore, the public’s opinion will justify anti-Semitic acts. And if that Jewish diaspora complains and requests for protection and justice, the public’s opinion will think: “The Jewish diaspora has what it deserves!”
It is shocking that the UNRWA Commissioner-General expressed such a biased discourse and endorsed that infamous revisionist comparison. We can be troubled by the way the Holocaust will be taught in the UNRWA-run schools.
What is also troubling is the fact that an allegedly neutral UN agency expresses an unbalanced discourse, presents that anti-Israeli narrative, including its revisionism, as the truth.