On April 27, 2015, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon submitted to the UN Security Council a “public summary of a report of the Board of Inquiry regarding incidents in Gaza” during the Summer 2014 conflict (read the summary here). The Secretary General’s Board of Inquiry (BOI) focused on incidents “in which death or injuries occurred at, or damage was done to, United Nations premises, or in which the presence of weaponry was reported at those premises.”
It is important to note that the summary was published without footnotes or accompanying evidence, while the full report is “an internal document and is not for public release.” These limitations make it difficult to assess the conclusions about Israeli actions and culpability. In this respect, it is unsurprising that many media accounts of the report are distorted.
Preliminary Notes on the Summary
- The details on the incidents were obtained through “interviews with staff of the [United Nations], including UNRWA, as well with relevant authorities and witnesses who could assist in its investigation” (14). As residents of Gaza and/or employees who have to continue to work in Gaza, the interviewees have a vested interest in minimizing their allegations against ruthless terror groups that operate there. The UN and UNRWA officials also have a clear interest in hiding the role of their organization in tolerating, facilitating, or actively assisting the commission of war crimes — for instance, launching rockets and shielding fighters from counterattack in or around UN facilities.
- The credibility of the anonymous Palestinian witnesses in Gaza is undermined by the incredulous claim that, in every case examined by the BOI, Hamas and other military groups were not present near the UN facilities where Israeli operations took place.
- Despite Israeli claims regarding a number of incidents that its forces were not operating in the area, the BOI concludes that specific Israeli weaponry damaged UN facilities. No evidence is presented in the summary to support the UN’s counter allegations, making them impossible to evaluate.
- The BOI consulted with “a number of investigation reports and other relevant source materials” (14). Presumably, this refers to NGO publications and allegations on the Gaza War. As shown by NGO Monitor, NGO claims on armed conflict in general, and on Gaza in particular, lack all credibility, are based solely on speculation and conjecture, contain innumerable factual and legal errors, and hide Palestinian combatant activity in order to inflate Israeli guilt and perpetuate a narrative of Palestinian victimhood.
Context of Israeli Regulations and Investigations
- The BOI is distinguished from many other UN inquiries into Israeli conduct, in particular those related to the Human Rights Council and other human rights bodies, in providing context regarding (alleged) strikes by Israel on UN facilities.
- This context shows that any such strikes were either directed at legitimate targets and inadvertently also struck civilian areas (a “motorcycle, which had been carrying three militants from Palestinian Islamic Jihad. By the time that it became apparent that the strike would coincide with the motorcycle passing by the school gate, it had no longer been possible to divert the missile.” – 44), were the result of “imperative reasons of military necessity” (47), or were a “deviation from IDF regulations” (33) and that the Israeli military is carefully investigating the relevant incidents and issues raised by the BOI.
- Further reflecting the fundamental distinction between Israeli armed forces and Palestinian groups, Israel is asked to “give a commitment that, in the event that it plans any future military operation in proximity to United Nations premises, it will provide advance warning, sufficient to enable the United Nations to ensure the security and safety of its personnel or other civilians attending its facilities, and ensure that coordinating procedures are such that confusion or misunderstandings concerning UNRWA as well as other United Nations installations are excluded.” (99c)
UN Incompetence and Possible Abetting of War Crimes
Three of the incidents in the BOI report involve weapons belonging to Palestinian terror groups being found in UN facilities.
- The following excerpts from the Summary highlight UNRWA’s irresponsible and incompetent approach to preventing exploitation and abuse of its facilities:
- “The Board further found that UNRWA did not have a policy or SOP to address situations involving the unauthorized presence of weapons on UNRWA premises.” (88)
- “The Board was informed that UNRWA had only 237 guards serving on staff contracts to provide security for all UNRWA installations. In order to assist in the maintenance of security during the conflict, the UNRWA Gaza Field Office consequently recruited local workers through its Job Creation Programme (JCP). They had no prior security training and the training provided to them upon their recruitment was minimal.” (84)
- “The other [school attendant] had testified that, for safety reasons, he was told to stay away from the school and to relocate to the health centre across the street and watch the school from there. Prior to and on the day of the incident, the JCP guards were also not at the school, but at the health centre, in accordance with the same instruction.” (52)
- There was evidence that, on several occasions, the JCP guards were not present at the school when the school attendant arrived in the morning, including the day of the incident. (74)
- “…during normal times, UNRWA carries out unannounced inspections of UNRWA facilities,…These visits are carried out by teams of Operations Support Officers. Each team includes an international staff member. These inspections were discontinued during the conflict and the international staff members were regarded as non-essential staff.” (89)
- “UNRWA should reconsider its security approach in relation to its schools and other installations, both in the context of emergency situations and during normal operations, and revisit its school inspection systems, including during emergencies.” (90)
- The following recommendation from the end of the Summary implies that UNRWA staff were involved in terror activity, and highlights the UN’s institutional goal of keeping such incidents quiet:
- The United Nations should request the Government of Israel to give a commitment that, at any time that it believes it has information that United Nations premises have been misused for military purposes or that UNRWA staff are involved in militant activities, such information will be promptly conveyed in strict confidence to the senior management of UNRWA or other United Nations entity…” (99b)