Commentary on Political Economy

Wednesday 15 May 2024


Israel envoy labels UN a terror group and Hamas collaborator

NERI ZILBER — TEL AVIV · 16 May 2024

Israel’s ambassador to the UN has branded the body a “terror organisation”, escalating tensions fuelled by the country’s war against Hamas in Gaza and recent attacks on UN facilities in Jerusalem.

Gilad Erdan said on Israel’s Army Radio yesterday that the UN had “turned into a collaborator with Hamas . . . maybe even more than that — a terror organisation unto itself”.

“It co-operates with Hamas, it provides cover for it and [is led by] a secretary-general [António Guterres] who quickly criticises Israel,” he added.

Relations between Israel and the UN have deteriorated over the course of the Gaza war. There have been mutual accusations over responsibility for the humanitarian crisis in the enclave, while Israel has alleged that Palestinian refugee agency staff played a role in the Hamas October 7 attack that triggered the conflict. Israel has also claimed that militants are using UN facilities.

UN officials and agencies, meanwhile, have been among the most prominent voices highlighting the devastation wrought by Israel’s retaliatory assault in Gaza. Guterres, who has repeatedly condemned attacks on humanitarian workers, has warned that Gaza is becoming a “graveyard” for children and called for an immediate ceasefire.

Erdan’s remarks came after at least two arson attacks in the past week on the East Jerusalem base of UNRWA, the agency for Palestinian refugees, by what the organisation described as “Israeli children and young people”. Jewish ultranationalists protested at the facility a week ago, defying police officers, according to video seen by the FT.

Arieh King, deputy mayor of Jerusalem, then wrote on X that international facilities in the city could be attacked, calling the UN a “Natzi[sic] organisation”. He said there was “no place for [the] enemy in our holy city”.

According to a person familiar with the matter, the UN complained about the incidents to the Israeli police and foreign ministry but received no response. The authorities were not available for comment. No senior Israeli official has criticised King’s remarks.

On Tuesday, the Israel Defense Forces released footage it claimed showed gunmen at a UN facility in the southern Gaza city of Rafah. Armed men can be seen entering white UN vehicles and firing on civilians near the compound.

Juliette Touma, UNRWA communications director, said the agency could not verify the footage but said it was “likely” to be from a warehouse in Rafah that it had been forced to evacuate last week ahead of an IDF operation in the area.

Meanwhile a UN vehicle this week came under fire near the Rafah border crossing to Egypt, which the IDF seized last week. The strike killed a former Indian army officer working for the UN and injured another foreign aid worker. The IDF said it was investigating the incident, with UN officials attributing the damage to an Israeli tank shell.

Also on Tuesday, an Israeli air strike hit an UNRWA school in a refugee camp at Nusseirat in Gaza. The IDF said the target was a “Hamas war room” and more than 10 key militants were killed.

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