Gaza, Israel, and the United Notions

I was born in August 1946; the first UN meetings were held in London in January that year. So the UN and I are the same age—you might say, nonidentical twins. I have followed it from an early age, and I am glad to report that—despite the small scale and limitations of my lifetime efforts—I have done better with my challenges than my twin has in its equal lifetime.

Per the UN itself, the genocides in Rwanda and the Balkans in the 1990s proved “in the worst possible way” that the UN repeatedly failed to prevent this horror, despite being able to do so. It failed to stop and even to recognize earlier genocides in Indonesia (1960s) and Cambodia (1970s) and much more recent ones in Darfur, Iraq and Syria (against the Yazidis), and Myanmar (the Rohingya). The UN rights council refused to discuss China’s ongoing genocide of Uighur Muslims.

The UN’s failure to prevent small wars—more than 200 in its lifetime and mine—speaks for itself; advocates argue that it has prevented World War III, but that is conjectural. Russia vetoed a Security Council resolution condemning its Ukraine invasion, although the General Assembly passed it overwhelmingly. The UN has done good work against hunger and slavery and promoting sustainable development, but has consistently fallen short of its own stated goals. More than 780 million people (and rising) face hunger, and there are more slaves in the world today than ever before in human history.

So it is not surprising that the world is turning away from the UN and replacing it with smaller, better organizations—goal-oriented ones known as known as ad hoc coalitions (AHCs) as well as general-purpose and more durable ones. The BRICS+, the G20 (now including the African Union), and the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework are just a few examples. Many propose that the UN be replaced by an equally world-spanning but more restricted organization of democracies—a high priority as democracy comes increasingly under threat. A Covenant of Democracies would not have to eliminate the UN but could grow in parallel.

The UN did one thing for Israel: the 1947 partition creating the Jewish state. This was evidently a passing lapse in the UN’s infancy; it recovered quickly and has opposed Israel ever since. Between 2006 and 2019, the UN Human Rights Council condemned Israel 95 times, Syria 37, Myanmar 26, North Korea 14, and Iran 11. If you think this is because Israel is a 3-10 times worse violator of human rights than these countries, you need to get out more. (The number of condemnations of Turkey, Egypt, Russia, and China was zero.) The Secretary General, UN Women, and other branches diminished or ignored Israeli suffering on the Hamas attack for months afterward. Incidentally, the current chair of the Human Rights Council is Iran.

The UN has gone from the sublime to the ridiculous. I could overlook the Israel part if the UN were doing what it’s supposed to do generally, but it’s not. So as we grew up and now are growing old together, I have become more and more disillusioned with it.

In 1949, it created UNRWA, its Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees, and, soon after, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), responsible for all other refugees in the world. UNHCR’s mandate includes resettlement of refugees as soon as reasonably possible, so that they are no longer refugees. Palestinians are not the only people whose refugee status has extended to the third or fourth generation—the grandchildren of the real, original 1948 refugees—but this is the exception, not the rule. UNRWA deliberately curated this second-class status for Palestinians, in contrast to how its worldwide counterpart UNHCR has helped most refugees. (Bill Maher has an impressive riff on refugees.)

Since Hamas gained power in Gaza in 2007, UNRWA has become increasingly intertwined with the terror group, with overlap in membership, diversion of international aid, and schools for Palestinian children that cultivate militarism, martyrdom and, of course, antisemitism. The world ignored these facts until it was shown that at least twelve employees of UNRWA committed atrocities in Israel on October 7th, and that an estimated one in ten of their 13,000 employees are Hamas members. At least twelve major donor nations have suspended aid to UNRWA.

Some say that Palestinians will now starve; aid may return. But an unknown fraction of UNRWA aid went to Hamas instead of the people. It helped Hamas manufacture weapons, train a 30,000-man army, and build a vast underground network of fortresses, weapons depots, and tunnels constructed over sixteen years and costing hundreds of millions of dollars. One can only imagine what that money might have done for Gazans, who have stagnated instead.

Deniers and minimizers of the UNRWA-Hamas alliance were newly shaken today, as Israel revealed video of the UNRWA Gaza City headquarters. There, above- and below-ground structures doubled as Hamas headquarters, with extensive offices, rooms packed with computer servers and battery stacks, and weapons stores.

The United Nations—or, United Notions—has been lying, from rank-and-file UNRWA functionaries right up to the Secretary General. After decades of lazy cover-ups, it is thoroughly discredited. Notions of peace are not the same as actions toward peace.

Leave a Comment