UN employees send Israel protest petition
[Ha'aretz - 3 Dec]
A group of 64 UN workers based in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip issued a petition on Tuesday calling on Israel to stop what they said has been the harassment, beating and killing of United Nations staff.
"For two years, United Nations staff have been subject to escalating harassment and violence by Israel's military, so that the protection supposed to be afforded by the blue letters of the UN is being steadily eroded," said the petition, released in Gaza.
Asked about the statement, an Israeli military official said: "We reject the suggestion Israeli soldiers intentionally try to harass UN personnel. We respect the work of the United Nations, and that includes our commitment to their safety."
The petition was issued two weeks after Israeli soldiers battling Palestinian gunmen in the West Bank refugee camp of Jenin shot dead Iain Hook, a project director for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
Israel said the soldiers mistook the Briton for a gunman, and the army opened an investigation. The army said Palestinian gunmen were firing from the UNRWA compound during the battle, an allegation the UN agency denied.
Israel released a telephone message an army officer received from Hook 18 minutes before his death in which the UNRWA official said Palestinians were trying to break into the
compound. UNRWA said they never succeeded.
In the petition, the signatories slammed what they perceived to be an attempt by Israel to claim the United Nations was somehow culpable for Hook's killing.
"In these tragic circumstances, rather than easily uttered regrets, we expect the Israeli government take the necessary steps to stop the harassment, beating and killing of UN staff," the petition said.
Relations between Israel and UN agencies have been rocky for decades.
In the current Palestinian uprising for statehood, UN officials have accused the army of firing on health clinics, schools, ambulances and other installations run by UN agencies.
Israel has in turn accused UN officials of letting refugee camps run by UNWRA be used as safe havens for militants behind suicide bombings and doing nothing to stop gunmen from firing at Israeli troops from UN installations.
The signatories of the petition said they were writing in their personal capacities.
They included citizens of the United States, Britain, Ireland, Germany, France, Australia, the Netherlands, Norway, Austria, Finland, Spain, Jordan, Switzerland, Italy, Canada, Tanzania, Luxembourg and Colombia.