Why is Israel at war with the UN?

Over the course of its war with Hamas in Gaza, Israel has repeatedly clashed with the United Nations.

A truck carrying humanitarian aid from the UNRWA arrives at the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip
UNRWA trucks delivered humanitarian aid through the Rafah border crossing during a temporary truce between Hamas and Israel [File: Khaled Desouki/AFP]

Israel on Wednesday announced its decision to revoke the residence visa of United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator Lynn Hastings on Wednesday.

“Someone who did not condemn Hamas for the brutal massacre of 1,200 Israelis … but instead condemns Israel, a democratic country that protects its citizens, cannot serve in the UN and cannot enter Israel!” wrote Israeli foreign minister Eli Cohen on X.

But the incident is only the latest in a series of instances of Israel clashing with the UN over the war in Gaza in ways that are uncommon for member states of the global body.

What’s the latest spat about?

Hastings said on Monday that “the conditions required to deliver aid to the people of Gaza do not exist”.

The UN official also warned that “If possible, an even more hellish scenario is about to unfold, one in which humanitarian operations may not be able to respond.” She was referring to the resumption of Israel’s bombardment on Gaza following the end of a temporary pause in fighting between Israel and Hamas.

The Israeli response – to effectively put in motion the expulsion of Hastings from occupied Palestinian territories – marks the latest setback to its taut ties with the UN.

Israeli ambassador accused UN chief of bias

On October 25, Israel’s ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan said that his country would refuse visas to UN officials after the body’s Secretary-General Antonio Guterres criticised Israel for ordering civilians to evacuate from north to south Gaza.

Guterres also said Hamas’s attack on Israel on October 7 did not happen “in a vacuum” as the Palestinians have been “subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation”.

Earlier, on October 18, after the bombing of the Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza, Guterres called for an immediate ceasefire in the region, condemning the collective punishment of Palestinians.

Then, on November 14, Israel’s foreign minister Eli Cohen said that Guterres was not fit to lead the UN since he had not done enough to condemn Hamas.

UNRWA teacher accused of keeping captives

Israeli journalist Almog Boker alleged on November 29 that one of the captives released during the temporary pause was held by a teacher at a school run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

The UNRWA released a statement on December 1, calling this allegation unsubstantiated. “UNRWA and other entities in the United Nations have asked the journalist to provide more information on what we consider to be a very serious allegation. Despite repeated demands, the journalist has not responded,” the statement said.

UNRWA schools bombed

Israel’s aggression towards the UNRWA is not limited to allegations against its teachers. Several UNRWA schools have been targets of Israeli bombardment.

On November 18, it was reported that at least 50 people were killed in an Israeli attack on the Al Fakhoura school. On November 23, it was reported that 27 were killed in Israel’s attack on the Abu Hussein school.

At least 47 UNRWA buildings have been damaged throughout the war.

UNRWA is currently hosting about 1.2 million civilians – two-thirds of all displaced people in Gaza – in its shelters across the north and south of the Strip.

UN staff killed

At least 130 UNRWA staff have been killed in Israeli bombings throughout the war. This is the highest number of UN personnel killed in a conflict in the history of the organisation.

WHO chief in Israel’s crosshairs

The World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus posted on X on Monday saying the agency received a notification from the Israeli military to remove its medical supplies from southern Gaza within 24 hours. “We appeal to #Israel to withdraw the order, and take every possible measure to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, including hospitals and humanitarian facilities,” he wrote.

Israel responded, denying that it had issued such a warning.“From a UN official we would expect, at least, to be more accurate,” COGAT, the Israeli body responsible for Palestinian civilian affairs in Gaza and parts of the occupied West Bank, posted on X.

Ghebreyesus earlier criticised Israel’s proposal for a patch of land in the narrow coastal al-Mawasi town to be considered a safe zone in Gaza, calling it a recipe for disaster on November 17.

The WHO chief said that the WHO would not participate in the establishment of any so-called “safe zone” in Gaza “without broad agreement, and unless fundamental conditions are in place to ensure safety and other essential needs are met, and a mechanism is in place to supervise its implementation”.

‘Holocaust inversion’?

Israel has repeatedly targeted Francesca Albanese, the UN’s special rapporteur for the occupied Palestinian territories, a trenchant critic of Israel’s policies.

On December 4, after Albanese drew parallels between the dehumanisation of Jews ahead of the Holocaust and Israel’s war on Gaza, Israeli government spokesperson Eylon Levy hit back. Levy accused Albanese of Holocaust inversion.

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Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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