UNRWA Head: Don’t Boycott Israel
11/16/10

John Ging is no stranger to conflict. As director of the Gaza-based United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) since 2006, the former officer in the Irish army has drawn frequent criticism from Israel and its advocates, and has also been the target of assassination attempts by Islamic militants.
So he wasn’t particularly fazed this week, when Columbia University’s J Street-affiliated student group, under pressure from Barnard-Columbia Hillel, abruptly withdrew sponsorship of his Sunday night appearance on the campus. Hillel, of which the group is a member organization, insisted the event include a moderator, but a mutually agreeable one could not be found in time.
Ging, in New York as part of a national campus tour sponsored by the Washington, D.C.-based J Street Education Fund, spoke anyway, sponsored by six non-Jewish student organizations; an estimated 150 people attended.
On a break from his tour, which included an invitation-only event at New York University’s Hillel, and speeches in Chicago and Washington, Ging spoke with The Jewish Week about his efforts to “reach out” and “correct misunderstandings” about UNRWA.

Q:What has been the focus of your speeches here?

A: The message I’m bringing from Gaza is not to focus just on the challenges, which are huge, but I’m asking for more emphasis on the people, especially the children, and what can we do to help contribute to their development.

How do you respond to allegations that UNRWA allowed Hamas to wage attacks from UN facilities during Operation Cast Lead?

There is a video image [circulating on the Internet] of rockets being fired from an UNRWA school, with the inference that we’re engaged with or supportive of such activities … If it were shown in its completed form, it would show we had to evacuate that school in a hail of gunfire because it was in the middle of the conflict zone and caught up in the crossfire. Yes, the militants went in and occupied it as a base [after it was evacuated], and a few hours later the Israelis came in and used it as a base. Later we protested to everyone. I’ve invited the Israeli military to present the full video.

What about allegations that UNRWA staff members have been involved in terrorist activities?

We have a staff of 11,500 so of course we’re vulnerable to being betrayed. The question is what systems are in place to prevent. The last time we were betrayed, we fired the supervisors and told them if they didn’t know, they should have, and if they did know, they should have told us. Our staff’s job is to deliver humanitarian services for the UN. They sign every year a statement that they won’t be engaged in anything else whether they’re on duty or off duty. We have a zero tolerance policy.

I understand you’ve had to step up your security after two assassination attempts by Islamist extremists.

It’s part of the dynamics of working in a conflict zone. If we’re succeeding, if we’re having robust policies, if we’re seriously working on an international agenda for peace, tolerance, understanding and countering extremism, that’s obviously going to generate a reaction from extremists … This year, because our summer recreation programs were so successful and put such an emphasis on the participation of girls we angered extremists who see this as insensitivity toward the ‘culture of Palestine’ and they burnt down a number of locations.

Do you support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, and how do you feel about the boycott/divestment/sanctions movement?

The last time I was in the States I attended a celebration for Israel’s independence day with the Israelis at the UN. They know I’m pro-Israel. I celebrate Israel’s independence … It’s a concern that those representing themselves as pro-Palestinian are now linking that to anti-Israel sentiment and policies like divestment and boycott. I oppose that … The people of Israel need efforts to rebuild confidence that peace can be brought about. Talking about sanctions and boycotts is not going to bring about anything positive …

 

Last Update:

09/16/2013 - 19:54

Comments

When Hillel cancels a moderate speaker on the mid east crisis, is it no wonder that many young Jews are turning their backs on Israel and the organized Jewish community. One doesn't have to be anti-Palestinian to be pro-Israel. To be Pro-Palestinian and Pro-Israel is to be pro peace.
If the US loves Israel so much, and certainly uses US taxpayers dollrs, billions each year, to prop it up, then the US should move Israel to the US> Washington would be good; they fund it ; let them live with it. The indigenous people of Palestine have a right to a free homeland under the Geneva Conventions and Israel has consistently denied them this; time to move Israel as it has shown that it cannot live in peace with the people it dispossessed.
Michael, Answering the question of Israel's right to exist is very simple: why? How was it established? What were Israelis before they become Israelis????? Who was living on that land before ISraelis came anyway? How many innocent Palestinian children and women were killed in cold blood for Israel to be born and exist? now you say that both parties violated human rights; let me suppose that this was true: then did this happen at the same level? I mean compare the statistics of victims, the amount of massive destructive power, and the misery of human life. Are they comparable???? You will not find any close numbers in any case. Israel participates in humanitarian assistance??? Like what? the siege on Gaza? or the white phosphorus ice cream they send to Palestinian children?
Patricia, Having lived in the middle-east for several years, I must say neither side has the monopoly on human rights violations, abuse of civilians, or unkindness. Neither side has a monopoly on random acts of kindness, though Israel does participate in many humanitarian missions in the territories and abroad. Boycott proposals are an overly simplistic and ineffective answer to a complex situation which undermines all attempts at finding long-lasting solutions. Billions of dollars of international aid have flowed to the palistinians, and they bought some lovely apartments in Paris for Yasser Arafat and some beautiful beach villas for his top brass. The Israelis need to coexist with their muslim and christian bretheren, but their muslim and christian bretheren have an equal obligation to recognize the need for security for everyone.
Nonsense; the fact speak for themsleves. Israel is occupying, imprisoning without trial, taking land from, demolishing homes and farms and killing the indigenous Palestinians. NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND. The onus is always on the perpetrator to change behaviour, not the victims.
no, jimi. israel has the right to exist where ever israel chooses. especially on the land and in the homes of palestinians and lebanese.
Israel has the right to exist. Is that inside their borders? States don't have rights like that, to exist. All people have inalienable rights.
Given the fact that the Israeli occupying military used white phosphorus bombs on millions of imprisoned men, women and children in Gaza, John Ging is to be commended on his fairness toward that nation. ( And Israel admits to using this chemical weapon). It is just disgusting that there are people who continue to use power and influence to find ways to help Israel escape, for now, legal repercussions for it's actions. BDS, Boycott, divest and sanction, being a move that has taken off around the world and whilst not a legal repercussion, is one way to affect a change in a nation that commits war crimes. When will Jewish leaders start speaking out against Israel's war crimes? Unless they do, Judaism will be forever tainted in the future with it's support for a nation that has committed international crimes. And, the Geneva Conventions matter to us all.
The Chemical Weapons Convention does not list WP in its schedules of chemical weapon AND the US used phosphorus bombs in Irak. So I assume Patricia agrees with the following (unless of course her main motif has something to do with jews rather than the well being of palestinian arabs): It is just disgusting that there are people who continue to use power and influence to find ways to help the US escape, for now, legal repercussions for it's actions. BDS, Boycott, divest and sanction, being a move that has taken off around the world and whilst not a legal repercussion, is one way to affect a change in a nation that commits war crimes. When will Christian leaders start speaking out against the US's war crimes? Unless they do, Christianity will be forever tainted in the future with it's support for a nation that has committed international crimes. And, the Geneva Conventions matter to us all.
Your entire comment is a lie from beginning to end! There aren't even "millions" of people in Gaza, it's 1.5 million. And phosphorus bombs are used by every military on the planet, including the U.S., to create smokescreen. It's certainly better than your friends Hamas aiming deadly rockets at kindergarten and day-care centers and slitting the throats of babies. Israel's actions are legal and just. Your statements about Judaism indicates you are an anti-semite; the rest of your comment shows the magnitude of your hatred. The only 'crimes' here are your lies and disgusting anti-semitism.

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