Israel has had a complicated relationship with the UN historically. The UN was founded in 1945 in the aftermath of the second world war. In the summer and fall of 1947, the UN sent a commission of inquiry (UN Special Committee on Palestine or UNSCOP) to Palestine, to investigate the conflicting aspirations of Jews and Arabs living there under the British mandate. UNSCOP also met with Jewish survivors of the Shoah living in displaced persons camps in Europe. The commission produced a report recommending the partition of Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab State and the UN General Assembly (UNGA) voted to approve the partition plan by a two thirds majority on November 30, 1947.
While the UNGA did not have the power under the UN Charter to create a Jewish state, it’s vote of approval for the partition plan was a very important signal from the international community supporting the creation of a Jewish State in Palestine. The creation of a Jewish State was a central goal of the Zionist movement, and in particular of the leadership of the Jewish community in Palestine, known as the Yishuv. They had argued in favour of this in front of UNSCOP and believed that with the Nov 30, 1947 vote, their position on statehood had been endorsed by the international community.
The United Nations of today is a very different place than it was in 1947. It had 51 founding members in 1945 and by 1947 membership was up to 57. Today the UN has 193 members and it is unimaginable that any vote there would favour Israel. In an interview with The Guardian on February 3, 2004, Israel’s former UN Ambassador Abba Eban said that “If Algeria introduced a resolution declaring that the earth was flat and that Israel had flattened it, it would pass by a vote of 164 to 13 with 26 abstentions.”
While Eban addressed contemporary UN hostility to Israel with wry humour, the consequences are often no laughing matter. In their excellent book, War of Return, Adi Schwartz and Einat Wilf document the long sad history of UNRWA, the UN agency created to help refugees who were displaced during the Israeli war of independence. In spite of its mandate to resettle refugees and help them get on with their lives, all efforts to resettle Palestinian Arab refugees were sabotaged, and consequently they grew in number from 750,000 in 1949 to over 5 million today. The Palestinian refugees of today are mostly the grandchildren and great grandchildren of the people displaced in the 1948 war. Nevertheless they remain wards of the international community, supported via UNRWA, which operates schools, hospitals and other services in Gaza and the territory of the Palestinian Authority, as well as Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. This population, kept in limbo for over 75 years, has been a breeding ground for terrorists for three generations. From the 1950’s until today thousands of people drawn from this refugee population have committed atrocities against Israelis in the name of Palestine.
As the book points out, during the same period ten million Germans were expelled from their homes by the Soviet Union. These German refugees were helped by the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and within 5 years all had been resettled. There are no German refugees living off UN handouts today. The perpetuation of the refugee status of the Palestinians has been a deliberate policy to prevent a peaceful settlement of the conflict and to ensure that Israel’s existence would never be a settled matter. From 1949 to this day, the ideology of Palestinian terrorists has been built around the rejection of Israel’s existence. While the terrorists of 1950 were nationalists and the Hamas terrorists of today are Islamist, the rejection of any possibility of peace with Israel is an position that they have always shared in common.
As Israel fights in Gaza, there is a steadily escalating level of violence by Hezbollah and other armed groups emanating from southern Lebanon. This has been going on so long that many people have forgotten that everything Hezbollah and Hamas are doing in southern Lebanon is a violation of UN Security Council resolution 1701 which was passed to end the Lebanon war in 2006.
The resolution was approved unanimously by the UN Security Council, and by the Lebanese and Israeli cabinets. The resolution calls for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon and the deployment of the Lebanese army in their place. It also calls for the disarmament of all non-government militias South of the Litani River, so that only Lebanese forces are present in the area.
Israel kept its side of the bargain and withdrew its forces. Seventeen years after the adoption of the resolution, Hezbollah has not only not withdrawn, but has engaged in an enormous military buildup which constitutes a threat much greater than that posed by Hamas before October 7. The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) is supposed to monitor compliance with the resolution, but the UN force deployed in the border region has been completely ineffective and has presided over the Hezbollah military buildup without any action by the UN to enforce the will of the security council. The leadership of UNIFIL has refused to take effective measures to monitor compliance and has been no obstacle to the deployment by Hezbollah of an estimated 150,000 missiles in the area.
The Wikipedia article linked above describes the sad history of Lebanon and Hezbollah’s failure to implement the provisions of resolution 1701 which obligated them to remove armed militias from the area south of the Litani. Today Hezbollah fired 34 missiles at largely evacuated towns in Norther Israel in a continued escalation of the fighting in the north.
UN Complicity in Use of Human Shields in Gaza
Over the years, Israel has complained many times that Hamas uses Palestinian civilians as human shields. It has called on the UN to condemn this behaviour. In this article from Times of Israel in May of 2018, UN Ambassador Danny Danon makes this point. The present war has uncovered the extent to which all of Gaza has been turned into cover for the Hamas war machine which operates largely under ground.
When Israel started attacking this Hamas infrastructure after the genocidal attack of October 7, the UN was vocal in its condemnation of Israel, but silent on the use of human shields. On December 6, the UN Secretary General Guterres invoked the rarely used article 99 to call the UN Security Council into session to try to secure a ceasefire in Gaza. While condemning the harm to civilians in Gaza due to Israeli attacks, the Secretary General was silent on Hamas’ use of human shields which put innocent civilians in danger in the first place.
As a result, the spokesman for Israel’s Prime Minister today accused the UN of complicity in the Hamas war crime of using human shields and failure to condemn Hamas for operating out of hospitals, which is another war crime. In retaliation Israel announced that it will no longer automatically issue visas to UN officials who seek them and will instead examine the past behaviour of each individual on a case by case basis so as to deny entry to people who have been complicit in Hamas war crimes.
The above items describe just a few of the many issues Israel has with biased and unfair treatment by the UN. One could write a long book on the subject and still not exhaust the topic. War of return is a good place to start gaining a deeper understanding.
This article was originally published on Canadian Zionist Forum.