Yes, it finally happened — over the past month, the United Nations Palestinian relief agency, UNRWA, became the direct target of massive strikes in Gaza. But it wasn’t Israelis who did the striking; it was thousands of Palestinian employees of UNRWA itself.
As the AFP recently reported, “UNRWA’s Gaza schools stage massive walkout.” At more than 240 Gaza schools run by UNRWA, some 7,500 teachers and other staffers walked off the job, taking more than 200,000 students with them. The reason? UNRWA had suspended one of its employees, Suheil al-Hindi, head of the agency’s Arab Workers’ Union, for “alleged political activities,” which the AFP described as “a union activity which was attended by a large number of officials of the Islamist movement Hamas.” Apparently the problem was not consorting with Hamas per se, but — to quote the AFP story further — Hindi’s alleged violation of UNRWA rules that “ban staff involvement in extra-curricular political activities without prior approval of the agency’s management.”
Hamas is, of course, the terrorist organization ruling Gaza, whose not-so-extracurricular activities include receiving weapons and terrorist training from Iran, launching attacks on Israel, calling for the obliteration of the Israeli state, wishing death to America, and, just last month, extorting the release of a parade of Palestinian terrorists from Israeli prisons, in exchange for kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Evidently, thousands of UNRWA teachers are outraged by the idea that their union boss should be discouraged from arranging union activities where UNRWA staffers can rub shoulders with a gang of Hamas officials.
Let’s credit UNRWA for penalizing its union chief for entertaining Hamas. But before getting carried away with praise of UNRWA, let’s also note that it is UNRWA, headquartered in Gaza, which hired these thousands of Hamas devotees to staff its schools in the first place, and regularly calls for more money to cover its ever-expanding payroll. In an Oct. 30 appeal to its staff union to stop the strikes, UNRWA made no mention of the depravities of Hamas. Instead, the big concern was money. UNRWA fretted that by going on strike to support Hamas, “the unions are playing dangerously into the hands of those who seek to destroy and defund UNRWA.”
In other words, UNRWA isn’t worried about staffing its classrooms in more than 240 Gaza schools with teachers sympathetic to Hamas — that part is apparently OK, as long as they don’t advertise their sympathies by going on public strike in support of Hamas. But UNRWA is indeed worried right now about losing some of its more than $1 billion annual budget — to which the U.S. is the largest donor, contributing $268 million in 2009. To whatever extent UNRWA is worried enough to be discouraging “extra-curricular activities” in which its staff union consorts with Hamas, we should probably credit Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinin, who has introduced a UN Reform bill that would cut U.S. funding to UN agencies that don’t shape up. It’s a pity that money is a bigger lever at the UN than moral decency, but if that’s the reality, then more pressure on the funding is a very good idea.