The release of United Nations (UN) documents on Israeli conduct always seems to give rise to controversy and heated debates. However, the latest publication of an UN Board of Inquiry investigating selected actions carried out during the 2014 Israeli and Palestinian hostilities has brought a relatively mild media storm. Israeli‘s acknowledgement of the investigation had already been shown through their active cooperation during the process. The Board’s findings show progress both in terms of quality and approach taken compared to an earlier 2009 investigation into selected incidents during the 2008-09 clashes between the same adversaries. Most importantly, the 2015 Board came up with several recommendations aimed at improving the internal security measures aiding the protection of UN facilities during hostilities. If implemented consistently, these recommendations should limit the abuse of such facilities for military purposes and thus reduce the risk of anyone located there from suffering the consequences of a potential, possibly entirely legitimate, attack.
A summary of the new Board’s report was made public by the UN Secretary General only last April and, like in 2009, the full document was not publicly released. The Board of Inquiry was tasked with investigating incidents which affected or involved UN personnel, premises and operations. The Board was specifically mandated to look into 10 incidents ‘in which death or injuries occurred at, or damage was done to, UN premises or in which the presence of weaponry was reported at those premises’ between 8 July and 26 August 2014. These incidents involved schools of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
Of the 10 incidents, three involved schools where weapons were allegedly stored. None of these had been designated or was being used as an emergency shelter at the time. All three schools were in summer recess and, in principle, free of pupils. But in one of them, a schoolyard had been made available for children’s use. The school gate remained unlocked, allowing unrestricted access. The Board subsequently established that weapons were found on all three premises, as previously reported, and in two cases the weaponry was then removed by unidentified individuals in somewhat mysterious circumstances. The Board suggested that one school might also have been used by members of a Palestinian armed group to launch mortar attacks. The Inquiry further concluded that in the remaining seven cases the damaged schools served as emergency shelters and all these attacks were attributed to the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF). Currently, all but one of these incidents are being investigated separately by the Israeli authorities.
The 2009 Board of Inquiry investigated only four incidents involving UNRWA schools. It attributed the attacks to the IDF in three of these. It is possible that two schools were not directly targeted, and that the resulting damage and casualties occurred as a side effect of an attack on another target. No military activity at the premises was established. The 2009 Board’s recommendations appeared almost entirely directed at the UN’s requests to the Government of Israel and did not include any recommendations about the UN’s own due diligence. The 2015 Board’s report was in stark contrast to this earlier report. It looked into the UNRWA internal security practices and arrangements and proposed a number of improvements to them. These included recommendations to enhance security at premises, such as by employing additional skilled security guards, and developing and implementing standard operating procedures for reporting security incidents. Read the rest of this entry…