A summary of the report by the United Nations Headquarters Board of Inquiry into certain incidents that occurred in the Gaza Strip between 8 July 2014 and 26 August 2014 has been released by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The full report has not been made publicly available.
The key findings of the report are:
- Weapons were briefly stored at three vacant UNRWA facilities during the conflict: Gaza Beach Elementary Co-educational “B” School; UNRWA Jabalia Elementary “C” and Ayyobiya Boys School on 22 July 2014; and UNRWA Nuseirat Preparatory co-educational “B” School. In three cases (and in one case, contrary to UNRWA’s public statement at the time) the weapons were removed by unknown persons before they could be removed under UN auspices or arrangements. In one case the weapons were rendered safe by UN specialist personnel.
- Weapons were fired on some occasions from near UN facilities, or even from within vacant or abandoned UN facilities.
- Injuries occurring at and damage done to the UNRWA Maghazi Preparatory Girls “A/B” School on 21 and 22 July 2014 were the result of IDF tank and mortar fire.
- Injury occurring at and damage done to UNRWA Deir El Balah Preparatory Girls “C” School on 23 July 2014 was the result of IDF tank fire.
- Deaths and injuries occurring at and damage done to the UNRWA Beit Hanoun Elementary Co-educational “A” and “D” School on 24 July 2014 were the result of IDF mortar fire.
- Injuries occurring at and damage done to Zaitoun Preparatory Girls “B” School On the night of 28/29 July 2014 was likely the result of IDF missile fire.
- Deaths and injuries occurring at and damage done to the UNRWA Jabalia Elementary Girls “A” and “B” School on 30 July 2014 were the result of IDF artillery fire.
- Deaths and injuries occurring at and/or in the immediate vicinity of, and damage done to, the UNRWA Rafah Preparatory Boys “A” School on 3 August 2014 was the result of IDF missile fire at a passing motorcycle carrying members of Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
- Damage done to the UNRWA Khuza’a Elementary College Co- educational “A” and “B” School between 17 July and 26 August 2014 was the result of IDF tank fire.
The report makes a number of recommendations regarding safety and security (8) and communications and coordination (9). Many of these involve developing operating procedures for dealing with neutrality issues and weapons incidents, and improving coordination between Israel and UNRWA. The report also notes that “UNRWA’s mandate is essentially humanitarian in nature. UNRWA conducts its activities through programmes in education, health, relief and social services. Its staff should not be involved in issues of weaponry, ammunition and unexploded ordnance, nor should it have to collect shrapnel from schools. It requires the further assistance of qualified and experienced personnel, preferably with a military background, to support its staff.” and that “UNRWA international staff and senior local staff should urgently receive counselling to address potential post-traumatic stress disorder. These staff members have gone through very stressful events for a prolonged period of time.”
Since the report is likely to be heavily spun by partisans—already the UN Watch blog is breathlessly emphasizing “UN admits Palestinians fired rockets from UNRWA schools” but notably underplaying the parts where the Israel fired on UN facilities, sometimes without any evidence of proximate militant activity—so readers are urged to read the whole thing and make up their own minds. My own view is that combat operations in Gaza will inevitably result in some UN facilities caught up in hostilities, whether through close firing, misuse of empty installations, mistakes, and/or carelessness. Indeed, perhaps the most striking part of the report is what it doesn’t say: the overwhelming majority of UN facilities in Gaza provided a relatively safe haven for civilians, and were not abused by either Palestinian armed groups or the IDF during the last Gaza war. However, there are sensible things that can be done to further reduce the risks to refugees and UN personnel.