Palestinians Ban UNRWA’s Gaza Director From Gaza for Noting That Israel Didn’t Hit Civilians

by Hugh Fitzgerald

Matthias Schmale is –- or possibly was, as his fate is still unclear — the director of UNRWA in Gaza, who has now been banned from Gaza by the Palestinians themselves. He did something unthinkable, you see: he dared to recognize that Israeli airstrikes during the recent conflict with Hamas were “precise.” This admission, in the hysterical view of the Palestinians, made him an agent of Israel. The story is here: “Hamas banishes UNRWA chief from Gaza for ‘bias in favor of the occupation,’” Israel Hayom, June 3, 2021:

Palestinian factions have declared the Gaza director of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees Matthias Schmale persona non grata “due to his hostile positions and bias in favor of the occupation,” according to a report in The Jerusalem Post. Hamas called him “a spokesman for the Israeli military.”

Matthias Schmale made no mention – much less come out in “favor” of – what the Palestinians call the “occupation.” His “hostile positions and bias” amount only to this: he “did not dispute” the claim that Israel’s airstrikes were “precise” and noted that there was a “huge sophistication in the way the Israeli military struck” its targets during the 11-day conflict. For these remarks, all hell broke loose among the Palestinians of every faction; Schmale was described as an agent of Israel, a “spokesman for its military,” and banished from entering Gaza, where he had been UNRWA’s local director.

The factions called on UNRWA to name a new director for Gaza as they announced Schmale and his deputy David de Bold had been banished from the coastal enclave, The Jerusalem Post reported.

Protests erupted in the territory over comments by UNRWA Gaza chief Matthias Schmale in an interview with Israel’s N12 News on May 22, in which he said he did not dispute Israel’s assertion that its airstrikes were “precise.”

For this mild remark, Hamas ridiculed him as “a spokesman for the Israeli military.”

Schmale, based in Gaza, has apologized for his remarks on Israeli airstrikes, in which he said: “I have the impression there is a huge sophistication in the way the Israeli military struck over the 11 days.”

“Yes they didn’t hit, with some exceptions, civilian targets, but the viciousness, the ferocity of those strikes were heavily felt. More than 60 children were killed, 19 of whom went to UNRWA schools. So I think the precision was there but there was unacceptable and unbearable loss of life on the civilian side.”

This is the gravamen of the charge by the Palestinians against Schmale: that he dared to note that “the Israelis “didn’t hit, with some exceptions, civilian targets.” That contradicts Hamas’ claims about Israel deliberately targeting, and killing, large numbers of civilians. Apparently Matthias Schmale didn’t get that memo, and was willing to let a little truth into his version of events. But he can hardly be described as favorable to Israel, still less as an “agent of Israel,” as the Palestinians have preposterously insisted. After all, he described “the viciousness” and the “ferocity” of Israeli attacks, but that wasn’t enough for the Palestinians. Schmale described that “precision” of Israeli bombing, but was careful to add that “there was unacceptable and unbearable loss of life on the civilian side.” In other words, he was completely onboard with the Palestinian claim that Israel had been responsible for the “unacceptable…loss of life” of civilians. He said nothing about the civilian casualties being kept remarkably low by Israel’s policy of warning inhabitants of buildings soon to be hit– through telephone calls, leafletting, and use of the “knock-on-the-roof” technique – giving them anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours to leave. Nor did Schmale mention Hamas’ deliberate use of civilian hostages, its warehousing of weapons in civilian buildings, including schools, hospitals, apartment buildings, mosques, which made Israeli pilots’ efforts to avoid civilian casualties while bombing those weapons warehouses hellishly difficult. Nor did he say anything about the 4,500 rockets fired by Hamas at Israeli civilians. All he said in his original statement was that there had been “precision” and “sophistication” on the part of Israel’s military and that Israel’s pilots “didn’t hit, with some exceptions, civilian targets.” And that observation was enough to enrage the Palestinians in Gaza, and to declare him persona non grata.

Sami Mshasha, UNRWA’s spokesman in Jerusalem, said on Wednesday Schmale and his deputy had been “called in for consultation and discussion at the Jerusalem headquarters over the latest developments in Gaza.”

Another official told Reuters that Deputy Commissioner-General Leni Stenseth would temporarily lead the Gaza team.

In a statement on May 25, Schmale issued an apology, saying: “There is no justification whatsoever for killing civilians. Military precision and sophistication are never a justification for war.”

The craven apology by Schmale, made in an attempt to win back the favor of that moral arbiter, Hamas, sickens. If there is “no justification whatsoever for killing civilians,” then what shall we say about the British and American firebombing of German cities to hasten the end of the war, or about the killing of Iraqi civilians in the campaign to oust Saddam Hussein, or about the Americans dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing nearly 200,000 civilians, in order to avoid having to invade Japan’s home islands, with a predicted loss of life of more than a million people, most of them civilians? There is no war in modern times where civilians have not been killed; Schmale’s statement that “there is no justification whatsoever for killing civilians” should have said, were he not so eager to hold onto his job, that “parties to a conflict should make every effort to minimize civilian casualties.” That’s true. And Israel did just that, while Hamas did the opposite. But had Schmale said that, he’d be out of a job with UNRWA. Come to think of it, he’s already out of a job with UNRWA.

First published in Jihad Watch.


One Response

  1. Doesn’t this betrayal taint UNRWA money too? To be truly principled and consistent, Palestinians should also reject UNRWA funding. Do we hear cries of “Down with UNRWA” in Gaza? Do Gazans refuse to take UNRWA money? Or are the Palestinians not SO principled?

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