UN Agency Openly Manipulates Statistics To Demonize Israel
by Rachel Hirshfeld
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Palestinian Territories (“OCHA-oPt”) is deeply entrenched in fighting the Arab-Israeli conflict. Despite claiming to be a humanitarian agency, OCHA is one of the leaders of political warfare against Israel, attempting to rewrite history, advance distorted statistics, and delegitimize Israel in the international arena.
OCHA is one of the primary coordinators of anti-Israel NGO funding and activity. Through annual lists and ongoing support, it facilitates government subsidies to some of the most biased and politicized regional NGOs, including a number that are highly active in promoting anti-peace BDS (boycotts, divestment and sanctions) and “lawfare” campaigns.
In 2016, OCHA requested $571 million from international donors for partner NGOs such as Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW) and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). IRW is banned from operating in Israel and the West Bank because of its alleged role in funneling money to Hamas. And the NRC has funded hundreds of lawsuits in Israeli courts, in an attempt to “try every possible legal measure to disrupt the Israeli judicial system,” according to one of the lawyers involved. Other NGOs that are promoted by OCHA advance false allegations of Israeli “war crimes,” “violations of international law,” “genocide,” and ethnic cleansing.”
In addition to coordinating funding for hostile NGOs, OCHA manipulates statistics to advance its agenda. One of its projects, the “Vulnerability Profile,” claims to provide “the most comprehensive information on physical protection” of the Palestinians in Area C of the West Bank. According to OCHA, in 2014, an estimated 297,900 Palestinians lived under full Israeli security and administrative control. This figure, however, is significantly higher than those cited by top Israeli diplomats and military officials. Shaul Arieli, a retired Israeli colonel, told The Times of Israel, “It’s deception. Practically speaking, this [data] is meaningless. What [OCHA] did is completely political…”
This is not the only example of OCHA promoting questionable statistics. During the 2014 Gaza War, three NGOs — including B’Tselem, Palestinian Center for Human Rights, and Al Mezan — were tasked by OCHA to report on Palestinian casualties. The aforementioned NGOs all lack the credibility to conduct this task, often basing their information on the Hamas Ministry of Health. Similarly, their ad hoc methodology appears aimed at inflating the number of civilians killed. When casualties were examined by the Terror Information Center in Israel, many individuals listed as “civilians” by these NGOs were found to be members of terrorist groups.
In fact, during the course of the hostilities B’Tselem acknowledged, “… in these circumstances, reports may be incomplete or contain errors. Given the urgency of informing the public about events in Gaza, B’Tselem has decided to publish the information now available.” Despite this significant disclaimer by the NGO, the data is distributed by OCHA to the media, world leaders, and decision makers as indisputable fact.
OCHA not only manipulates statistics in order to demonize Israel, but also does so in order to appease dictatorships. According to Foreign Policy Magazine, after consulting the Syrian government, the OCHA “altered dozens of passages and omitted pertinent information [from its ‘2016 Syrian Arab Republic Humanitarian Response Plan’] to paint the government of Bashar al-Assad in a more favorable light.” The report notes that after comparing the final document to an earlier draft, “it is evident that 10 references to ‘sieged’ or ‘besieged’ areas, such as that in Madaya — the town in southwestern Syria that saw 23 people die of starvation over several months before the arrival of a U.N. aid convoy in mid-January — were removed.” Moreover, OCHA failed to mention the “barrel bombs” that the regime indiscriminately drops on populated areas, as well as other dire human rights violations.
While removing references to “sieged” or “besieged” areas in Syria, OCHA augments allegations regarding the Israeli “blockade” on Gaza to promote the narrative that there is a severe and ongoing humanitarian crisis occurring in Gaza. In reality, however, Israel allows thousands of tons of goods into Gaza daily; the purpose of the partial blockade is to prevent the smuggling of arms to terror groups that would later be used against Israeli civilians.
OCHA, like other branches of the UN, has altogether lost sight of its founding vision. One group of besieged anti-Assad Syrian aid workers wrote an open letter to OCHA head Stephen O’Brien, stating, “For many of us in Syria, the U.N. has turned from a symbol of hope into a symbol of complicity.”
So too in Israel, OCHA and other UN bodies have become instruments that exploit the UN’s original mandate of “promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all.” Instead, they appease dictatorships, contribute to regional hostilities, and advance the demonization campaign against Israel in the international arena.
Rachel Hirschfeld is UN Desk Coordinator and Researcher at NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based research institute.