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Wednesday, 24 April, 2002, 16:57 GMT 17:57 UK
Israel's troubled UN relations
A UN building in Qana that was struck by Israeli fire
In 1996, Israeli artillery hit a UN compound in Lebanon

After at first agreeing to a United Nations mission to find out what happened in the Jenin refugee camp, Israel has now put forward several objections.

One is to the composition of the team, another - perhaps more fundamental - has to do with exactly what it will investigate.

Israel says it has nothing to hide in Jenin
To understand the nature of the argument, you have to look not only at the specifics but also at the long history of friction and tension between Israel and the UN.

For many years, Israel has seen the UN as a cockpit of hostility towards it.

That does not apply so much in the Security Council, where the Israelis' main backer the United States has habitually vetoed critical resolutions.

General Assembly support

But the General Assembly, where there are no vetoes, has produced a stream of condemnation, especially during the 1970s and 1980s.

For many years, until it was revoked, one General Assembly resolution held that Zionism was a form of racism.

UNRWA'a Peter Hansen
Israelis believe UN hostility in New York is transferred to aid workers on the ground
The Arab states might have been defeated by Israel on the battlefield, but they were able to mobilise the rhetoric of the Third World and others against the Israeli occupation of Arab territory.

In the minds of many Israelis, the hostility they perceived at UN headquarters in New York was transferred to UN workers on the ground.

The UN refugee agency in the occupied territories may tend to see things from a Palestinian point of view; the whole reason for its existence, after all, is to help Palestinian refugees.

But there have been more particular quarrels with the UN in recent years.

In April 1996, Israeli artillery killed more than 100 Lebanese civilians who were sheltering in a compound of the UN observer force in southern Lebanon, near the village of Qana.

'Bias'

The Israelis described it as a tragic mistake, but a UN inquiry by a Dutch general concluded that the shelling was probably deliberate.

Then there was a row over a UN videotape related to the kidnapping of three Israeli soldiers by Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas in October 2000.

UN observers' compound in southern Lebanon
Israel says Qana was a tragic mistake
The UN eventually admitted that it had misled the Israelis by denying that the tape existed, while continuing to argue that it contained no direct information about the kidnap.

All this helps to explain Israeli fury when the UN Middle East envoy, Terje Roed-Larsen, described the scene in Jenin refugee camp as horrific beyond belief.

The reaction to UN criticism is especially vehement, although Israeli officials have recently accused several international organisations of being biased against them, including even the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Fact-finding

Their most basic objection to the UN fact-finding team is that the investigation is focusing only on what the Israeli military did in Jenin.

Last Friday's Security Council resolution speaks simply of getting accurate information about recent events there.

Senior Israeli officials said the team should investigate, as they put it, the production line of Palestinian suicide bombers operating out of Jenin refugee camp.

The UN and the relief agencies, they said, had been blind to terrorist activities for years.

Israel's ambassador to the UN, Yehuda Lancry, said it was the terrorist network in Jenin that had generated the Israeli military operation.

Mr Lancry also summarised the objection to the make-up of the UN mission when he said it should be more balanced and include military and counter-terrorist experts.

He said they would understand the difficulties facing the Israeli army.

In fact, the team contains a retired American general and an Irish police adviser. The Israelis are now arguing that they do not have a high enough status in the mission.

A third Israeli objection is that the team shows signs of wanting to extend its inquiry beyond events in Jenin.

The Palestinians and others say the Israelis violated the Geneva Conventions in other West Bank towns, too.

The Israeli Government continues to insist it has nothing to hide. But the effect of all the objections may be to reinforce the allegations that it does.


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