Media Microscope: The Ging and Gunness Show
Jan 23, 2009 | Jamie Hyams
John Ging and Christopher Gunness are respectively, the head of and the spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) – the UN organisation set up to care for, and some would say perpetuate the problem of, the Palestinian refugees. The two have been particularly vocal, and have made regular appearances in our media, during the recent violence. Given that they work for the UN, most would assume they are neutral, but their conduct and comments suggest otherwise. On Jan. 2, on SBS TV “News”, Gunness was shown commenting, “In Gaza people have shown in the last year and a half since the embargo really tightened like a noose they have shown remarkable resilience and they do have extraordinary coping mechanisms.” That supposedly noose-like embargo never prevented the passage of food or medical supplies, and hardly ever blocked fuel, so maybe that was the “coping mechanisms” to which he was referring.
On the ABC TV’s Jan. 7 news, Ging said, “It is also unprecedented in its futility. It’s a completely unjustified and unnecessary conflict.” It would be interesting to know how many rockets Hamas would have to lob at Israeli civilians for Ging to consider Israeli action to stop it as justified. The answer may be no amount would suffice.
On Jan. 16, the day an UNRWA aid compound was set alight, Gunness was interviewed for SBS TV news by anchor Anton Enus. He attacked Israeli spokespeople for saying gunmen had been firing from UN property, and then, according to him, subsequently retracting. He claimed, “Frankly, the credibility of the Israeli spokespeople frankly (sic) is completely hanging in rags.” However, one incident in which he claimed Israel had to “retract” a claim of militants firing was the UN school in Jebaliya, hit on Jan. 6. But as Mark Regev told ABC TV’s “7.30 Report” on Jan. 8, both AP and the New York Times independently confirmed Hamas military activity inside or immediately adjacent to the facility.
Gunness complained that Israel “Falsely accusing us and putting it out that somehow UNRWA is consorting with militants” would make it more likely Israeli soldiers would think they could shoot UNRWA workers. Such self-righteous moral indignation might be easier to take if it was not for the fact that Hamas members are routinely employed by UNRWA, and a senior Islamic Jihad bomb-maker was the principal of an UNRWA school until Israel killed him.
The next day, ABC TV news showed Gunness saying, “This morning the warehouse is still smouldering because that’s what happens… you heard the revulsion of world leaders that here was an attack on aid.” It was not an attack on aid. It was an attack on Hamas in which the compound was accidentally hit. And Ging later admitted no one failed to get aid because of it.
Complaining to Enus on Jan. 13 about UNRWA workers getting caught in the hostilities, Gunness warned, “I have in my inbox every single real-time email of every single firing incident on every single one of our workers. This will be used ultimately, potentially, as evidence in the application of international humanitarian law … Let me assure the world that every single email that we have in UNRWA, every real-time incident of where we were phoning up the Israelis and saying ‘please call off your tanks, our workers are being killed’… our medical convoys – a few days ago [one] going in during the lull to recover the body of one of my colleagues – was fired on. All of these incidents are being recorded. The Israeli army and the rocket launchers, by the way, are being very carefully scrutinised. And at the end of the day, I believe it will take a long time but there will be justice.” It is interesting that he just assumes that every incident of firing on UNRWA personnel war by Israel, and that he throws in the Hamas rockets merely as an afterthought.
Similarly, speaking after two Palestinian teenagers were killed when Israeli shells hit a UN school, Ging was shown on the Jan. 18 SBS TV news saying, “The question that has to be asked is, for all those children, and all those innocent people who have been killed in this conflict, were they war crimes?” At times, both made almost token condemnation of Hamas rockets – or of what Gunness seemed to regard as possible but unconfirmed human shield tactics – at the end of a diatribe against Israel, as Gunness did in an interview on the Jan. 7 “7.30 Report”. However, given the prevalence of Hamas war crimes, which also include hiding weapons in and booby-trapping mosques and other public buildings, their comments and attacks are far, far more weighted against Israel than would be expected from any objective observer.