Iain Hook: UN staff call for justice

International UN staff today took the unprecedented measure of calling on Israel to hold its military to account and protect all UN and other aid workers operating in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) from harm, in accordance with international humanitarian and human rights law. The demand is an independent initiative taken by over 60 international staff from 22 countries.

The call for justice follows the death of a UN worker, Iain Hook, a 53 year old British citizen, who was shot in the back by an Israeli sniper on November 22, 2002 while negotiating an evacuation of Palestinian civilians and UN staff from a UN compound in Jenin refugee camp. Following the fatal shooting, the Israeli military further refused to permit the access of an ambulance to assist Mr Hook.

Statement attributable to international UN workers operating in the Occupied Palestinian Territories

December 3, 2002

To whom it may concern,

We, the undersigned, are staff members of the United Nations, but we write in our personal capacities. All of us work in the West Bank and Gaza Strip bringing badly needed humanitarian relief to a population in distress. In the course of our duties we have witnessed much tragedy on both sides of the conflict. We have come from all over the world to work, without bias or favour, to try to alleviate some of the pain and suffering that has for too long afflicted this land.

Now we find that, once again, tragedy has touched us. For us, expressions of sadness and grief are not enough. The diplomatic language of the bureaucrat will not suffice. We write to express our absolute condemnation at the senseless killing of Iain Hook in Jenin on November 22. Based on publicly available information, we condemn the Israeli army in the strongest possible terms for this wanton act against an unarmed man - a man shot in the back by a military sniper while negotiating with the Israeli army to evacuate the women, children and UN staff who were in the UN compound at the time.

Our condemnation is reinforced by the knowledge that the soldiers refused to allow an ambulance called to evacuate Iain to travel the last few yards needed to reach him. Instead, UN staff were forced to seek an alternative route to rescue him. This caused a delay and made sure that the work done by a bullet was completed by the Israeli army’s refusal to respect the most elementary standards of humanity.

The shock of that day’s events does not come in isolation. For two years, United Nations staff have been subject to escalating harassment and violence by Israel’s military, so that the protection supposed to be afforded by the blue letters of the UN is being steadily eroded.

UN staff - international and Palestinian alike - have been verbally abused, stripped, beaten, shot at and killed by Israeli soldiers. There has been armed interference with UN employees and vehicles, including attacks on UN ambulances and medical personnel. UNRWA schools, health clinics and offices have been hit by bombs, rockets, tank shells and gunfire even during daytime, thereby endangering the lives of staff and, in the case of schools, the lives of refugee children. Buildings occupied by UN staff have been repeatedly damaged during Israeli airforce bombing.

Tragically Iain Hook was not the first person working with the UN to die at the hands of the IDF this year. In March, Kamal Hamdan was shot and killed while travelling in a clearly marked UNRWA ambulance in the West Bank. In April, Husni Amer died in Israeli military custody in Jenin after, according to witnesses, receiving a brutal beating by the soldiers at the time of his arrest. From its silence, we presume the Israeli authorities have ignored UN requests for an investigation and report of these two incidents, and have not seen fit to take any disciplinary action against the soldiers involved. To us, this seems to confirm a pattern of utter contempt on the part of the Israeli army for the lost lives of these men, the safety of UN staff or the minimum standards imposed by international law which should protect UN staff and other humanitarian workers.

The official military spokesperson’s statement on the initial investigation into Iain’s killing asserts that shots were fired from UNRWA’s compound in the Jenin refugee camp towards Israel’s forces. This contradicts eyewitness accounts of our colleagues in Jenin and the information relayed to UNRWA’s Field Office by Iain just prior to his death. The most charitable characterization one can make of this statement is that it lacks any credibility. To us, it has all the makings of propaganda designed to tarnish the reputation of the UN, excuse the killing of an unarmed man and perpetuate the false charge that UNRWA shelters terrorists, in the public mind. We strongly request that any investigation carried out by the Israeli government will be independent, transparent and impartial. We strongly request that the Israeli government will bring those responsible for Iain’s killing promptly to justice. Only the most lawless societies allow gunmen in uniform the impunity to kill aid workers without fear of punishment. We are confident Israel does not wish to see its troops painted in the same colours as the militiamen who have stalked some of the world’s other conflicts.

As UN staff, we expect the protection of the Israeli government to enable us to undertake our humanitarian responsibilities wherever they are needed. This is not a matter of courtesy or favour, but rather an implementation of Israel’s own obligations under international law and its express commitment to UNRWA to facilitate the Agency’s operations in the occupied territories.

Israel’s often stated regret at the loss of civilian lives is not an impervious shield that can deflect all criticism. It is a shield that is, in our view, tarnished by the attempts of Israeli spokespersons to link Iain’s death to wider political issues or to claim that the UN was somehow culpable for his killing. In these tragic circumstances, rather than easily uttered regrets, we expect the Israeli Government take the necessary steps to stop the harassment, beating and killing of UN staff. We expect respect and protection as United Nations employees. As international staff members, we hope and expect to return alive to our own countries and families after our work here is done. We hope and expect no less for our Palestinian colleagues so they can live and work in safety until the parties to the conflict eventually find the road to peace.

Sally Airs, Australia; Naomi Ando, Japan; Ignacio Artaza Zuriarrain, Spain; Alan Barnie, Australia; Peter Bartu, Australia; Pamela Bell, USA; Susan Brannon, USA; Marlise Brenner, Australia; Deidre Connolly, USA; Marisa Consolate Kemper, Canada; Joanna Corbin, UK; B. Scott Custer Jr., USA; Omar Dajani, USA; Calvin Dasilvio, USA; Isabelle dela Cruz, Germany; Marc De la Motte, Italy-France; Mark Dennis, USA; Ray Dolphin, Ireland; Juliet Dryden, UK; Teresa Fallarme, Philippine; Jean-Marie Frentz, Luxembourg; Christopher Gabelle, UK; Jagannathan Gopalan, India; Philippe Grandet, France; Pentti Hakonen, Finland; Roger Hearn, Australia; Grigor Hovmannisyan, Armenia; Thierry Kaiser, France; Sima Kanaan, Jordan; Elizabeth Kawambwa, Tanzania; Jan Kolaas, Norway; Antje Kunst, Germany; Marc Lassouaoui, France; Brett Lodge, Australia; Ali Mahmuda, Canada; Henrik Mathiesen, Norway; Carlos Mazuera, Columbia; Paul McCann, UK; Amanda Melville, Australia; Severine Meyer, France; Zeina Mogarbel, Spain; Merethe Nedrebo, Norway; Gustav Nordstrom, Finland; Patrick O’neil, Ireland; Melissa Parke, Australia; Joachim Paul, German; Alex Pollock, UK; Gerhard Pulfer, Austria; Timothy Rothermel, USA; Sam Rose, UK; Ehab Shanti, Canada; Shahwan Huda, Jordan; Jean-Luc Siblot, France; Guy Siri, France; Elna Sondergaard, Denmark; Juerg Staudenmann, Switzerland; Angelo Stefanini, Italy; Gretta Van Bleek, Netherlands; Arjan Van Houwelingen, Netherlands; Andrew Whitley, UK; Hanna Wintsch, Switzerland; Cecilia Wreh-McGill, USA; Ros Young, UK; Kirsten Zaat, Australia