As Syria Burns, the U.N.’s Top Health Body Singles Out Israel

By Patrick Goodenough | May 24, 2013 | 5:18am EDT

The U.N. World Health Organization opens its annual assembly in Geneva on May 20, 2013. (UN Photo by Pierre Albouy)

( – The Obama administration says it has unswervingly challenged the United Nations’ disproportionate criticism of Israel, but at the U.N. World Health Organization’s annual assembly this week, that anti-Israel bias was once again clearly on display.

Out of all the health-related crises in the world, WHO’s top decision-making body included on its 25-item agenda just one targeting a particular country situation – with Israel in the crosshairs.

On Wednesday the assembly, which is meeting in Geneva from May 20-28, passed a resolution entitled “Health conditions in the occupied Palestinian territory, including east Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan.”

Condemning Israel for its policies, the resolution among other things called on the WHO director-general to “provide health-related technical assistance to the Syrian population in the occupied Syrian Golan.”

Neither that resolution, nor any other on the assembly’s agenda, addressed the situation in Syria itself, where according to the U.N. more than 80,000 people have been killed in two years of civil war.  Other topics on the agenda ranged from global issues like “communicable diseases” to administrative ones like “financial matters.”

Syria’s population is around 22 million. By contrast, about 20,000 Syrians, most of them Druze, live on the Golan Heights.

Israel captured the Golan Heights during the 1967 Six Day War and in 1981 formally annexed the strategic ridge. It is now also home to some 19,000 Israelis.

Ahead of the vote the WHO assembly had before it a report from the Assad regime which accused Israel of “inhuman,” “unethical” and “heinous” practices against “the Syrian population in the occupied Golan.”

In a statement to the assembly the Israeli government called the agenda item and resolution “politically motivated,” and “an absurd example of the way the assembly’s agenda is cynically abused.”

“[A]ll residents of the Golan Heights enjoy high quality medical services equal to all other residents of Israel,” it stated.

The Israeli government said the assembly should “turn its attention and limited financial re

sources toward regions in which its involvement is really required and highly expected.”

It pointed in that context to “the ongoing deteriorating situation in Syria, especially with regard to the health situation of the people of Syria and the incomprehensible destruction caused to the public health facilities of the country.”

The United States was one of just four countries to vote against the resolution (Israel, Australia and Canada were the others), which was carried 53-4, with 50 abstentions.

U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice told a Jewish audience in Washington last month that defending Israel at the world body was “a huge part of my work.”

“We will not rest in the crucial work of defending Israel’s security and legitimacy every day at the United Nations,” she said.

‘Horrors’ in Syria

The resolution aimed at Israel was passed at a time when the situation in Syria – and neighboring states where Syrian refugees have fled – is being viewed by other parts of the U.N. system as one of the most serious current humanitarian emergencies anywhere.

“The situation in Syria is a humanitarian catastrophe with ordinary people paying the price for the failure to end the conflict,” U.N. Humanitarian Chief Valerie Amos told the U.N. Security Council last month.

She said at least 6.8 million people were in need of humanitarian assistance, including 4.25 million who are internally displaced. A further 1.3 million have fled Syria to seek refuge in neighboring countries.

Amos said a U.N. team had “visited a hospital in Aleppo where over 3,500 war-wounded patients have reportedly been treated. There is no blood bank and doctors are performing surgery at times without anesthetic or even suture thread. And, the hospital and its staff are regularly hit during fighting.”

“Our descriptions cannot begin to give you the real picture of the horrors being meted out every day,” she reported. “We have heard testimonies of houses burnt with families inside; of people being bombed and killed while queuing for a piece of bread … I cannot overstate the seriousness of the current situation in Syria.”

U.N. Watch, a Geneva-based non-governmental organization accredited to the U.N. said the body’s hypocrisy had “reached a new low.”

“To see the Assad regime point the finger at Israel out of professed concern for the health of Syrians is, frankly, a sick joke,” said executive director Hillel Neuer.

“The real question is this: Why is the U.N. allowing mass murderers to deflect attention from their crimes by scapegoating democracies?”

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