Daily Israel Report

UNWRA Stages 'Propaganda Play' against IDF

In an UNRWA show, spokesman Gunness portrays Israel as the clear aggressor. During Cast Lead itself, Gunness seemed far less sure of his facts.
By David Lev
First Publish: 10/27/2009, 11:18 PM / Last Update: 10/27/2009, 11:54 PM

Israel News Photo: Archive


In an interview with Israel National News last January, Gunness said that it was not clear, for example, that white phosphorous had been used in the Israeli shelling.
For the past several months, the United Nations has been sponsoring what many Israelis have called a "propaganda piece," in the form of a one-man play describing Israel's shelling of a United Nations Relief and Works Agency warehouse in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead.

The performer, Chris Gunness, who also wrote and directed the performance, is the chief spokesperson for UNWRA in Gaza. In the show, he plays the part of a warehouse and describes how he is "the victim of an excruciatingly painful fire that burned me down" when the building was bombed by the IDF using what he claims is illegal white phosphorous.

Gunness has been peddling the show, titled "Building Understanding: Epitaph for a Warehouse," at sites around Israel since the summer, claiming that he produced it chiefly for Israeli audiences. Yet so far he's had few bites; he was banned in a Tel Aviv theater, and a performance scheduled for a theater festival in Akko (Acre) was cancelled at the last moment. At another performance in Tel Aviv, a large part of the audience walked out in mid-performance.

In the show, Gunness portrays Israel as the clear aggressor, hitting the United Nations warehouse randomly, and perhaps intentionally, in order to further injure the Gaza civilian population – thus dismissing immediately IDF claims that Hamas terrorists were firing missiles at Israel from right next to the warehouse. "How do you know the IDF is telling the truth? Do you really believe them?," he told Israel National News during Operation Cast Lead.

However, Gunness seemed far less sure of his facts on the issue of the alleged use of white phosphorous earlier this year. In an interview with Israel National News last January, Gunness said that it was not clear that white phosphorous had been used in the Israeli shelling, as Hamas and the U.N. originally charged, and instead based his claim on circumstantial evidence. 

"According to our international staff members, who were eyewitnesses, it looks like phosphorus, it smells like phosphorus and it burns like phosphorus," he said. Gunness called for an international probe into the attack. In the show, Gunness leaves no doubt in the audience's mind that the IDF indeed used the chemical in the bombing.

Subsequent probes by Israeli military officials proved that phosphorus material from smoke, and not as a substance in weapons, was measured in minimal quantities and far within the limits of international law.

When asked how his staff knew that the shells had been fired by IDF soldiers, Gunness acknowledged that he had no way to confirm the information. "That is the assessment of the international staff on the ground," he said, "but this is why there needs to be an impartial investigation. Let's find out." The play, however, clearly states that the IDF was responsible for the shelling.