15 FEBRUARY 2012


Someone should be held accountable.

For the first time in U.N. history, the Secretary General was pelted with shoes and stones during an official visit. It happened at Beit Yahoun entrance to the Gaza strip as Mr. Ban was embarking on a valuable initiative to witness the completion of a creative U.N. project initiated during an earlier visit. In fact, Ban Ki-moon has been repeatedly supportive of the needs of the Palestinian people in Gaza. He publicly said he had cried when first witnessing their frustration and sorrow. That was his third visit to repeatedly announce in practice that he actually did care.

There were all the elements of an enhanced relationship and a successful visit.

Building such a relationship with confidence and hope is crucial to the U.N. role in that volatile region where -- despite all theories -- the Palestinian issue remains at the basic core. It is equally crucial to the Palestinian people who need and look forward to positive engagement by the U.N. Secretary General.

What went wrong?

Some smart fellow tried to explain it away by claiming that the popular assembly watching the Secretary General arrival had mainly stood by quietly until someone threw a shoe and some stones; so others followed! The most relevant point was made by Spokesman Martin Nesirky: "It was a lost opportunity to engage with civil society."

The Secretary General took it graciously. He understood the feeling of frustration and agony of the Palestinian people, he said.

Clearly, certain U.N. staff who were expected to handle the visit did not serve the Secretary General wisely nor competently. In particular, the Office of Special Representative, an Officer at UNRWA, and someone traveling with the Secretary General were insensitively dismissive of the feelings to which their boss had paid sensitive attention. A popular request to meet representatives of families who had detainees in Israeli jails was curtly turned down. Despite repeated attempts by prominent members of civil society in Gaza to explore potential options, they were arrogantly disregarded by the presumptuous triangle. Hence, not only the shoes and stones, but those officially invited to meet with the Secretary General declined the invitation -- and issued statements explaining their position. Distinguished independent personalities like Raja Sourani, head of the Palestinian Human Rights, explained that a more representative gathering should have been called. Various political parties took advantage to capitalize on the regrettable developments.

This is the first time a Secretary General -- very undeservedly -- received such a negative response. During a recent visit to Beirut, he was attacked by Hezbollah and some columnists, but it was clearly understood that it reflected a political position and was taken in stride and Lebanese officialdom left no doubt that Ban Ki-moon was very welcome.

The closest experience by any Secretary General was when Kofi Annan made a farewell visit to Beirut and went to the Southern suburb then destroyed by Israeli airforce during the 2006 war. The onlooking crowd looked tentative until the passionately-despised Terje Roed Larsen popped out his head. A a surge of growing anger erupted, prompting Security to push everyone in and out of harm's way. Another tense occasion was during a press conference by Dr. Boutros-Ghali in Sarajavo. Dr. Kurt Waldheim had a tense evening when first meeting the Iranian Revolutionary Council in January 1980 when negotiating the release of U.S. hostages after the fall of the Shah.

But nothing compared to what happened in late January in Gaza.

We raise the issue because the Secretary General is the symbol of our beloved organization, the U.N. when he is insulted, or his image eroded, we share the loss. That's why we hope that a serious examination of that damaging incompetence will attempt to remedy the situation. Particularly as the Secretary General is re-evaluating an overall new term, he may be better served if he would clear the deck where he was personally concerned.