Julie Webb-Pullman reports

UNRWA collectively punishing Gaza refugees

by Julie Webb-Pullman

UNRWA’s response to protests in Gaza against the cutting of ‘services’ which saw a few dozen people enter the UNRWA regional headquarters has been to suspend all food deliveries to Gaza refugees.

A more clear-cut example of collective punishment would be hard to find. Punishing more than 25,000 people for the actions of a few dozen by with-holding such a basic necessity as food is a grossly disproportionate response, and completely indefensible under any circumstances.

If individuals break the law, punish the individuals – not the entire population.

Hamas security forces have guaranteed that UNRWA staff and facilities will be protected, and have assigned personnel to ensure the conditions exist for them to safely perform their functions.

This is apparently not enough for UNRWA. Following the invasion of the regional headquarters by a few dozen people during protests on Thursday, they announced the suspension of all food deliveries.

The protests were in response to an UNRWA announcement that they would be cutting the 40 shekels a month (a little over USD $10) allowance each refugee registered for assistance receives. Not every refugee in Gaza is registered for assistance, only the most needy – but even this is questionable, as many agencies report that many of the most needy are not registered because of barriers to do so.

The paltry 40 shekels is essential to buy cooking gas, clothing, school books and uniforms, and food to meet the shortfall in the meagre UNRWA rations – which now have been completely stopped.

For a United Nations agency to withdraw food from the people the UN was responsible for displacing in the first place is nothing short of scandalous – and indicative of a gross lack of respect for human rights, when supposedly the fundamental purpose of the entire UN system being to uphold both individual and collective rights.

I repeat, if individuals break the law, punish the individuals – not the entire population.

Questions should be being asked at the highest level, if this is how UNRWA, the agency with responsibility for the well-being of Palestinian refugees, is choosing to conduct its business – by starving them.

No wonder the refugees are protesting – so should every person with any compassion, or commitment to fundamental human rights.

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