by Julie Webb-Pullman
Palestinian refugees from two of the most impoverished refugee camps in Gaza, Jabaliya and Shatti camps, today launched their own siege – of the UNRWA field office in Gaza City. Hundreds and men, women and children arrived around noon to protest at the cutting of ‘services.’
In reality, such ‘services’ are the bare essentials for survival – cooking oil, sugar, flour, rice, milk, clothing – in fact, just about everything.
As one woman pointed out, there are no jobs and they are trapped in Gaza by the siege so where else can they go to earn a living?
These are the people who were driven from their homes by Israel in 1948, and yet more in 1967. They have been living in some of the most overcrowded and unsanitary conditions on the planet ever since, in an artificially-created dependency on UNRWA handouts which are almost as difficult for them to swallow as the fact of their forced displacement.
Now, even those crumbs are being taken from them.
“We just can not survive on what they are now giving us,” one man told me. “There are 13 people living in our household. What are we to do? Where else can we get food? We can’t get jobs because there are none, we can’t leave, we can’t even grow food because Israel forces Gazans off the agricultural land to create buffer zones, and shoots us if we try to fish. They are just slowly killing us.”
As their frustration grew, some began banging on the doors and shaking the gates, using whatever was at hand – rocks, Palestinian flags – one woman even took to the door with her umbrella.
Suddenly a cheer went up – some men had climbed the gate, pulled the barbed wire away, and hoisted a Palestinian flag on the UNRWA roof, accompanied by loud applause from the crowd.
Palestinian security then arrived and asked the men to get down, which they did peacefully.
They may have left, but their problems haven’t.
The United Nations cannot just divvy up a country and give it away to someone else, without shouldering the responsibility for the effects on the original indigenous inhabitants – threat to their very survival.
As Maslow identified, warmth, food and shelter are the very basics in the hierarchy of human needs.
The United Nations has the responsibility to ensure these needs are met for every Palestinian refugee and their descendants, and in accordance with its own instruments, to ensure that they live with dignity, and self-determination, until such time as the UN meets its other pressing obligations – the right of return for every single Palestinian refugee that wants to, to their own independent state – without occupation, without a siege.
Then, and only then, can UNRWA cut its services, and this time, permanently.