Statement by UNRWA Spokesperson, Chris Gunness
Jerusalem 14 May 2018
UNRWA is dismayed by the deaths and injuries in Gaza today of dozens of civilians, including children. The Agency unreservedly condemns the excessive use of force employed against demonstrators, who have the right to peaceful assembly and expression.
The population in the Gaza Strip has been exposed to the consequences of repeated armed conflicts and a stifling blockade over the past decade. Today’s violence and loss of life will add yet another layer of trauma onto an already untenable situation.
UNRWA is specifically alarmed by the impact the latest developments have had on Palestine refugees, who constitute over 70 percent of Gaza’s population. Since 30 March, when what has become known as the “Great March of Return” started, at least 4 UNRWA students have been killed and some 125 injured.
Behind the numbers, there are shattered lives, destinies and limbs. In many cases the injuries sustained are very severe and likely to result in life-long disabilities. UNRWA supports calls for investigations into these grave incidents in accordance with international standards to ensure accountability for violations of international law.
The risk is high to see similar violence occur again in the coming days. Collective international mobilization is therefore urgently required to prevent further loss of life and injury. Every additional casualty is a defeat for humanity.
By Julie Webb-Pullman
Source: Gaza SCOOP
With the help of New Zealanders the Palestinian Family Charitable Association in Beit Hanoun has done it again – provided warm winter clothes and blankets for some of the neediest children in Gaza as the wintry weather begins to bite.
Not that there are very many children in Beit Hanoun who are not needy – 1,500 apartment blocks were destroyed in this town during the 51 day Israeli offensive in July-August, leaving many thousands homeless and their schools full of displaced families. (more…)
Ministry of Health Gaza
July 27, 2014
Hospitals in Gaza are confronting a new crisis, as patients ready for discharge are unable to leave, taking up hospital beds urgently required for the incoming wounded.
The situation for many of these patients is dire: either their families have been killed or there is no-one to care for them, their homes have been destroyed, or they live in areas under Israeli orders to evacuate and are under threat of being shot if they return.
Several attacks on UNRWA schools serving as shelters for displaced persons have left these already traumatised and still-vulnerable victims too distrustful to accept them as a discharge option. In addition, the over-crowded and under-resourced conditions in the shelters are an unsuitable environment for the recuperating injured, with limited water, hygiene and electricity supplies. (more…)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness said that large regions of the Gaza Strip are a “disaster area” and called on the world community to lift the Israeli blockade in order to allow recovery efforts to proceed, in a statement sent to Ma’an.
“Large swathes of northern Gaza are a disaster area with water as far as the eye can see. Areas around Jabalia have become a massive lake with two meter high waters engulfing homes and stranding thousands,” the statement read.
“Four thousand UNRWA workers are battling the floods and have evacuated hundreds of families to UNRWA facilities. Our sanitation, manintenance workers, social workers and medical staff have been working through the night and round the clock to assist the most vulnerable, the old, the sick, children and women,” the statement continued.
“We have distributed five thousand of litres of fuel to local pumping stations, but the situation is dire and with the flood waters rising, the risk of water borne disease can only increase. This is a terrible situation which can only get worse before it gets better,” it added, referring to major fuel shortages across the Gaza Strip that have dramatically worsened in the last few months.
Gunness also highlighted the need for an end to the blockade of the Gaza Strip in order to allow the region recover from the current crisis.
“When all this is over, the world community needs to bring effective pressure to end the blockade of Gaza,” he said.
“Any normal community would struggle to recover from this disaster. But a community that has been subjected to one of the longest blockades in human history, whose public health system has been destroyed and where the risk of disease was already rife, must be freed from these man made constraints to deal with the impact of a natural calamity such as this,” the statement continued.
“And of course it is the most vulnerable, the women and children, the elderly who wil pay the highest price of failure to end the blockade.”
The Gaza Strip is currently under a state of emergency due to severe weather conditions caused by a historic storm front moving south across the Levant.
Fuel shortages have caused daily life in the Gaza Strip to grind slowly to a halt since early November, as power plants and water pumps are forced to shut down, cutting off access to basic necessities for Gaza residents.
The Gaza Strip has been without a functioning power plant since the beginning of November, when the plant ran out of diesel fuel as a result of the tightening of a seven-year-long blockade imposed on the territory by Israel with Egyptian support.
The plant itself was only reopened last year after it was targeted by an Israeli airstrike in the 2006 assault on the Strip. The power plant generates around 30 percent of the Gaza Strip’s electricity supply, while the rest comes from Israel and Egypt.
Until July of this year, the tunnels to Egypt provided a vital lifeline for the territory amidst the otherwise crippling Israeli blockade. The blockade has been in place since 2006, and it has limited imports and exports and led to a major economic decline and wide-reaching humanitarian crisis.
In the last year, however, the situation had greatly improved, as the tunnels to Egypt witnessed a brisk trade following the Egyptian Revolution.
Gaza Strip energy officials have blamed Egypt for destroying numerous tunnels linking the Gaza Strip and Egypt in recent months. They also blamed the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority for charging taxes on fuel too high for Gaza Strip authorities to afford.
This morning I called UNRWA Headquarters for an update on the situation regarding the suspension of their services in Gaza.
I have not yet been able to confirm that food distribution will continue, if and when relief and distribution centres in Gaza will reopen – or even if they already have.
Unlikely – only two out of eight UNRWA numbers called were answered, and one was to the mobile of a person who informed me they were on leave in London.
The other, to a Public Information Officer requesting information on the current situation, received the response that they will “get back to me.”
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.
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.