Archive for UNRWA

Israel’s blockade of Gaza is cracking

Posted in Everyday life in Gaza, Fatah, Gaza, Hamas, International community, Israeli occupation, Israeli politics, Palestine, Siege, USA foreign policy with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 09/05/2011 by 3071km

Written by: Noura Erakat

Date published: 9th May 2011

Source: Al Jazeera English

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Sealing coastal territory undermines past diplomacy – and siege is likely to be broken by post-revolution Egypt.

Egypt has announced that it will open its border crossing with Gaza on a permanent basis, thereby reversing Egypt’s collusion with Israel’s blockade regime. The interim Foreign Minister, Nabil al-Arabi, has described support for the blockade by the previous Egyptian regime as “disgraceful“. While Israeli officials have responded to this announcement with alarm, they have limited capacity to undermine the new Egyptian government’s prerogative.

Since the capture of Israeli soldier Corporal Gilad Shalit in June 2006, the Rafah crossing has been closed to Palestinians in Gaza, except for “extraordinary humanitarian cases”. In June 2007, after Hamas’ ousting of Fatah, Israel imposed a naval blockade on Gaza and sealed its five border crossings with the territory. Egypt’s closure of Rafah made the siege comprehensive, and effectively cut off the 360sq mile Strip from the rest of the world.

The devastating impact of the blockade on Gaza’s 1.5million population, where food aid dependency has risen to 80 per cent,  has been defined as a humanitarian crisis by a broad range of international human rights and humanitarian aid organisations – including Human Rights Watch, UNRWA, Amnesty International, and the World Health Organisation.

Under the presidency of deposed leader Hosni Mubarak, Egypt only opened the Rafah border in response to exceptional crises, including during Israel’s Winter 2008/2009 offensive against Gaza and in the aftermath of Israel’s fatal raid on the humanitarian flotilla in June 2010. Rafah’s closure demonstrated Mubarak’s shared interest with Israel in undermining Hamas’ leadership.

Egypt’s post-revolution government is eager to reverse this policy – as evidenced by its successful brokering of a unity agreement between Fatah and Hamas and, shortly thereafter, its announcement that it will end its closure of Rafah. Egypt’s decision comports with enduring border-crossing agreements that have been suspended since 2007.

Egypt’s decision is a resumption of the status quo ante

According to the Agreement on Movement and Access(AMA), brokered by the US and the European Union to facilitate the transfer of authority for crossings from the Government of Israel to the Palestinian Authority following Israel’s unilateral disengagement from Gaza, Egypt is authorised to control the Rafah crossing on its side of the border, in cooperation with the Palestinian Authority.

Following internecine fighting in 2007, in which Hamas forces were routed from the West Bank but took control of the Gaza Strip, the border crossing agreement, along with Egyptian and EU participation was suspended -but not terminated.

The European Union’s Border Assistance Mission to Rafah (EUBAM), deployed to support a smooth transfer of authority at the border, has conditioned its presence on cooperation with Mahmoud Abbas’ Force 17, or the Presidential Guard.  Since Fatah’s ousting from the Strip the EUBAM has “maintained its operational capability and has remained on standby, awaiting a political solution and ready to re-engage“.

The EUBAM has extended its mission four times since suspending it in 2007, indicating the EU’s willingness to cooperate with the PA, should a political solution be reached between the rival Palestinian political parties. As recently as late March, the EUBAM Chief of Mission reaffirmed to Egypt’s ambassador to Israel the mission’s readiness to resume its tasks at Rafah.

Arguably, the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation removes impediments to EU and Egyptian cooperation at the Rafah crossing.

Vague though it may be, the agreement between Fatah and Hamas stipulates the rehabilitation of Palestinian security forces and a mandate to end the siege and blockade of Gaza. Although hostilities between the rival parties are ongoing, in theory, technical hurdles undermining the opening of the Rafah crossing have been overcome.

Accordingly, Egypt’s decision to open the Rafah crossing is commensurate with existing agreements and signals a resumption of the status quo ante. Israel can do little to challenge this policy on legal grounds and it lacks the political credibility to maintain the comprehensive siege by force.

Israel lacks political credibility to maintain Gaza blockade 

While 29 Democratic Senators have urged President Barack Obama to suspend US aid to the Palestinian Authority should Hamas join the PA government, European and international support for the unity government is robust.

On May 6, the EU announced that it will provide an additional US$85million in aid to support the PA in light of Israel’s withholding of $105million of tax revenue belonging to the Palestinian Authority. Similarly, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon – along with a coalition of donor nations – have urged Israel to release the Palestinian funds. Meanwhile, the United Nations’ envoy to the Middle East, Robert Serry, has described the unity government as “overdue“, demonstrating general international support for the unity government that includes Hamas.

Similar international support exists for ending the siege on Gaza. Especially since Israel’s raid on the Gaza flotilla in May 2010, support for the debilitating siege has steadily dwindled. In the aftermath of the fatal attack in international waters, even the US described Israel’s blockade as “untenable” and called on Israel to change its policy toward Gaza.

The White House not only supports an easing of the siege, but it also supports Egypt’s post-revolution government. Shortly after Mubarak’s departure, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Egypt to congratulate the new government – and promised it diplomatic support as well as economic aid. Although not impossible, it is unlikely that the US will challenge Egypt’s decision, which reflects the US’ blockade policy as well as the US-brokered AMA, and risk undermining the government’s nascent development.

Finally, within Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lacks the political support necessary to take any significant risks. Opposition leader Tzipi Livni has accused Netanyahu of isolating Israel and stated that her Kadima party would not join a Netanyahu-led coalition even in the face of September’s “political tsunami”. Livni also opposes the Palestinian unity government, but explains “there is a difference between defending Israel and aiding the survival of a prime minister that only damages the country”.

In light of broad support for the Palestinian unity government, frustration with the ongoing blockade, enthusiasm for Egypt’s new government, and Netanyahu’s tenuous domestic standing, it is neither likely that Israel can mobilise significant political opposition to Egypt’s new policy, nor use force to respond to opening of the Rafah crossing.

Buoyed by impunity, the cover afforded by turmoil in the region, and the desire to establish its qualitative military edge in the region, Israel may nevertheless employ a military option to respond to the reopened crossing. Even if it does not use force at Rafah, it may brandish its military prowess by targeting the forthcoming Gaza flotilla, which will set sail for Gaza’s shores in late June. In light of the political balance, Israel’s choice to use force without a tangible military threat will exacerbate its already waning legitimacy.

Escaping this political trapping leaves Israel with little other choice than to urge the US to act on its behalf. Whether the Obama administration is willing to do so (the US Congress has already demonstrated its willingness) remains unclear in light of a fast-transforming Middle East, where US interests continue to hang in the balance.

Noura Erakat is a Palestinian human rights attorney and activist. She is currently an adjunct professor at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies in Georgetown University. She is also a co-editor of Jadaliyya.com.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

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Thirsty for justice

Posted in Everyday life in Gaza, Gaza reconstruction, International community, Israeli occupation, Operation Cast Lead, Palestine, Pictures, Siege with tags , , , , , , , , , on 25/03/2010 by 3071km

Written by Mona El-Farra

Published on Electronic Intifada

Date published: 25/03/2010

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Mona El-Farra writing from occupied Gaza Strip, Live from Palestine, 25 March 2010

Palestinian children wait to fill up water in the Gaza Strip. (Hatem Omar/MaanImages)

Toni Morrison once wrote “All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was.” I feel it is the same for Palestinian refugees, who have struggled for decades for their right to return home. I thought of this connection between water and refugees during a recent meeting about the Middle East Children’s Alliance’s (MECA) Maia Project with Aidan O’Leary, Deputy Director of the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) Operations in Gaza.

UNRWA provides assistance, protection and advocacy for 4.7 million Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. We are working with UNRWA to install locally-made water purification and desalination units in their schools. Mr. O’Leary expressed his total appreciation for the Maia Project and stressed that providing clean drinking water to children is among the highest priorities and needs for Gaza schools. Mr. John Ging, UNRWA’s Director of Operations in Gaza, also expressed his admiration for the Maia Project.

The situation in Gaza continues to deteriorate under Israeli military occupation and siege. The refugees are often the hardest hit by rising unemployment and poverty. Access to clean water is one of the many basic needs that UNRWA is no longer able to meet. A recent UNRWA report states that the most common infectious diseases affecting Palestinian refugees in Gaza — who make up more than three-quarters of the population — are directly related to inadequate supplies of safe water and poor sanitation: diarrhea, acute bloody diarrhea and viral hepatitis.

Creating a positive impact on children’s health is the main goal of the Maia Project, and working on water access when you live in Gaza is self-explanatory. The reality is that tap water in Gaza is undrinkable due to its bad quality and contamination. At best, when you have access to a running tap, the water is not clean and is very salty. Our daily water consumption averages around 78 liters a day per person, while Israelis average over 300 liters each, more than four times as much. Israel is under increasing scrutiny by international organizations including Amnesty International for “denying Palestinians the right to access adequate water by maintaining total control over the shared water resources and pursuing discriminatory policies.”

We move to help the children as quickly as we can. Children in Gaza will have the chance to drink clean and soft water, but only at the rate in which we can implement the Maia Project. And we race against time. The UN estimates that Gaza will have no drinking water in the next 15 years.

Water is life, but here in Gaza it can also bring death. Numerous military attacks on the Gaza Strip have devastated Gaza’s water infrastructure. Israel’s twenty-two day assault last winter destroyed or rendered unusable an estimated 800 of Gaza’s 2,000 wells, and caused $5.97 million in damage to our water and wastewater treatment facilities. Since January 2009, the Gaza Health Ministry and the World Health Organization have issued drinking, seafood and swimming advisories.

We yearn for our water and our freedoms to return to us. We roll up our sleeves and hope for rain, the kind of rain that floods the hearts and minds of those who hunger and thirst for justice.

Here in Gaza, we are still thirsty.

Mona El-Farra is a physician by training and a human rights and women’s rights activist in practice in the occupied Gaza Strip. Her blog is From Gaza, with Love.

No windows, pens in Gaza’s classrooms

Posted in Everyday life in Gaza, Fatah, Gaza, Gaza reconstruction, Hamas, International community, Israeli occupation, Operation Cast Lead, Pictures, Siege with tags , , , , , , , , , , on 10/09/2009 by 3071km

Date published: 10th September 2009

Source: The Electronic Intifada

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No windows, pens in Gaza’s classrooms
Report, The Electronic Intifada, 10 September 2009

Elementary school students in the Gaza Strip. (Erica Silverman/IRIN)

GAZA CITY, occupied Gaza Strip (IRIN) – Some 1,200 students at al-Karmel High School for boys in Gaza City returned to class on 25 August without history and English textbooks, or notebooks and pens — all unavailable on the local market.

Severe damage to the school, caused during the 23-day Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip which ended on 18 January, has yet to be repaired. Al-Karmel’s principal, Majed Yasin, has had to cover scores of broken windows with plastic sheeting.

“The entire west side of the school was damaged adjacent to Abbas police station which was targeted on 27 December,” said Yasin. “We have yet to repair the $65,000-worth of damage, since glass and other building materials are still unavailable.”

Educational institutions across Gaza are still reeling from the effects of the Israeli offensive, compounded by the more than two-year-long Israeli blockade (tightened after Hamas seized power in June 2007), according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

At least 280 schools out of 641 in Gaza were damaged and 18 destroyed during the military operation. None have been rebuilt or repaired to date due to continued restrictions on the entry of construction materials, OCHA reported.

At the start of the new school year, all 387 government-run primary and secondary schools serving 240,000 students — and 33 private sector schools serving 17,000 students — lack essential education materials, according to the education ministry in Gaza.

“The war had, and continues to have, a severely negative impact on the entire education system,” Yousef Ibrahim, deputy education minister in Gaza, said. “About 15,000 students from government schools have been transferred to other schools for second shifts, significantly shortening class time.”

He said the damaged schools lacked toilets and water and electricity networks; their classrooms were overcrowded, and they also suffered from shortages of basic items such as desks, doors, chairs and ink for printing.

UNRWA schools affected

More than 80 percent of government-run schools and those run by the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) now have a second shift, according to Ibrahim.

The 221 primary and secondary schools run by UNRWA (in addition to government- and privately-run schools) are also struggling to accommodate 200,000 students this school year.

“We have only provided the minimum amount of stationery and textbooks to our students, since it is very difficult to bring in these materials and they are unavailable on the local market,” said UNRWA spokesperson Milina Shahin in Gaza.

UNRWA schools are also missing items such as lab equipment, calculators, desks, tables, chairs and even crayons, said Shahin.

UNRWA planned to build 100 new schools this year, but has had to give up the idea due to a lack of building materials. Thirty-five UNRWA schools are still without windows as a result of the offensive, due to a lack of glass, Shahin said.

Truckloads of stationery await clearance

Since the beginning of 2009, Israel has allowed 174 truckloads of educational materials to enter Gaza. Of these, only two were carrying stationery, in July and August, OCHA said.

According to the Palestine Trade Centre (PalTrade) and local suppliers, there are nearly 120 truckloads of stationery awaiting clearance to enter.

Ghazi Hamad, head of borders and crossings under the Hamas-led government in Gaza, said some educational materials, such as notebooks and clothing, had entered Gaza via underground tunnels from Egypt, but this was only a token amount.

Teaching has also been affected by the Fatah-Hamas rift: Of the 11,000 teachers in Gaza, 7,000 are employed by the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah (occupied West Bank). Half of these did not return to teach this school year, according to deputy education minister Ibrahim.

“We had to replace them with less qualified teachers, while they chose to stay at home,” he said.

This item comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian news and information service, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. All IRIN material may be reposted or reprinted free-of-charge; refer to the copyright page for conditions of use. IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

As blockade bites deep, more Gaza children must work

Posted in Everyday life in Gaza, Gaza, Hamas, Israel, Israeli occupation, Pictures, Siege with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on 31/07/2009 by 3071km

Written by Rami Almeghari

Date published: 31st July 2009

Source: The Electronic Intifada

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As blockade bites deep, more Gaza children must work
Rami Almeghari writing from the occupied Gaza Strip, Live from Palestine, 31 July 2009

Fourteen-year-old Jihad sells chewing gum to drivers in Gaza City. (Rami Almeghari)


Zaher and Jihad are two boys living in Gaza. Every day they get up early and rush to Gaza City’s streets so that they might find something to sell to those walking or driving by. Their fathers have been unemployed since the the intifada — the uprising against Israeli occupation — began in 2000 and they, along with thousands of others, were no longer allowed to work inside Israel. Conditions worsened after Israel imposed a siege on the territory in June 2007. The boys work in order to help their families.

Zaher, 17, from Gaza City’s al-Tuffah neighborhood explains that, “I get up at 6am every day, then I go to a local farmer, where I pick up mint leaves. I carry the leaves and start my working day as you see me now.” He buys small bunches of mint leaves for one shekel ($0.25). Working sunset to sunrise, Zaher earns about 90 shekels a day.

Zaher added, “I am forced to sell these leaves here. Otherwise my family cannot live. There are 10 members in my family, including me, my brothers and parents. No one helps us as my father has been without work for the past nine years. The only assistance we get is some food rations provided by UNRWA [the UN Agency for Palestine refugees] from time to time as well as some help from a generous relative.”

While running among the cars in the street, Zaher explains that not everyone is supportive or generous. Stating that, “Sometimes some people, especially young ones in luxurious cars, mock us. I recall that one day while I was trying to sell mint to some young men in a car, they took the leaves from me and then drove away fast as the light turned green. When they stopped they gave me the leaves and said sarcastically ‘who told you we want these leaves?'”

Standing on another corner at the al-Saraya crossing, Jihad al-Jael sells small packs of chewing gum. Jihad, 14, and his 15-year-old brother walk to the crossing every morning from the Gaza City neighborhood of al-Mujama al-Islami, which is about three kilometers away.

Jihad explains that, “I have five sisters and five brothers as my father has been without work for the past nine years. Under these harsh conditions me and my brother are forced to come here in the heart of Gaza City, in order to earn a living for hungry stomachs.”

Jihad’s father is not only unemployed but is also ailing. The family does not have another source of income other than the occasional food rations they receive from UNRWA.

Sadly, Jihad and Zaher are not alone. Children can be seen on Gaza City’s other street corners, selling in front of stores or to passing cars. Other children sell tea, coffee or tissues at the Jundi al-Majhoul public garden in the al-Rimal district. All of them work to help their families.

Although the Palestinian Child Law of 2004 forbids children under age 15 from working, the phenomenon has become more prevalent among that age group and younger due to the harsh economic conditions in Gaza. In June, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) published a report stating that the closure of Gaza has pushed the unemployment rate to 44 percent and caused a dramatic rise in poverty. Currently, more than 70 percent of Gaza’s population lives in poverty, with an income of less than $250 a month for a family of seven to nine.

A crippling Israeli blockade has hampered public life in Gaza, with 95 percent of local industries being forced to shut down, due to lack of essential raw materials and shortage of machineries. According to the ICRC, only 2,662 truckloads of goods entered Gaza from Israel in May. This represented a decrease of almost 80 percent from the 11,392 truckloads Israel allowed in during April 2007, before Hamas took over the territory amidst factional fighting with the US-supported Fatah party of West Bank Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. Israel imposed a siege on Gaza after Hamas’ takeover.

Sajy al-Mughanni, communication officer for the UN children’s agency (UNICEF) in Gaza, blamed Israel’s 25-month siege for the growing poverty as well as the increasing number of working children in the region. He explained that, “We do have a high level of unemployment in Gaza. In terms of child labor, we don’t have specific numbers. But we do use our teams to go out in the field, to do an assessment and try to intervene with the families. I can confirm to you that the phenomenon of child labor is growing. The increase of this phenomenon can be mainly attributed to the Israeli blockade.”

Al-Mughanni added that, “We are coordinating with all UN agencies to provide food aid or health care to many families, in an attempt to provide relief and prevent further spread of the child labor phenomenon. However, this is not solving the problem drastically. So if we want to realize an end to such a phenomenon, the Israeli blockade should come to an end and Palestinians in Gaza should go back to their normal life, prior to the imposition of the siege.”

Rami Almeghari is a journalist and university lecturer based in the Gaza Strip.

Coverage of Public Hearings in Gaza City

Posted in Gaza war crimes investigation, Operation Cast Lead, Siege, War crimes with tags , , , on 28/06/2009 by 3071km

Written by: Free Gaza Team

Date published: 26th June 2009 (updated 27th June 2009)

Source: Free Gaza Movement

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UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict – Updated Media Advisory on Coverage of Public Hearings in Gaza City

26 June 2009 – As part of its investigations into the December 2008 -January 2009 Gaza conflict, the UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict will hold public hearings, on Sunday 28 and Monday 29 June in Gaza City and on Monday 6 and Tuesday 7 July in Geneva.

Because of security arrangements in Gaza, all media and the public will be able to view the proceedings at a separate location from the actual hearing room.

Members of the Fact Finding Mission will interview victims, witnesses and experts at UNWRA Headquarters in Gaza. Two television crews contracted by the UN will tape the hearings, which will be screened live for the public
and the media at the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, Tal Alhawwa, next to the Al Quds Hospital.

The times of the public hearings in Gaza local time are as follows:

Sunday 28 June
08:30 – 13:00 and 14:30 – 16:30 (05:30 – 10:00 and 11:30 – 13:30 GMT)

Monday 29 June
08:30 – 13:00 and 14:30 – 17:00 (05:30 – 10:00 and 11:30 – 14:00 GMT)

The audio from the speakers at the public screening will be in Arabic only.

Television Coverage

Television crews may attend the screening at the same location as the public. The live coverage from the hearing room will be available on W2A, which can be downlinked by European and Middle Eastern earth stations for global onpass. Both Arabic and English audio will be available. Parameters for transmissions are as follows:

Satellite: W2A @ 10°E
Transponder: F5
Channel: CH3
Uplink Freq: 14230.83
POL: Vertical
Downlink Freq: 12730.83
POL: Horizontal
Symbol Rate: 5.632
FEC Rate: 3/4

Radio Coverage

Audio outputs (XLR connections and a limited number of audio jacks) will be available at the screening room for radio journalists. These will be available in both Arabic and English.

Photographs

Still photographs taken by a photographer contracted by the UN will be uploaded onto an FTP server during the lunchtime break and at the end of the hearings. They can be downloaded by accessing the FTP server at:
ftp://ftp.ohchr.org

Username: FFMG2009
Password: P433FF

N/B both username and password are case sensitive.

For further information in English, please contact Doune Porter on +41 (0)79 477 2576, or +972 (0) 597 444 159, email dporter@ohchr.org

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For further information in Arabic, please contact Adnan Abu-Hasna on +972 (0)59 942 8061, email a.abu-hasna@unrwa.org

Disposable justice

Posted in Gaza war crimes investigation, Hamas, IDF, Israeli politics, Operation Cast Lead, Palestine, War crimes with tags , , , , , , , , , , on 04/04/2009 by 3071km

This is an interesting article from Gideon Levy published in Haaretz 0n 02/04/09 on the (inexistent) rule of law in Israel.

Here you have some excerpts:

Not that anything different could have been expected. From the day the military advocate general announced that unlike in the first intifada, not every killing in the territories would be investigated, battle ethics were condemned. When the killing of 4,747 Palestinians in the second intifada, 942 of them women and children, according to B’Tselem, is followed by 30 indictments, five convictions and only one prison sentence of any considerable length, the IDF is sending a clear message: The killing of Palestinian civilians is of no concern to the military justice system.

The message to soldiers is just as clear: Kill as much as you please, no wrong will come to you, the army won’t even bother to look into it. Now, after 1,300 deaths in Gaza, the military advocate general confirmed this policy. Any adherent of the rule of law in Israel should have been shocked by this rash decision, but our army of lawyers is concerned with other things.

(···)

Israel cannot be considered a country of the rule of law if its backyard is occupied by this grotesque show called the military justice system. Only when it is segregated from the IDF and a civil justice system investigates the army will we know we have a legal army and a legal state. Until then, all we can do is look to The Hague.