Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | News Flashes | Scoop Features | Scoop Video | Strange & Bizarre | Search


Gazans Begin Their Own Blockade, of UNRWA - Photo Story

Gazans Begin Their Own Blockade – of UNRWA

Feature by Julie Webb Pullman (In Gaza City - Gaza)

Click for big version

1. UNRWA warehouse under siege - See more images below

On Thursday I arrived at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) warehouse at Rafah to find a protest camp blocking the gate. The Domestic Committee for Demolished Houses invited me into their tent, to tell me their story.

In 2001-2, during the Second Intafada, Israeli Defence Forces demolished thousands of houses along the Gaza-Egypt border, some of which had four or five families living in them, and there are currently still some 27,000 homeless.

For nine years, they have been forced to live in tents, on the ground, in warehouses, or in rented accommodation – whatever they can find. In the meantime most families have grown by an average of 30 people, while 15 have died waiting. One man later took me to see his his ‘home’ – two rooms in a warehouse where he and his 13-member family have been living for eight years. It is literally two rooms, with an outside squat toilet, the only source of running water. They have just been served with an eviction notice, and have nowhere to go. To add to their misery, the stress of the eviction caused him to have a stroke.

UNRWA is the agency that exists to provide rehousing, but some eight years later, most are still waiting. While UNRWA has built a couple of schools and a medical clinic in the wasteland set aside for the new settlement, no houses have been constructed in almost a decade.

Why the hold-up, I asked, to be met with a chorus of “There’s no good reason”, “UNRWA refuses to use domestic materials“, “UNRWA only wants to use material from Israel so that Israel benefits, but even then they can’t get them to let it through the crossings”, “UNDP has built many houses and accomplished their projects without needing Israeli permission”, “UNDP uses materials from the local market, and gets the job done”. They were unanimous in condemning UNRWA’s refusal to use local labour and materials, and adamant that UNRWA is guilty of bad faith, but worse still, of mismanagement. “The whole project only needed 95,000 tons of stones, and UNRWA had the prearranged agreement with Israel and got 70,000 tons delivered – but instead of building the houses it was meant for, they sold it to other agencies for their projects, like the Arab Bank and UNDP. They sold it for 84 shekels a ton, and we have the evidence. If they’d had good intentions, they would have done something for us when they had the materials, instead of selling them,” their spokesman said.

After eight years of trying to get results, they ran out of patience, and have been protesting outside the UNRWA warehouse every day since 01 March this year. Since then they have had several sessions with UNRWA administration, the first on 07 March, when they were given an undertaking that the housing project would be continued by 01 May. When that never transpired, another meeting was held with the Deputy-Director, Sebastian Price, on 25 May. “He promised reconstruction would start by 16 June, today, but as usual, nothing has happened,” they complained.

“We want the west to know the suffering Israel is causing us. UNRWA is pro-Israel, not pro-Palestinian – they are supposed to look after our humanitarian rights and they have not done it. They are not really interested in solving the problem,” they added.

In desperation they have written a letter of complaint to Ban Ki-Moon and to the Human Rights Council about their situation, made even more unbearable by the unfairness that some people made homeless in Operation cast Lead two years ago have already been re-housed while they are still waiting almost a decade later. “It is a crime against humanity, preventing the provision of housing. We accuse Israel of crimes against humanity for preventing building materials getting through,” they said.

An old man angrily threatened, “Every organization with an UNRWA flag won’t be able to work until they fulfill our needs.”

It was no idle threat – protestors from Rafah and Khan Younis today, Saturday, forced the closure of several summer camps sponsored and supervised by UNRWA, saying the millions spent on ‘having fun’ would be better spent on housing.

Forget the Arab Spring – the Gaza summer has begun.


  • Scoop Image:More images related to this story.

Click for big version

2. Homeless for over eight years

Click for big version

3. Graffiti on UNRWA warehouse wall

Click for big version

4. Yunis El Arja and some of his family in the 'kitchen'

Click for big version

5. The 'bedroom' of the home they have lived in for 8 years - a warehouse - and for which they have been served an eviction notice

Click for big version

6. Road to nowhere - UNRWA schools and clinic - with no houses

Click for big version

7. UNDP not only planned to build housing

Click for big version

8. but they also did it - new apartments awaiting new owners


Julie Webb-Pullman (click to view previous articles) is a New Zealand based freelance writer who has reported for Scoop since 2003. She recently managed to get into Gaza during a brief period when the Rafah Gate was open.

© Scoop Media

Top Scoops Headlines


Werewolf: ‘Disruption’ Is For Losers

Disruption – anarchic, dynamic, table-tipping, mould-breaking, consensus-shattering disruption – has become part of every corporate bout of auto-hype to the faddish point where the term has lost any useful meaning it might once have had. More>>


Werewolf: Coney Island (And The Trumps), Baby

Like much of that part of the coast, and given the storm surges of Hurricane Sandy, Coney Island should be occupied only by clumps of grass and seabirds. Instead there are 60,000 people in multi-storey apartment buildings living among the faded remnants of a once-spectacular fantasyland.. More>>


Gordon Campbell:
On Corbyn, Trump And Outsider Politics

Jeremy Corbyn elevated to the leadership of Britain’s Labour Party! Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders on the rise in the US… On both sides of the Atlantic, these are dark days for the political Establishment. More>>


Operation Chrysalis: A New Beginning For Scoop

On December 19th 2014 the Scoop Team set out on a project called "Operation Chrysalis". We decided to turn Scoop's 16 year old online news publishing business into a new kind of news business, one connected directly to its readers, owned by a not-for-profit and based on a new business model. More>>


Keith Rankin: The Economy - What's It For?

I re-watched the Q+A 'immigration debate' screenedon 23 August. In light of recent events, the discussion already seems very dated. The underlying assumptions were that the economy is a system in which production growth is pretty much the sole objective, and that migration policy must serve this end of output maximisation... More>>

Until Dawn: Pick Your Own Horrible Adventure

Suppermassive Games’ Until Dawn sees a group of dumb sexy teenagers take a trip to a spooky mansion atop a mountain. It is, obviously, a horror game. However, the game is so ridiculous it turns out to be more of a comedy. Until Dawn begins with ... More>>

Get More From Scoop

Top Scoops
Search Scoop  
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news