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Gaza: UNRWA Responds "Of course the blockade is illegal...."

Gaza: UNRWA Responds "Of course the blockade is illegal, and it is not helpful. We are shouting this all the time, every minute."


By Julie Webb-Pullman In Gaza

I interviewed Adnan Abu Hasna, United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA)Media Advisor, about the desperate housing situation in the Gaza Strip, and recent protests against UNRWA’s failure for over ten years to provide scores of thousands of people in the south with the relief and works that are UNRWA’s mandate.


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Adnan Abu Hasna, UNRWA Media Advisor

Why the delay? I asked.

“Israel is not allowing building materials into Gaza freely, either for UNRWA, other UN organizations, or the private sector. You have to submit plans to Israel, and get their approval. Israel gave initial approval for our plans for 1900 units, but they have not given us the written approval that would allow the materials to enter the Gaza Strip.”

I want to get this straight – UNRWA, a United Nations agency operating under international law, has to get the permission of Israel, an occupation force breaching international law, to get the resources necessary to do its job?


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Welcome Home

“That’s right, because according to international law, Israel as the occupying force is responsible for the Gaza Strip. They have the full responsibility to get building materials through their terminals. We are talking about blockade and siege, and all that means. We are waiting for the Israelis to approve two major re-housing projects that would enable us to get rid of the problem of the people who are protesting against us in Rafah and Khan Younis.”

Surely, I say, 10 years is an unreasonable amount of time to expect people to remain homeless while a technicality over Israel’s status as an occupying force is argued over – many people find it impossible to understand how pandering to an occupying power who has imposed an illegal siege on Gaza, by not by-passing them to get essential materials in to address the very real humanitarian crisis that exists, shows that UNRWA has a lack of both logistic will to do the job that is their mandate, as well as a lack of political will in bowing to the illegal machinations of this rogue state.

“We are working in Gaza according to our mandate. From a legal point of view, Gaza is occupied by Israel. Israel did not withdraw from Gaza. Maybe you cannot see troops in the streets but Israel is around Gaza, in the air and in the sea, the Israelis are everywhere. With the exception of fuel to run Gaza’s electricity and some building materials [that come through the tunnels] Gaza depends on Israel 100%.

Of course the blockade is illegal, and it is not helpful. We published a report just three or four days ago (1), and we told them that the unemployment rate is nearly 45% - they have made the poorest people more poor – what will be the result? Give one example in history where imposing a blockade and siege has moderated anything, has created people looking for peace? We think it is counterproductive – look at what has happened! They [Israel] must be aware of it – Hamas is strong, the government of Hamas is strong, the public sector of the Hamas government increased, while the private sector lost 8000 jobs in the second half of 2010. Imposing such restrictions is weakening civil society and strengthening the Hamas government. What is Israel’s interest?”


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This room is kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and lounge to a family of four in Khan Younis

In response to the allegations that UNDP is using local materials and labour, and succeeding in providing housing where UNRWA has failed, Mr Abu Hasna said:

“I don’t know if UNDP is doing what they [the protestors] have said. What I know is, UNDP have already finished some shelters, and if they need some things like doors and windows to finish they can buy that from the local market, but according to my information, UNDP is not using materials coming through the tunnels. Israel allowed some building materials to come to UNDP, but as for building shelters from zero, I don’t think they are using local materials, the tunnels, or the informal economy.”

Regarding the allegation that UNRWA sold 70,000 tons of gravel to other agencies, he responded, “Not true. We cannot do that, it’s impossible. We are in need of far more than 70,000 tons, we are in bad need of hundreds of thousands of tons. Not even one grain has been sold, we have very stringent security measures regarding what we get. I’m sorry to tell you it’s not true, it’s a completely false allegation.”

I observed that it seems clear the UN and other agencies have been unable to adequately perform their functions and mandates of providing relief and works to refugees who have been homeless for ten years now, despite shelter being one of the three most fundamental needs of humans - due to Israel failing to honour its obligations under international law. I asked when his organization is going to stand up to Israel, in order to fulfill its mandate.

“I think this question should be directed at Israel,” he replied.

But it’s not Israel I am talking about, it’s the UN, I said.

“It should be directed to Ban Ki-Moon. “

Fair enough, Adnan is just the UNRWA spokesperson – but how long will the people of Rafah and Khan Younis remain homeless, while this bickering goes on, I asked.

“It’s a very real question. We understand the frustration, one of my own sisters, her shelter has been destroyed, I know how much suffering the people have, and these questions should be directed to the Israeli side, and to the international community.

We need help. We need Israel to approve our plans. We urgently need 10,000 shelters. Altogether we need at least 55,000 shelters.

The people of Gaza must have political and economic horizons, we must give them hope. Leaving tens of thousands of people homeless without any hope in life is damaging everyone. Accumulating problems in such a way will lead to very negative reactions from everybody – we don’t know how much more pressure people can take.

This is our message to the Israelis. The fact that you allow 20% of the needs means you can allow 80% of the needs, 100% of the needs. Our message is clear – your giving an opportunity to Gaza will benefit peace, it will benefit Israel’s interests.”


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Home to a family of seven - they are lucky enough to share a kitchen with another four families


Like millions of others, I am more concerned with law-abiding Gazans' interests. Despite Israeli claims there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza, over 27,000 people remain homeless in these two cities alone, making the upcoming flotilla, and the international solidarity it represents, not only an essential source of desperately-needed materials and supplies, but also a small glimmer of hope that things might one day change….if only international governments and organizations were as honourable as international civil society.

(1) http://www.unrwa.org/userfiles/201106083557.pdf

To help New Zealander HARMEET SOODEN bring relief to Gaza on Freedom Flotilla boat Tahrir, please donate:
By direct deposit - PHRC 06 0145 0045138 00
By cheque – Payable to PHRC, Box56150, Mt Eden, Auckland.
All donations will be receipted.(advice on internet deposits must be emailed to jwakim@xtra.co.nz so that receipts can be provided).
www.palestine.org.nz for more information

*************

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.

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