The United Nations today renewed its appeal to donors to provide $36 million in urgently-needed funds to support emergency assistance to Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip.
“Our emergency programmes in Gaza face a critical funding situation,” said Chris Gunness, spokesperson for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). “We call on our donors and other stakeholders to respond to this appeal as an urgent priority.”
The $36 million is needed for programmes related to temporary employment, food assistance, school feeding, and community mental health, according to UNRWA, which is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions from UN Member States.
These programmes are separate from the agency’s regular education, health and relief activities, and are specifically tailored to address the most urgent humanitarian needs of the most vulnerable refugees in Gaza.
“UNRWA fears that without a substantial injection of cash towards its emergency work in Gaza, food rations to hundreds of thousands of refugees, including children in UN schools, may be reduced in the coming months and community health programmes will be threatened, including psycho-social support to 25,000 children,” said Mr. Gunness.
At a ceremony today in Gaza, Germany announced it is contributing $2.8 million to UNRWA’s school feeding programme – the country’s first such contribution to that programme.
The renewed appeal for funds from UNRWA comes as the blockade imposed by Israel against Gaza since 2007, when Hamas ousted the Fatah movement in the territory, remains in place, despite repeated calls by the UN and other members of the international community.
A report issued last month by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) found that a modest relaxation of the blockade in 2010 resulted in some improvement in economic activity in Gaza, though humanitarian conditions are still dire. It noted that poverty levels in Gaza are as high as 38 per cent.
“It is an unfortunate reality that until the blockade is lifted in full, allowing Gaza’s economy to recover, there will continue to be a need for international humanitarian assistance to support the people of Gaza,” Mr. Gunness stated.
UNRWA is the main provider of basic services – education, health, relief and social services – to five million registered Palestinian refugees across Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the occupied Palestinian territory.
A group of independent UN experts today disputed the finding of an independent panel of inquiry set up by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza was legal.
The four-member panel, headed by former New Zealand prime minister Geoffrey Palmer, was entrusted with investigating last year’s incident, in which a convoy of aid ships bound for Gaza after departing Turkey was intercepted by Israeli forces leading to the loss of life of eight Turkish and one Turkish-American citizen.
“In pronouncing itself on the legality of the naval blockade, the Palmer report does not recognize the naval blockade as an integral part of Israel’s closure policy towards Gaza which has a disproportionate impact on the human rights of civilians,” the experts said.
“As a result of more than four years of Israeli blockade, 1.6 million Palestinian women, men and children are deprived of their fundamental human rights and subjected to collective punishment, in flagrant contravention of international human rights and humanitarian law,” they added.
The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory, Richard Falk, said the Palmer report was aimed at political reconciliation between Israel and Turkey. “It is unfortunate that in the report politics should trump the law,” he added.
“The most questionable move of the Palmer panel was to separate the naval blockade from the overall closure of Gaza to a normal supply of humanitarian supplies, including supplies needed for medical operations and sanitation. The flotilla incident was about the effort to circumvent this aspect of Israeli policies, and the organizers posed no objection to inspection carried out to prevent weapons from entering Gaza.”
Israel says it needs the blockade to prevent the entry of weapons into Gaza, from which thousands of missiles have been fired at Israeli cities over the past eight years.
Apart from Mr. Falk, the other experts, who report to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council, are: Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter; Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, Anand Grover; Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, Catarina de Albuquerque; and Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Mar