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April 28, 2010

End Gaza's three year siege, says UNRWA

Reuel S. Amdur

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The European Union and the United States have not put enough pressure on Israel to end the siege of Gaza. That is the viewpoint of Filippo Grandi, Commissioner-General of UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency) for Palestinian Refugees, as expressed in an interview with Juan Miguel Muños, appearing in the Spanish newspaper El País.

When asked about his objectives, he identified education as the biggest.  Next is the protection of and denunciation of the violation of rights, especially the rights of the Palestinians suffering under the occupation. 

His agency is especially preoccupied with the plight of the 130,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem and environs, faced with expulsion and house demolitions.  On top of all that, he is struggling to increase the financial resources.

With regard to Gaza, Grandi said that reconstruction conducted legally is simply not possible, due to difficulties between UNWRA and Israel. 

For Israel, security is the primary consideration, while for UNRWA it is important that Gaza receive materials for construction in a legal and transparent fashion. 

Currently, the whole economy of Gaza is based on tunnels to Rafah, controlled by speculators who, he said, have no interest in stability.  Dialogue with Israel has been almost fruitless.  Israel promised UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that construction materials would be allowed through, but in fact only a small fraction has been allowed in.  A million tons of cement is needed, but only 25 tons have made it into Gaza since 2007, so currently building is being done with adobe.

Grandi finds Gaza to be a priority because of the great needs and the enormous concentration of the population, with a million and a half kept hostage to politics for three years now.  While, he said, the great majority of the population wants a normal life, if they are not permitted to have one there could be an explosion.  That explosion could be political or it could be military.  For him, the blockade amounts to collective punishment, a violation of international human rights law. 

On a happier note, Grandi reported that Saad Hariri, the Lebanese Prime Minister, has promised to improve conditions in Lebanon’s Palestinian refugee camps and to increase opportunities for work for the Palestinians there.

1. It is hoped that the increased opportunities will serve to create greater stability.

While Grandi did not make the comparison, it is worth noting that Jordan has not locked the Palestinians into refugee camps and has allowed them to fit into the larger economy.  In that regard, Jordan stands out among the Arab countries. 

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