Israeli easing of Gaza blockade painfully insufficient, senior UN official says John Ging, Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza
22 April 2010 – The recent easing of some Israeli restrictions on the entry of goods into Gaza is welcome but infinitesimal when compared to the needs of the 1.5 million Palestinians living there, the top United Nations official in the Strip said today.
“[It is] a drop in the bucket,” said John Ging, Director of Operations in Gaza for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), at a news conference in New York, repeating the categorization used by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on his visit to the Strip last month.
“A drop in the bucket, of course, is not a half-full glass,” he said of Israel’s agreement to allow in some supplies of clothing, wood and aluminium, the latter needed for a prime UN objective – rebuilding UNRWA schools devastated by Israel’s military offensive against Gaza’s Hamas authorities 18 months ago. “The context is so great, the scale of the need is so large.”
Mr. Ging noted that a conference in Sharm el-Sheikh last year put a price tag of $4.5 billion on the reconstruction and recovery of Gaza. “That’s $4.5 billion, at the moment, of despair and misery until such time that recovery and reconstruction gets under way,” he said.
UNRWA cannot cater to the thousands of children with the right to education under UN resolutions as refugees. Gazans are “demanding of us to accommodate their children in our schools. They have not been allowed to build a school in Gaza for three years,” he added. Israel imposed its blockade for what it called security reasons after Hamas, which does not recognize Israel’s right to exist, ousted the Fatah movement in the Strip in 2007.
Mr. Ging said the recent easing, including a monthly allowance of 25 truckloads of aluminium, is “very welcome, welcome not just for the physical impact that they [the goods] have, even though it is quite insignificant in the larger scale, [but] for the psychological impact that it has because it is the first positive step, and secondly for the practical proof that it provides that it can be done.
“So if we can have 25 truckloads of aluminium a month, then why not 50, and if we can have 50, then why not 100 and so on?” he asked, noting that at the monthly rate of 25 it would take five and a half months to bring in all the aluminium needed for the schools.
The arguments put forward to justify the blockade are now being undermined by these positive developments “because it is now demonstrated that there are ways of overcoming the security challenges and that’s what we want to build on now, capitalize on what is now the possible and expand it to the maximum extent,” he added.
He gave the same overall grim picture of the impact of the blockade as in previous accounts. “It’s bewilderingly difficult for them on a daily basis. It’s a struggle to survive [with] the infrastructure and water and sanitation in a state of collapse and all that goes with that,” he said, stressing that there is no prospect for restoring a legitimate economy because there is no commercial trade into or out of Gaza.
“That leads to the impoverishment of the people, and the physical suffering of so many continues on a daily basis, not just physical suffering, but psychological suffering because people are at their wits’ end to understand when all of this will come to an end.”
He concluded with an impassioned plea to ease the Gazans’ plight. “It’s time to put the people before the politics. If we do prioritize the people, and if we do focus on the needs of the people, in many of our views, that will make the politics easier moving forward. Ignore the people, abandon the people, leave the people to despair and desperation, and that will make the politics more difficult going forward,” he added.