5 February 2009 – Beyond the worsening shortage of food, mattresses, blankets and clothes for Gaza’s 1.4 million beleaguered residents, Israel’s continued closure of most access points is depriving the United Nations of paper to print out a human rights programme to teach children to eschew violence.
“I’m being obstructed in printing out the human rights curriculum that we’re all so proud of having developed here and that is more important now than ever before to get on with the teaching of the responsibilities that go with human rights and to focus on making sure that these kids grow up with the right values,” the Director of Operations in Gaza for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), John Ging, said today.
“I can’t get the paper in. It’s really beyond comprehension,” he told a news conference in New York by video-link from ground zero, adding that this “shameful” situation was the result of politics, nearly three weeks after Israel ended its devastating offensive against Hamas with the stated aim of stopping rocket attacks against it.
UNRWA has managed to get children back to school, but 60 per cent of them lack text and exercise books because of the paper ban.
Mr. Ging stressed that thousands of tons of generously donated aid is stuck outside Gaza in Egypt, Ashdod Port in Israel, and Jordan “and we’re trying to get these thousands of tons through what is effectively the eye of a needle down at Kerem Shalom,” the only crossing currently open for food, medicine and other non-food items.
“I don’t want to hear any more from people on the Israeli side the arguments about who might or might not benefit… The ordinary people on the ground are paying the price, not the politicians, and of course the inevitable consequences are entirely predictable: we’re going to have more desperation, more misery, more violence,” he said.
Mr. Ging, who has repeatedly warned that increasing misery in Gaza feeds extremism, cited UNRWA’s food distribution as a prime example of “how impossible it is being made for us.”
The Agency is responsible for feeding 900,000 refugees in Gaza, yet can only get food packets out at a daily rate of 30,000, giving an idea of just how long those at the end of the queue have to wait.
“We have the infrastructure, we have the staff, but we don’t have the food,” he said, adding that the situation was about to become even worse since Israel has banned the import of plastic and UNRWA will run out of essential plastic packets for the food distribution by Sunday.
Mr. Ging also stressed that this week’s theft of UNRWA aid supplies at gunpoint by Hamas police was another challenge facing the Agency, adding that it was the first time the Islamist organisation had done so, and it must be the last. Hamas said it would give out the aid itself.
“I don’t know what they have done with it. I sincerely hope they have it intact because we want it back, that’s our message to them,” he stressed. “We won’t take seriously any commitments they give us vis-à-vis future action until they first and foremost return the aid that they stole and secondly make public their assurances that it won’t happen again, i.e. stop the nonsense that they’ve been coming out with trying to justify what they did and accept that it was an egregious error on their part.”
While the amount stolen was small, “it’s massive in its significance because they’ve crossed a red line,” he said.
He also noted that statements by Israeli opposition politician Binyamin Netanyahu, tipped by public opinion polls to win elections next week, that Israel has not yet finished the job in Gaza and Hamas must be toppled had caused heightened anxiety among a population that had already been at the receiving end of a massive military onslaught.
Also in Gaza, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) announced today that it will provide ready-to-eat meals for hospital patients who might otherwise go hungry due to food and fuel shortages. The assistance is in addition to the agency’s regular distributions of wheat flour, cooking oil and chickpeas to 365,000 people affected by conflict and food shortages.
WFP is aiming to distribute more than 40,000 ready-to-eat meals in the coming days. The packages, which contain items such as canned meat, chicken curry, cheese and biscuits, are part of the first tranche of ready-to-eat meals donated by Saudi Arabia in response to WFP’s “Operation Lifeline Gaza” appeal.
Meanwhile, UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Radhika Coomaraswamy said children in the region continued to suffer and remain in a precarious state of insecurity despite the Gaza ceasefire.
In Gaza, grave violations against children were committed such as killing, maiming and denial of humanitarian access, while in southern Israel there is no doubt that children live in constant fear of missile attacks, she noted after a four-day visit to the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel.
She called on Israel to open all crossings for regular access to Gaza and on Hamas and other affiliated groups to immediately stop the rocket attacks on Israel.