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UN Development Programme (UNDP)
17 April 2002
UN Volunteers: West Bank and Gaza
Making a Difference During the Current Crisis
United Nations Development Programme/Programme of Assistance to the Palestinian People
17 April 2002
On March 29, 2002 many municipalities in the West Bank were reoccupied by Israeli soldiers. The results of the reoccupation have been very destructive. Hundreds of Palestinians have been killed and permanently injured in the past two weeks alone. Many civilians’ homes have been destroyed as has basic infrastructure such as roads, water and sewage lines, and electricity and telephone lines. Many institutions and services, such as Palestinian ministries, schools and universities, communications providers, and independent Palestinian and foreign media agencies, have been ransacked. And the offensive continues.
As a direct result of the destruction of basic Palestinian infrastructure and services, an imposition of near total curfews, and the blockading of Palestinian towns, a humanitarian crisis has resulted in the West Bank. There is a shortage of water and food, which is causing malnutrition, dehydration, and intestinal and other illnesses. Hospitals have often been surrounded by troops, preventing them from accessing pregnant women, the elderly, and the sick and injured, and disrupting the replenishment of vital supplies such as medical accessories, oxygen, medicine, and blood. Uncollected garbage and open sewage in the West Bank is causing fear of the breakout of epidemics.
Though there has been much suffering and destruction throughout the West Bank, the direst situation is in the refugee camp near the city of Jenin, where the most intense fighting has taken place. Many homes and buildings have been demolished or bombed to the ground, and some bodies remain under the rubble. Though the camp is now relatively calm, its residents have been without water and electricity for at least ten days. During the fighting, International and Palestinian Red Crescent/Red Cross and UNRWA vehicles were banned from entering the camp. The PRCS/ICRC, UNRWA, and other agencies have been allowed through in the past two days, but they are still banned from going to certain areas within the camp. Just yesterday, human rights monitors were prevented from accessing the Jenin Hospital to assist with performing autopsies.
While the humanitarian crisis is the most urgent concern in the West Bank, there has been serious damage done to other important areas of Palestinian society. Though by no means exhaustive, these are a few key examples: Before the reoccupation, half of all Palestinians were under the poverty line, and that percentage has only increased. Also, there is growing concern for the mental well being of Palestinians, especially the youth and children, after enduring and viewing so much violence. Finally, Palestinian cultural sites, such as historic buildings in the old cities of Nablus and Bethlehem, have been damaged or destroyed.
In response to the ongoing crisis, and as an expression of their goodwill, thousands of Palestinians and international aid workers are devoting extra time and energy to help alleviate the dire situation. United Nations Volunteers are an integral part of that effort. Through the UNDP/UNV Palestinian programme, an emergency operations support team of both UNV and TOKTEN (Transfer of Knowledge through Expatriate Nationals) volunteers has been formed to assist in the current crisis. Volunteers not tending to the neediest areas have been relocated to UN sister agencies as well as other humanitarian and governmental agencies where they can be of most use. The agencies include World Food Programme, World Health Organization, UNRWA, World Bank, as well as the Palestinian Water Authority and national electricity company.
UN volunteers are contributing in a variety of ways. Some are assisting in their field of expertise as information officers. The volunteers’ duties include contacting different organisations and societies in the West Bank and gathering information about the number of beneficiaries and their needs, whether it is in terms of the availability of food, medicine, and medical equipment or the ability to get supplies and equipment across to possible partners.
Some volunteers address the emergency operation plans for shelter rehabilitation and demolished houses. Their task involves the division of Jenin Refugee Camp into several zones of assistance. The volunteers then decide whether there is a possibility of rehabilitation for the homes or whether they need to be demolished. If homes do need to be demolished, they must consider the building requirements for that. Others are working in the field with PRCS in Jenin.
As a direct response to incursions in Gaza, the TOKTEN Palestinian Programme has recruited a TOKTEN volunteer doctor who is performing plastic and reconstructive surgery for the injured as well as assisting in setting up several field hospitals in case access to regular hospitals is denied.
A UN volunteer in Gaza has contributed to drama therapy sessions for children. These sessions are meant to help Palestinian children cope with the violence all around them through viewing dramatic sketches they can identify with, expressing their own frustrations and anxieties, and finally learning to deal with these feelings positively. In a similar project, another UN volunteer has assisted in workshops in refugee camps, where children learn music and traditional Palestinian dancing and are encouraged to share their experiences and feelings.
A TOKTEN volunteer in Ramallah, who is under curfew along with all other Ramallah residents, is trying to communicate the Palestinian perspective of the crisis to the rest of the world through media outlets such as BBC Radio, Democracy Now, and South Africa Radio.
Another TOKTEN volunteer is now writing a proposal to receive funding for the employment of at least twenty five National United Nations Volunteers to further help ameliorate the current crisis in the most urgent areas.
One of the national volunteers has worked with UNRWA in its efforts to stem the current suffering of Palestinian refugees. He is also involved with the International Solidarity Movement, which is trying to raise awareness of the conflict.
An international volunteer is working at a Palestinian human rights organization, Law Society, reporting on the ongoing human rights violations in the occupied territories.
Volunteers at the Wild Life Society in Beit Sahour have donated their own computers to set up an emergency information and media centre. Their other activities include raising awareness about the destruction to the environment caused by the latest events. The volunteers are also preparing list of the names of people most in need of humanitarian assistance, as they are conduit in providing aid.
Another TOKTEN volunteer is helping coordinate press interviews with Palestinian eye-witnesses and victims of the military campaign. She is also gathering case studies of Palestinians denied medical help due to the sieges and curfews.
Current UNV’s are supported and sponsored by United Nations Development Program, which has received a generous contribution towards this effort from the government of Japan.
Though there is currently a humanitarian crisis and, moreover, much destruction, despair, and anguish in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, volunteers have not lost their hope and determination. Through their assistance, United Nations and other volunteers are not only responding to urgent needs, but also lifting the spirits of the Palestinian people and encouraging them on their road to a just and lasting peace.
UNV Palestinian Programme