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Source: United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)
7 June 2010

Filippo Grandi: I hope the tragedy will be a turning point

Israel's three-year-long blockade of Gaza is both absurd, tragic and totally unacceptable, said Filippo Grandi, the Commissioner-General of UNRWA, the UN organisation for nearly five million Palestinian refugees.

Filippo Grandi has worked with refugee issues in the UN for over 20 years. According to him, it is Israel, but also the outside world, that are responsible for all the suffering Gazans are exposed to daily.

"It is terrible to say this but I hope that the tragedy could be a turning point, a watershed in terms of the blockade. I hope that world leaders, those who make decisions, open their eyes to the suffering of the Palestinians. The blockade of Gaza is now almost longer than the blockade of Sarajevo," said Grandi.

He points out that Gazans have to recover at least part of their normal lives again.

Crisis affects all areas of life

Israel claims that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza and that the blockade is necessary to guarantee Israel's security. It is nonsense view, says Grandi, who previously worked in Afghanistan and with a wide range of humanitarian crises in Africa.

"If you have one and half million Palestinians affected 60km from Tel Aviv, it is not a healthy situation for Israel's security," said Grandi.

"I always say that the crisis is much bigger than just humanitarian. This is a crisis that encompasses every aspect of life: access to services, quality of services, water and sanitation, poverty, the economy. The crisis is affecting Gazans' physical and mental health, and impoverishing the population in what is also known as the world's largest outdoor prison."

Gaza is largely in ruins

According to UN statistics, up to 60 per cent of the population are unemployed and 80 per cent are dependent on UN food aid. Three-quarters of the buildings destroyed during the Israeli offensive in the last winter are still in ruins because of the lack of building materials.

Grandi admits that Israel's list of prohibited goods is absurd. Many wonder why Israel has banned coriander but not cinnamon, and why are chocolate and medicines so dangerous, as they may well not be used to threaten Israel?

"It's not just the list that is absurd. The whole blockade is absurd and more than that, it is unacceptable," said Grandi.

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