Democracy Now interviews UNRWA spokesperson Gunness

Posted: July 22, 2014 by Rex Brynen in Gaza, UNRWA

From Democracy Now:

The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees says the number of people seeking refuge at its sites in Gaza has soared to more than 100,000. According to unconfirmed reports, one of the shelters, a girl’s school in central Gaza, was hit Monday by an Israeli shell. We speak to Christopher Gunness, spokesperson for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). “The situation for refugees on the ground in Gaza right now is unimaginably catastrophic,” Gunness says.

Full video here.

 

The Atlantic: Kerry’s Middle East peace plan

Posted: July 21, 2014 by Rex Brynen in Israel, peace process, US

The Atlantic this week has a lengthy and detailed piece by Ben Birnbaum and Amir Tibon on “The Explosive, Inside Story of How John Kerry Built an Israel-Palestine Peace Plan—and Watched It Crumble.” The article is very useful, although it does tend to focus more on the side-deals to keep the talks going rather than providing great insight into the substantive issues under negotiation.

It also contains a brief reference of where the US and Israel were on the refugee issue:

By late January, the Americans believed that their strategy of patient engagement with Netanyahu was finally paying off. After months of painstaking negotiations over every word in the framework, the prime minister had accepted once-unthinkable language. On refugees, the document would promise monetary compensation to Palestinians displaced in Israel’s War of Independence (and, separately, to Jews who left their homes in the Arab world). It also stated clearly that “the Palestinian refugee problem” would be solved within the new Palestinian state. But, in a groundbreaking departure from Israeli policy and his previous statements, Netanyahu agreed to a mechanism whereby Israelat its sole discretionwould admit some refugees on a humanitarian basis.

What is painted here as a major concession (“sovereign discretion”) was in fact part of the December 2000 Clinton Parameters, and indeed was also part of the Israeli negotiating position throughout 1999-2001 [1]. Compensation to Jews from Arab countries was first put on the table at the Camp David talks in July 2000.

In other words, what are being reported as a “groundbreaking departure” is 14 years old, even if Netanyahu himself only belatedly endorsed it. It is also significantly less flexible than the Israeli position in Taba in January 2001, where Israeli negotiators were prepared to offer concrete numbers for returning refugees.

 

[1] Gilead Sher, The Israeli-Palestinian Peace Negotiations, 1999-2001 (London: Routledge, 2006).

UNRWA Gaza situation report, 21 July 2014

Posted: July 21, 2014 by Rex Brynen in Gaza, Israel, UNRWA

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The following situation report was issued by UNRWA today.

On 7 July, in response to escalating violence between Israel and Hamas, UNRWA declared an emergency in all five areas of the Gaza Strip. The number of displaced people has since gone beyond the peak number from the 2008/9 conflict, and exceeds 84,000 in 67 schools. UNRWA has launched an emergency flash appeal for US$ 60 million to respond to the urgent and pressing humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza, including the thousands who have already fled their homes to seek safety in UNRWA facilities.


GENERAL

Past 24 hours: The past 24 hours marked the deadliest period since the current escalations of violence began, with 107 Palestinians killed, including 23 women and 35 children. Tragically, the total number of children killed in the current conflict has now passed 100 and represents almost one quarter of all Palestinian fatalities. 13 Israeli soldiers were reportedly killed in this 24- hour period.

The densely populated Shejayeh area, in the Eastern part of Gaza City suffered the most extreme levels of violence during this period, with at least 72 Palestinians killed (38 men, 13 women and 21 children) in a major escalation of the IDF ground offensive. A brief humanitarian pause to evacuate the wounded and dead was only partially implemented, with rescuers reportedly unable to access some areas of Shejayeh to provide assistance. Scenes at Shifa Hospital following the escalation in Shejayeh have been widely reported, with hospital staff overwhelmed with mass casualties.

An expanded IDF ground offensive has resulted in an exponential increase in Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs); it is estimated that up to half of Shejayeh’s residents fled their homes in reported scenes of panic during this period. The number of displaced Palestinians in UNRWA shelters across the Gaza Strip climbed sharply from 63,000 on 20 July to 84,843 on 21 July. This sharp increase has presented significant challenges to UNRWA operations, with shelters overwhelmed with huge numbers of displaced.

The scope of displacement is expected to further increase, with a ground offensive in place in six areas of the Gaza Strip. In Beit Hanoun the ground offensive now reaches to 1000 meters inside Gazan territory. In Middle Area, leaflets were dropped by the IDF in Maghazi Camp overnight requesting residents to leave their homes, and raising concerns of a possible expansion of the ground offensive in that area.

The continuing conflict is having an impact on delivery of basic services. Despite strong commitment from UNRWA sanitation staff, the Agency is struggling to maintain solid waste management operations in the context of ongoing escalations in violence and high numbers of IDPs in shelters. This presents a potential serious public health risk.

The ongoing conflict also presents a major concern regarding the risk of Unexploded Ordnance (UXO), especially to children. UNRWA is providing basic UXO awareness in shelters and will delivering a morecomprehensive awareness program once current hostilities cease.

“Gaza is an open wound”. This is how, speaking from Doha on 20 July, UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon described the current situation in Gaza. The Secretary- General condemned the killings of civilians, including children in Shejayeh as an “atrocious action” and called for an immediate end to the violence, stating that “too many innocent civilians are dying”. The Secretary- General’s statement was made during a late- night session of the UN Security Council, at which members reportedly expressed serious concern at rising casualty numbers and called for respect of international humanitarian law to be upheld. International pressure for an end to the conflict is continuing; with US Secretary of State John Kerry expected in Egypt discuss the crisis.

UNRWA RESPONSE

  • UNRWA is now providing shelter to more than 84,843 beneficiaries all five areas of the Gaza Strip. There are currently 67 designated emergency shelters, with more expected to open throughout the day. The priority continues to be the provision of food, water, sleeping and cleaning items.
  • Over the past 24 hours, food and water rations were distributed to shelters. This includes 233 family hygiene kits, 168 baby hygiene kits, 6940 mattresses, 3191 blankets, 54,489 tins of tuna, and 16,512 50- piece packets of bread.
  • Regular sanitation operations continue, with more than half of sanitation staff reporting for work, removing 136 tones of solid waste.
  • Regular UNRWA operations are affected but continue as security permits. 15 of 21 health clinics remain operational, and regular UNRWA services are available. 4549 people visited UNRWA health clinics yesterday, including more than 300 children who had regular check-ups and/or immunizations. There were 174 visits to the dentist at UNRWA health clinics and 33 people had appointments with psychosocial counselors.

SUMMARY OF MAJOR INCIDENTS

Reportedly, there were 101 rockets and 37 mortar shells fired towards Israel. IAF conducted 131 raids firing 182 missiles. Israeli navy fired 146 shells; and 721 tank shells were fired. 66 houses were bombarded.

UNRWA INSTALLATIONS

A total of 75 UNRWA installations have been damaged since 1 June, 2014.

In the past 24 hours, three UNRWA installations were damaged – one school in Bureij, a school in Nuseirat and the Microfinance Office in Middle Area.

FUNDING NEEDS

UNRWA has launched an emergency flash appeal for US$ 60 million to respond to the urgent and pressing humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza, including the thousands who have already fled their homes to seek safety in UNRWA facilities. New funding will enable UNRWA to respond to the immediate shelter, food, health and psychosocial needs of internally displaced persons (IDPs), while replenishing emergency supplies and preparing for vital interventions necessary after a cessation of military activities. The emergency response phase is expected to last for one month, and the early recovery a further three to six months. More information on the appeal can be found by here.

Based on the escalating number of IDPs and further destruction of shelters, a revised appeal will be released shortly.

CROSSINGS

  • Rafah crossing was open for foreign passport holders and wounded Palestinians.
  • Erez was open only for foreigners and humanitarian medical cases.
  • Kerem Shalom crossing was open for food and fuel.

Since it was written, the situation has continued to deteriorate. According to UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness:

In addition, UN OCHA‘s humanitarian situation report for 21 July 2104 can be found here.

UNRWA Gaza situation report, 20 July 2014

Posted: July 20, 2014 by Rex Brynen in Gaza, Israel, UNRWA

Emergency updates from UNRWA can be found here.

GAZA SITUATION REPORT 12

20 July 2014 | Issue No. 12

On 7 July, in response to escalating violence between Israel and Hamas, UNRWA declared an emergency in all five areas of the Gaza Strip. The number of displaced people has since gone beyond the peak number from the 2008/9 conflict, and now exceeds 50,000 in 44 UNRWA schools in addition to thousands more who are displaced due to the conflict. UNRWA has launched an emergency flash appeal for US$ 60 million to respond to the urgent humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza.


GENERAL

Past 24 hours: The tragedy of the conflict continued to unfold in Gaza overnight as the number of civilian fatalities increased yet again, with thousands more distraught civilians displaced by the relentless violence. In addition to ongoing fighting in the north of Gaza and in eastern Khan Younis, two new Israeli ground incursions occurred over night – one in the Middle Area and another in Shejaiha, east of Gaza City. At 08:00 there were a total four IDF incursions underway.

Shejaiha was particularly badly affected with thousands of people reportedly fleeing their homes this morning, as heavy bombardment from Israeli tanks and artillery continued. The situation remains tense across all of the five areas of Gaza. Medical authorities at Shifa hospital reported that 300 injured people had already been received at the hospital and confirmed 40 fatalities. Those numbers could increase significantly as it is understood that there may be many more still unable to evacuate from Shejaiha.

Hundreds of civilians, including Palestine refugees, are also crowding in the compound of Shifa Hospital – the main medical facility in the Gaza Strip. The situation could not be more dire for the collapsed health sector in Gaza, with this latest conflict only adding to the burden on overwhelmed doctors and medical staff.

This is the third war in five and a half years endured by the people of Gaza. As with previous conflicts, there is nowhere for women, men and children to escape to. The Strip is densely populated and the seven-year Israeli-imposed blockade means that people’s movement to and from Gaza remains virtually banned. Since July 2013, the operation of Rafah crossing, at the southern end of the Strip, has also been significantly reduced by the Egyptian authorities, citing security concerns.

The escalation of violence is now more acutely affecting UNRWA’s regular operations. All UNRWA installations in Magazi and Bureij refugee camps in the Middle Area are closed because of ongoing security concerns. Two health clinics remain closed and another three had operations disrupted after sustaining damage. A total of 18 UNRWA installations were closed during the reporting period.

At the moment, due to ongoing violence, it continues to be extremely difficult to deliver supplies to Beit Hanoun in the very north of the Gaza Strip, where more than 2,500 people are taking shelter in an UNRWA school. Some efforts have been made to undertake local delivery of goods within this area but access to it has so far been denied by the Israeli authorities.

All UNRWA schools in Gaza City that are in areas considered secure are now being utilized as designated emergency shelters. Whilst some funding has been secured to continue providing vital supplies such as food, water, mattresses and hygiene kits, urgent needs persist.

According to the Protection Cluster, there were at least 54 people killed over night, ten of whom were children – seven boys and three girls. The total death toll since 8 July has reached 368 people, with the Palestinian Ministry of Public Health reporting about 2,295 injured. At least 80 children are amongst the total dead. This number is expected to rise, perhaps considerably, during the course of the day.

UNRWA RESPONSE

  • UNRWA is now providing shelter to more than 63,000 beneficiaries in all of the five areas of the Gaza Strip. There are currently 55 UNRWA schools operating as designated emergency shelters, with more expected to open throughout the day. The priority continues to be the provision of food, water, sleeping and hygiene items.
  • Over the past 24 hours, food and water rations were distributed to shelters. 7,776 50-piece bread packets and 25,662 tins of tuna provided by WFP, were delivered and distributed to shelters.
  • Regular UNRWA operations are affected but continue as security permits. Fifteen of UNRWA’s 21 health clinics remain operational, and regular UNRWA services are available. 9,153 people visited UNRWA health clinics yesterday, including more than 620 children who had regular check-ups and/or immunizations. There were 359 visits to the dentist at UNRWA health clinics and 12 people had appointments with psychosocial counselors.
  •  Yesterday, 21 sanitation staff worked at Designated Emergency Shelters in Jabalia.
  •  A total of 9,820 cubic metres of water was made available to refugee families through water wells in 8 camps.

SUMMARY OF MAJOR INCIDENTS

Reportedly, there were 113 missiles, 961 navy shells and 1,045 tank shells fired into the Gaza Strip. It is reported that 44 houses were bombarded. 84 rockets and 35 mortar shells were fired towards Israel.

UNRWA INSTALLATIONS

A total of 72 UNRWA installations have been damaged since 1 June, 2014.

In the past 24 hours, three UNRWA installations were damaged – one school in Rafah, a school in the north of Gaza and a storehouse holding NFIs, also in the north. It is understood that none of the NFIs were lost, but the store was closed after being damaged by airstrikes.

FUNDING NEEDS

UNRWA has launched an emergency flash appeal for US$ 60 million to respond to the urgent and pressing humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza, including the thousands who have already fled their homes to seek safety in UNRWA facilities. New funding will enable UNRWA to respond to the immediate shelter, food, health and psychosocial needs of internally displaced persons (IDPs), while replenishing emergency supplies and preparing for vital interventions necessary after a cessation of military activities. The emergency response phase is expected to last for one month, and the early recovery a further three to six months. More information on the appeal can be found here.

CROSSINGS

  • Rafah crossing was open for foreign passport holders.
  • Erez was closed.
  • Kerem Shalom crossing was closed.

Gaza updates, 16 July 2014

Posted: July 16, 2014 by Rex Brynen in Gaza, Israel, UNRWA

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Updates from the conflict in Gaza for 16 July 2014, from UNRWA and UN OCHA:

 

OCHA1607

The full UN OCHA sitution report can be found here.

At Haaretz (paywall) Mira Sucharov highlights mutual threat perception in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Of particular note: some 60% of Palestinians fear that Israel seeks to expel them from the West Bank and Gaza, a view undoubtedly born of the shared experience of forced displacement that has been such a central part of Palestinian national experience.
What is really fueling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
‘The Most Important Video About Israel Ever Made’ got it all wrong: It’s too easy to blame the Mideast’s problems on blind hatred and genocidal tendencies.

By Mira Sucharov | Jul. 16, 2014 | 11:52 AM

With the murder of the four teens, followed by Hamas rockets and Israeli missile strikes, regional players and interested parties outside Israel and Palestine are understandably looking to make sense of the tragic mess, both in its short-term and long-term variants. And in the age of social media, sound bites rule. One 5-minute video that has been circulating on Facebook purports to explain the overall Arab-Israeli conflict simply and concretely. Those who’ve posted it praise its concrete and “unemotional” tone. It is indeed simple and unsensational. The problem is, the explanation put forth is anything but supported by the evidence.

Called The Middle East Problem (and tagged by the Israel Video Network as “The Most Important Video About Israel Ever Made,”), the video has Dennis Prager asserting that the Middle East Conflict is the “easiest in the world to explain.” His explanation? “One side wants the other side dead.” Israel wants to live in peace, he continues, and even recognizes the right of the Palestinians to a state. (Ignore pesky detail revealing Bibi’s recent revelationthat he has no intention of allowing this to happen.) But “most Palestinians, and many other Muslims and Arabs,” Prager stresses, “do not recognize the right of the State of Israel to exist.”

The assumption that “they want us dead” (also known as the “they hate us” theory) is a key cause of what Israeli psychologists have described as a siege mentality characterizing Israeli society. Suggesting that “they hate us” also serves to trivialize the actual concerns and claims of the other side. Claiming that “they” do not recognize the right of Israel to exist ignores the mutual letters of recognition exchanged between Israel and the PLO in 1993. Most importantly, such “they hate us” statements are important motivators for keeping powerful actors stuck to the status quo

But let’s hypothesize for a moment that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is due to Palestinian hatred. How might we test this hypothesis? Right now the best data we have is polling, and the closest polling question I have seen in the last year or so is one that asked about mutual attitudes. What emerged is something quite different from mutual hatred and genocidal tendencies. Instead, what is really going on is a story of mutual fear, but especially on the part of Palestinians towards Israel.

Consider this: From a December 2013 survey conducted jointly by the Truman Institute at the Hebrew University and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah, most Palestinians (60%) believe that Israel’s goals are to conquer all of the land between the river of the sea and expel the Arabs. An additional 24% believe Israel wants to annex the West Bank without granting the Palestinians political rights. A minority on each side (37% of Israelis, and only 15% of Palestinians) considers the other’s territorial aims to be limited in scope

It is easy to say that the other’s acts of protest — sometimes violent, other times in the form of boycott and divestment or general civil disobedience — stem from hatred. It is much harder to sit and listen to the fears of the other and to examine one’s own actions to see how they shape those perceptions

In sum, when watching videos that may be “unemotional” in tone, but are certainly inflammatory in content, we need to think more soberly about what is hatred, and what might actually, instead, be fear. And we all know from everyday life that the solution to fear is not heel-digging and head-in-the-sand burying, but rather confidence-building and reassurance — in the form of meaningful negotiation leading to a dignified solution for all.

 

Palestinians seeking refuge at an UNRWA school in Gaza.

Palestinians seeking refuge at an UNRWA school in Gaza.

The text (as delivered) of UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl’s press statement on the situation in the Gaza Strip, 14 July 2014 (via UNRWA).

Thank you for joining us at this press briefing.

As we stand here, the Gaza Strip is once again experiencing very dramatic circumstances, circumstances we had hoped it would never have to experience again. The population of Gaza, including Palestine refugees, is once again enduring great suffering and many have lost their lives or sustained serious injuries.

As Commissioner-General of UNRWA, I have come to Gaza, together with Humanitarian Coordinator James Rawley, to directly observe the situation resulting from the widening military operations. I also came to discuss with our Director of Operations in Gaza, Mr. Robert Turner, the level of UNRWA’s preparedness and emergency response capabilities.

I am deeply alarmed and affected by the escalation of violence in the Gaza Strip and the devastating human and physical toll it is taking on civilians, including Palestine refugees. The casualty numbers are now said to lie at 174 killed and over 1,100 wounded. All indications are -and I find this particulary dramatic – that women and children make up a sizable number of victims of the current strikes. I am equally disturbed that people with disabilities are among the victims, reportedly as a result of Israeli strikes.

What began with the extensive use of air power could expand into a ground operation with an actual Israeli military incursion into Gaza, leading to a fear that more and more civilians will be affected. Meanwhile, rockets continue to be fired at various Israeli cities from within the Strip.

We have all seen the images of smoke rising from different areas of Gaza. We have seen the destruction wrought by the bombing campaign. As I map the destruction for myself today, let me draw your attention to two things:

First, never will even the most impressive television footage properly capture the depth of fear and despair felt in the homes and hearts of Gazans who are yet again facing death, devastation and displacement. Thousands of parents today have no more answers to give to their young children when they are asked why their houses are shaking or breaking under the weight and relentless force of the bombardments.

Second, we must be careful about the endless enumeration of casualty numbers. The dead and injured in Gaza are not anonymous. Behind the figures lie multiple individual destinies now torn apart.  Too often in their lives have Gazan civilians been denied their dignity. Anonymity in death or injury is the ultimate denial. It is also too comfortable for the world and the parties engaged in the hostilities. Palestinians are not statistics and we must never allow them to be treated as such. They are human beings like others in the world, with their identity and the same hopes and expectations for an improved future for their children.

In this context, I urgently call on the Israeli Security Forces to put an end to attacks against, or endangering, civilians and civilian infrastructure which are contrary to international humanitarian law. In Gaza, risks are compounded by the very high population density. Maximum restraint must be exercised and measures of distinction, proportionality and precaution must be respected to avoid further casualties and overall destabilization. Clearly at this stage not enough is being done in that regard. Too many lives are being lost and this must end. If calm is not quickly restored, the casualty levels will become even more intolerable and unacceptable. I echo the United Nations’ call for all parties to respect international law, and protect the civilian population. This includes an end to rocket fire from Gaza aimed at Israel, which the United Nations has described as indiscriminate.

During my visit, I intend to meet with UNRWA teams. As you know, we recently declared an emergency for our operations in all five areas of Gaza. In recent days, we have dealt with several emergencies. We have 12,500 national and international staff in Gaza and I want here to pay tribute to their formidable courage and resolve. In the past hours, as a direct result of military operations, approximately 17,000 refugees have sought refuge in our 20 schools, some being displaced to the very same classrooms for the third time in five years. Let me recall that, during the Gaza fighting in 2008/9 over 50,000 people took sanctuary in UNRWA installations. People who came to UNRWA installations because they thought they could find safety and security were killed. In one incident, the UNRWA compound in Gaza where hundreds had taken refuge took a direct hit and the main UNRWA warehouse was burnt to the ground.

Worryingly, already 47 of our premises, whether schools, clinics or warehouses have been damaged by the air raids and other fire. The inviolability of our installations and premises must be respected, in accordance with international law.

Together with our partners in the UN system, with other local and international agencies present in Gaza, we are committed to keep this engagement strong and effective for as long as it takes. I call here on the donor and state community to ensure that these activities are properly funded.

During my first visit to Gaza as Commissioner-General three months ago, it became evident to me that the situation of the population of Gaza and of Palestine Refugees here has become completely unsustainable. Israel’s illegal blockade has deepened poverty levels and youth or female unemployment levels (at 65% and over 80% respectively). Gaza’s aquifer will have been entirely contaminated in the next three to four years making the strip essentially unlivable. But today, these indicators pale in comparison to the intensity of the bombardments and the fears for security and survival.

Two things appear most evident when we see the destruction currently taking place around us. One, is that the conditions for Gaza’s population will only deteriorate further as a result.

Two, while standing here in Gaza today and while fully recognising that UNRWA’s specific role is a humanitarian one, I put the question to all actors concerned: How long will it take before it is recognised that only a political solution will allow to move beyond the endless cycles of violence and destruction that repeatedly affect the population of Gaza and beyond. And how much longer before this is seriously, meaningfully and comprehensively addressed? An answer to those questions is urgent: the lives of tens of thousands are today at grave and imminent risk.

I thank you.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and is mandated to provide assistance and protection to a population of some 5 million registered Palestine refugees. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip to achieve their full potential in human development, pending a just solution to their plight. UNRWA’s services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, and microfinance.

Financial support to UNRWA has not kept pace with an increased demand for services caused by growing numbers of registered refugees, expanding need, and deepening poverty. As a result, the Agency’s General Fund (GF), supporting UNRWA’s core activities and 97 per cent reliant on voluntary contributions, has begun each year with a large projected deficit. Currently the deficit stands at US$ 69 million.

For more information, please contact:

Christopher Gunness
UNRWA Spokesperson
Mobile:
+972 (0)54 240 2659
Office:
+972 (0)2 589 0267
Sami Mshasha
UNRWA Arabic Spokesperson
Mobile:
+972 (0)54 216 8295
Office:
+972 (0)2 589 0724

UNRWA updates, 13 July 2014

Posted: July 13, 2014 by Rex Brynen in Gaza, UNRWA

 

Picture: Maan News.

Refugees sheltering at an UNRWA school in Gaza. Picture: Ma’an News.

 

Selected updates on the situation in Gaza from UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness. For more reports, see his Twitter feed.

 

 

UNRWA updates, 12 July 2014

Posted: July 12, 2014 by Rex Brynen in Gaza, UNRWA

Gaza updates for 12 July 2014 via Twitter from UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness:

The latest UN OCHA situation report for Gaza (13 July 2014) can be found here.

 

UNRWA updates, 11 July 2014

Posted: July 11, 2014 by Rex Brynen in Gaza, Syria, UNRWA

UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness has been very active tweeting updates on the current crises in both Gaza and Syria. Here are a few of his tweets from today.

You can follow him here.