Only $135 million of pledged donor money has been delivered to Gaza, hundreds of millions short of what’s needed, the UN agency says. As a result, it is suspending its aid programs for those most affected by the war.
By Yael Marom
UNRWA, the UN relief agency charged with providing aid to Palestinian refugees, announced Tuesday that it is suspending its financial aid program to the thousands of Gazans whose homes were destroyed during Operation Protective Edge last summer. The program was intended to assist them in repairing houses, as well as renting apartments for those who have remained homeless since the assault.
According to a statement by UNRWA, more than 96,000 homes belonging to refugees were damaged or destroyed during Protective Edge, and the cost to repair them is estimated at $720 million. Until now, UNRWA claims that it only received $135 million of the pledges for the program.
At a summit held last October in Cairo, donor states pledged over $5.4 billion for reconstruction in the Strip. The head of UNRWA in Gaza, Robert Turner, said that only a small portion of that money made it to Gaza, and called the decision to suspend the program troubling and unacceptable.
“If we cannot continue the program, it will have grave consequences for affected communities in Gaza,” Turner said in a statement. “People are desperate and the international community cannot even provide the bare minimum – for example a repaired home in winter – let alone a lifting of the blockade, access to markets or freedom of movement. We’ve said before that quiet will not last, and now the quiet is at risk.”
According to statistics published by the United Nations, over 100,000 homes in Gaza were damaged during Operation Protective Edge (nearly 20,000 homes were entirely destroyed, while 80,000 were damaged). Tens of thousands of people in Gaza, including children, live and sleep in plastic shelters and tents that cannot protect them against rain or cold. Those without homes live among the ruins of their former houses, facing the threat of rain which can easily collapse or flood their shelters.
For Israelis it seems that the relative quiet of the past few months has been maintained. But for the residents of Gaza, the situation is entirely different. The Israeli army continues to fire on Palestinian fishermen and anyone who approaches the Israel-Gaza border; children continue to be killed by unexploded ordinances; workers continue to strike; and the siege by both Israel and Egypt continues unabated. This Monday Israel forbade a Palestinian minister from leaving the Strip to attend a conference in the West Bank.
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After a request by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last week, Egypt opened the Rafah Crossing for three days, prompting thousands of Palestinians to try and leave Gaza. However, the Egyptian authorities only allowed students, medical patients and those with foreign passports to leave.
While Israelis are gearing up for elections, Gaza is entirely absent from any public discussion in Israel. Perhaps its absence from the election debate is due to a consensus among candidates — ranging from the center-left to the far-right — that the “Gaza problem” will only continue, and cannot be solved by another war, and another war, and another war. Meanwhile, the government will maintain the siege, and Israelis will continue to wonder: why are those Gazans so mean to us?