Palestinians demand end to UN complicity in Gaza siege

Palestinians in the heavily damaged Gaza City neighborhood of Shujaiya shelter under a tent during heavy rains, 16 November.

Anne Paq ActiveStills

“Don’t reward Israel for Gaza massacre.” That’s the message Palestinians are calling on people around the world to deliver to United Nations officials, urging them to end their complicity in Israel’s ongoing siege of Gaza.

The call comes as it is increasingly clear that the so-called Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism brokered by the UN with Israel has failed.

The closure of the territory, home to almost 1.8 million Palestinians, imposed in 2007, has remained as tight as ever despite pledges of $5.4 billion in reconstruction aid following Israel’s summer attack that killed more than 2,200 people and left much of Gaza devastated.

UN complicity and “corporate criminals”

“It is time the UN feel the extent of public outcry as details emerge of the UN’s complicity in keeping Gaza under siege and the ways in which Israeli companies will profit from the reconstruction of Gaza,” the Boycott National Committee (BNC) said in an email action alert today (see the online version).

The BNC, the steering group of the Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign, warned that “companies that are set to rake in profits providing materials for the reconstruction of Gaza are corporate criminals.”

They include firms like Israel’s Nesher and ReadyMix cement suppliers, which “pillage Palestinian natural resources and participate in the construction of illegal settlements,” the BNC said.

No reconstruction

In October, The Electronic Intifada revealed details of the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism, brokered with Israel by Robert Serry, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO).

The Electronic Intifada reported that the secretive arrangement effectively turns the UN into the chief enforcer of Israel’s ongoing siege.

Under the guise of reconstruction, the UN monitors and gathers detailed private information about Palestinian households to be passed on to Israel, which has a veto over which families get aid to rebuild their homes.

And despite promises that the deal would at least allow Palestinians made homeless by Israeli bombing to quickly rebuild, the mechanism is not working.

The 28 trucks of cement which entered Gaza today is only the second delivery of building materials for the private sector since the summer assault, the Ma’an News Agency reported.

This is a tiny drop in the bucket and follows a previous delivery, also small, of 75 trucks more than a month ago.

The UN estimates that more than 100,000 homes were damaged or destroyed in Israel’s attacks, affecting more than 600,000 people – one third of Gaza’s population.

Raed Fattuh, an official of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, told Ma’an that deliveries had been halted by Israel since October.

UNRWA blows the whistle

Even UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees, which initially gave a cautious welcome to the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism, is now blowing the whistle on it.

UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl said last week that “despite initial results, the process for reconstruction is proving far too slow and is largely ineffective.”

He added: “should this continue, we will reach the winter with no progress in rebuilding the homes of the many still displaced, including those still in UNRWA schools. The people of Gaza deserve much better and much more than that.”

Passing the buck

The UN deal brokered by Serry has fed anger among Palestinians and disquiet among international aid organizations. But the latter have largely failed to speak out.

In recent weeks, major aid organizations have remained publicly silent about the increasingly reviled Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism.

Oxfam, one of the largest nongovernmental aid agencies working in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, for instance, repeatedly deflected The Electronic Intifada’s requests for substantive comment on the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism.

In one response, an Oxfam representative said, “We don’t feel we are best placed to comment on the details of the mechanism.”

“For more specific information,” the representative added, “we suggest contacting AIDA or UNSCO, which brokered the agreement.”

But when The Electronic Intifada contacted AIDA, the Association for International Development Agencies, based in occupied Jerusalem, it was told that AIDA is merely a coordinating body that didn’t comment. It suggested that inquiries should be directed toward its individual members, of which Oxfam is one.

Reached by telephone, Nick O’Regan, country director of the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS), which is operationally responsible for the Gaza plan, declined to discuss the matter with The Electronic Intifada.

It seems that aid agencies are competing to pass the buck and are – for some reason – reluctant to criticize a failed mechanism that was billed by the UN as the salvation of Palestinian victims of Israel’s latest spasm of violence.

UN acknowledges failure

UNSCO spokesperson Nicole Ganz declined to comment directly on the BNC’s criticisms, but directed The Electronic Intifada to two statements issued by Robert Serry earlier this month.

In a 21 November statement, Serry acknowledged – albeit obliquely – the failure of his mechanism to kickstart reconstruction in Gaza.

Serry also announced that “a further understanding” had been reached between the UN, Israel and the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority to begin to unblock the flow of building supplies.

This is likely what led to today’s tiny delivery of cement, but even the PA’s Fattuh told the Ma’an News Agency that he had no idea if the delivery was merely a one-off.

Serry stated that “Special precautions have been taken to avoid the misuse of personal information of those wishing to access the mechanism.” This is a vague response to Palestinian outrage over Israel’s ability to use information obtained in UN needs assessments of Palestinian families to veto who gets aid.

The UN’s lack of transparency over the mechanism means that it is impossible for Serry’s claims about any “precautions” to be evaluated.

But Serry also admitted that “existing resources are not sufficient” and urged donor states “to make available as a matter of urgency” the funds they had previously pledged.

The UN official also called “on all parties concerned to lend their full support to enable the mechanism to operate at the required scale” – suggesting that it is far from that now.

Serry continues to present the UN as merely supporting the Palestinian Authority in implementing a deal for which the PA is ultimately responsible. But the reality is that Serry himself brokered and promoted the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism, which is why Palestinian anger is increasingly directed toward the UN.

Serry says “he continues to believe that, if implemented in good faith, the [Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism] would represent a step forward towards the objective of lifting all remaining closures.”

It is a faith few Palestinians share. Rather, with despair rising in Gaza as winter temperatures drop, many believe the UN is helping Israel to give its siege international cover, and to reap profits from it as well.

“Take action now”

The message from the BNC is that Palestinians in Gaza cannot wait, and certainly won’t count on the “good faith” of Israel.

On its website, the BNC provides an easy form for people to send messages to top UN officials, including Serry.

“Take action now and send a message to key UN officials urging them to stop Israel from profiting from Gaza’s destruction and to adopt a procurement policy that excludes corporate criminals from tenders for Gaza reconstruction,” the BNC says.

It also calls on people in Europe to demand that the EU suspend the EU-Israel Association Agreement, the free trade agreement that allows Israel access to EU markets and funding.