UN halts aid to Gaza homeless after funding shortfall

Palestinian children play outside tents near the ruins of their houses which were destroyed by Israeli shelling this summer, 27 January.

Abed Rahim Khatib APA images

A shortfall in funding has forced UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestine refugees, to suspend aid to thousands of Gaza residents whose homes were destroyed or damaged during Israel’s military assault last summer.

It is another bitter reminder for Palestinians in Gaza that they are left to fend for themselves after eight years of siege and a series of major military assaults that have turned the tiny coastal territory into a disaster zone cut off from the rest of the world.

UNRWA stated today that there is a shortfall of $585 million for the $720 million the agency says is required for the tens of thousands whose homes need repairing and for rental subsidies to those made homeless.

“While some funds remain available to begin the reconstruction of totally destroyed homes, the agency has exhausted all funding to support repairs and rental subsidies,” UNRWA said, adding that the freezing of assistance may cause large numbers of refugees to return to agency schools for shelter.

More than a quarter of Gaza’s population was displaced during last summer’s violence, with nearly 300,000 seeking shelter in UNRWA schools.

Not even these emergency shelters were spared by Israel — UNRWA schools were hit by shells or other weaponry in seven instances; children were killed by Israeli artillery as they slept on the floor of a classroom in one such UN designated shelter.

Twelve thousand displaced Palestnians in Gaza continue to take shelter at UNRWA schools, the agency said today.

Palestinians whose houses were destroyed by the Israeli military this summer warm themselves around a fire at a United Nations school in the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanoun on 8 January.

Ashraf Amra APA images

“UNRWA in Gaza has so far provided over $77 million to 66,000 Palestine refugee families to repair their homes or find a temporary alternative,” Robert Turner, UNRWA director in Gaza, is quoted as saying in the agency’s statement.

Of the $5.4 billion pledged for the reconstruction of Gaza at a Cairo conference last October, half of which the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority immediately earmarked for itself, “virtually none of it has reached Gaza,” Turner added.

“It is unclear why this funding has not been forthcoming,” he said.

Refugees

More than 96,000 refugees’ homes were destroyed during the 51 days of relentless attacks in July and August, according to UNRWA.

The majority of Gaza’s estimated 1.8 million residents are refugees who were displaced from towns, cities and villages in present-day Israel during the establishment of the state in 1948 and who have since been denied their right to return.

The destroyed neighborhood of Shujaiya, east of Gaza City, on 27 January.

Ashraf Amra APA images

Along with the West Bank and Syrian Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip has been under Israeli military occupation since 1967.

More than 2,200 Palestinians in Gaza, including at least 500 children, were killed during Israel’s summer bombardment.

Babies freeze to death

The task of rebuilding Gaza’s housing stock — at least five percent of which was destroyed or badly damaged during the last onslaught — is a matter of life or death.

“People are literally sleeping amongst the rubble, children have died of hypothermia,” Robert Turner said.

Two infants in Gaza died of cold exposure during a winter storm that struck the region earlier this month, and which also caused the temporary displacement of hundreds of people due to flooding, according to the UN monitoring group OCHA.

A Palestinian woman stands in front of her central Gaza Strip home that was destroyed by Israeli shelling last summer, 9 January.

Ashraf Amra APA images

Palestinians in Gaza are enduring the cold winter months with only a few hours of electricity each day.

OCHA recorded the deaths of two small children who died after their home in the Beach refugee camp caught fire on 3 January.

“Initial investigations suggest that the fire was caused by a candle,” OCHA stated. “According to Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, 26 people, including 21 children, have died in electricity shortage related incidents since 2010.”

Gaza’s sole power plant has not run at full capacity for several months because of the lack of funds for fuel.

According to OCHA, the funding crisis is due to the expiration of a tax exemption for fuel purchases granted by the Ramallah-based Ministry of Finance. The further impoverishment of Gaza’s population this summer, resulting in the sharp decrease of revenues collected for energy consumption, is also a factor, the group says.

Israeli control

While UNRWA says that its cash assistance program has been frozen because of funding gaps, the rebuilding of Gaza is ultimately under the control of the very party responsible for its destruction.

The secret terms of a UN-backed Gaza reconstruction mechanism “include onerous controls of building supplies and intrusive monitoring of Palestinian families seeking to rebuild homes destroyed by Israel,” The Electronic Intifada revealed in October.

Israel meanwhile continues to violate on an almost daily basis the ceasefire that it reached with armed groups in Gaza on 26 August.

The call from Palestinians in Gaza at the time was that there should be no such agreement so long as Israel’s years-long siege — imposed in an act of collective punishment after the elected Hamas government took control over the administration of the internal affairs of the territory — remains in place.

Palestinians perform Friday prayers at the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the southern Gaza Strip on 16 January in a protest demanding that Egypt open the crossing.

Abed Rahim Khatib APA images

“For the last seven years, Israel has subjected the Gaza Strip to a strict closure. By shutting the borders, Israel has slowly suffocated Gaza, subjecting us to a process of deliberate de-development,” Raji Sourani, director of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, commented amidst the summer’s terrible violence.

“A ceasefire is not enough. It will not end the suffering. It will only move us from the horror of death by bombardment to the horror of death by slow strangulation,” he added.

Though the terms of the ceasefire agreement were never made public, they reportedly called for the opening of Gaza’s crossings for the movement of people and goods.

That has not happened, and the reconstruction mechanism ensures that Israel’s stranglehold on Gaza is tighter today than before the summer war.

And once again Palestinian refugees in Gaza are living in tents, like they did after their original displacement in 1948.

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Can anyone imagine what it is like to live in Gaza at this moment ? Day after day, people go about their daily business trying not to complain: they are not just uncomfortable or cold due to the erratic and stingy amounts of electricity that they need to stay warm wash, cook, study and work on computers. They live in a landscape of utter desolation that their children see and register as the way the world is, going and coming to school or looking for a place to play. This article says it all. What it cannot say is how in the world the people of Gaza endure in spite of it all.

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As the occupying power of Gaza, Israel bears responsibility for the welfare of all the people residing there. The governments of the rest of the world know this but appear to do nothing about forcing Israel to meet its obligations (and, better still, try to become, as far as is possible, a legitimate state). If one of those governments is ours, then we CAN put pressure on it to get something done. By doing nothing about this situation, my government and yours are betraying me and you and everyone. If they allow Israel to break International Law, then by that very fact they deprive you and me of the protection to which we are entitled by Law - because you and I cannot claim as of right what has once been denied to the Palestinians. In International Law, rights are EQUAL or not at all. If Israel and the United States claim that Israel is not an Occupier, why don't they put the question to the International Court of Justice? That is what it is there for. But of course, Courts of Justice do smack a little bit of the Law, which is always a bit of a restraint for criminals.

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To: Martin O'Brien:

Joyce and Gabriel Kolko have written, "...the formal existence of democratic
theory and structures alleged to reflect open power ha[s] nothing to do with its
operation..."

Knowledge of international law and its "alleged" operation does not reflect
reality . If a veto power or its client ( suh as Israel) blocks the principles and precepts of international law, there is no way that such" law"' and decisions can coerce another nation to cease and desist any illegal/criminal activities. The ICC is dependent on information given it by the plaintiff and any final judgement may( such as by Israel) be considered "biased" or be considered "anti-Semitic" by Israel. Small nations without patrons have no such luck.

It seems that the effect of the process of international "law" is mainly as a
part of PR and there its effects can be significant though not legally
binding.

Indeed precisely for this reason the very word "law" is inappropriate as no decision can be put into effect without the assent of ALL veto-bearing
nations as well as their clients.

This explains why almost all actions while discussed in the UN take place
by non-UN "coalitions" outside of the processes of the UN itself (Vietnam,
Iraq, Afghanistan etc.). There are some exceptions (Libya)

(Incidentally why Israel would wish the US to attack Iran against core UN values is beyond me even from an Israeli perspective. Whether or not Iran
has the "capacity" for nuclear weapons, its missiles could do considerable
damage to Israeli ---and Palestinian---citizens. What gain would befall the
US for attacking yet another Muslim nation?

----Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

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Everyone here seems to know what is wrong with Israel, and how Israel should behave and blah blah blah.

Let me ask all you smart people something. When Hamas fires rockets into Israeli territory, the Israeli government has an obligation to respond and protect its people. When Palestinians cry that "Israeli aggression" is responsible for war and murder of civilians while failing to mention the thousands of Hamas rockets that fell into Israel on a daily basis, this is what we call "Arab Logic", because it makes absolutely no sense and is pure propaganda.
To those who then cry "while the Israeli government has the right to self-defense, their response is out of proportion" (airstrike bombings and retaliation for a few missiles), I say this:
There is no rules in war. It's not a game where you can report cheating.
If Hamas simply stopped sending rockets into Israel, there would be no more air strikes. Anyone else in the world would understand this logic. Unfortunately, muslims only understand "Arab Logic"

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"The Greater Good"s comment is helpful because it tries to start from basic principles. That is just the sort of approach that we need. But we also need all the relevant facts to which those principles are to be applied. The de facto government of Israel does in principle have a duty to protect its people and its property. But NOT from retaliation against its own serious wrongdoing. Not even this last statement of mine should be true, if the world were being governed in a civilised way. Because, when Israel refuses the return to their homes in "Israel" of (currently) about five million non-Jewish Palestinian exiles (of whom about 1.2 million reside in the Gaza Strip); regularly shoots non-Jewish Palestinians who approach the Israel/Gaza border imposed by Israel where good agricultural land is; fires on and sinks the boats of non-Jewish fishermen fishing within their coastal limits; destroys partly or wholly the electricity-generating capacity of the non-Jews in Gaza; when Israel commits these and other crimes on non-Jews, because they are not Jews (if they were Jews, their treatment by Israel would be very different), then the United Nations should long ago have applied International Law. But the UN has not done this. And so the UN has, as far as the non-Jews of ex-Mandate Palestine are concerned, suspended International Law. So neither Hamas nor any other Palestinian non-Jewish party or individual has the protection in law to which they are entitled. So what are they to do against the wrongs inflicted on them by Israel on an hourly basis? If they retaliate, let's use our basic principles. The retaliation IS against International Law. But what is the sense of pointing this out, when we, i.e., the international community, have decided NOT to apply International Law in ex-Mandate Palestine! Let's be consistent! Doesn't this mean, though, that Israel cannot be violating IL either, because the UN has suspended IL in Palestine? Not so: Israel is a member of the UN.

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Martin O'Brien's analysis is excellent but incomplete. Israel and the US (major
constituencies and historical precedents) have considered themselves as
above law and agreements which by which it chooses not not to abide.

An in-depth analysis of the reasons for this can be found in theiologian
Michael Prior's landmark work, THE BIBLE AND COLONIALISM: A MORAL
CRITIQUE (Sheffield Academic Press). While covering theological
aspects which are beyond my competence, this book also analyzes many
other forms of settler colonialism, their origins, functioning etc. It takes apart
several examples from different eras. While the most recent example is
indeed Zionism, at first opposed by the rabbinate, many others are not
exclusively "Jewish".

Incidentally, Theodor Herzl's original concept was based upon pan-Germanism
of which he was a fan. In this construction a preferred group/"race" is postulated
with rights and entitlements above any those that do not qualify for membership.
Herzl wrote an essay on this once.

His skill in bringing "the Jewish STATE" (his words in his diary) were based upon the manipulation of powerful other nations building upon their own
self-interests (not "Jewish" interests) such as Britain, Russia and when the
British Empire seemed to falter suceeding, Zionists used the identical techniques to obtain the backing of the US. Knowing that the US was "anti-Communist" Israel contracted with Yugoslavia for arms for the '48 wars. In a large part, US decisions were domestic but it is also true that Israel (Ben Gurion) well knew that US support would replace any links to a Communist nation.

----Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

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As always, Peter Loeb's comment is relevant and interesting in the historical perspective that it gives. One can only agree when he says that the US and Israel, among many others, consider themselves above International Law. But do citizens around the world, whether individually or collectively, have to accept this situation? The obstacles against us are HUGE. But we DO have some means of achieving a just and prosperous world for everyone, including our children and their descendants. First of all, every time that your or my government takes its seat in the General Assembly or Security Council, it undertakes on our behalf to fulfil the obligations that they have undertaken UNDER THE CHARTER of the UN, dated 1945. What is this Charter? Well, read it. It is readily available on the UN website. I suggest, read especially the Preamble and Articles 1 and 2. Some of this wording is picked up by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, which, though a later and therefore separate document, is a spelling out in detail of the Charter's reference to "faith in fundamental human rights". The UDHR is, therefore, an integral part of the Charter which all members of the UN have committed themselves to upholding. Allow me to say that the UN Charter and the UDHR must be the greatest MORAL advance ever made by Mankind in its dealings within and between states; and this amazing MORAL advance was secured by LAW, just as, if for example we take seriously the protection of children from exploitation, we make LAWS which make such exploitation a criminal offence. So, in any country which is at all democratic, each one of us, if we choose, can insist that our government abides by its UN Charter obligations. If we find that we can't insist, then this very fact is the launchpad for a further attack on our dishonest politicians: "Why do you claim that this is a democratic country if I can't hold you to account for your actions?" [I'll try to say a little more.]

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There is so much that needs to be said to avoid the oversimplified notion (as Peter Loeb points out) that MERELY citing International Law will bring justice. But acquainting ourselves and as many others as possible with current International Law is a basic necessity before we can hope to bring about the just and prosperous world for all that the UN Charter and the UDHR are designed to realise. Remember, your government - whichever one it is - if it is a member of the UN, has committed itself on your behalf and on the world's behalf to realising the aims of the Charter. If what it is doing in fact is to betray the Charter, then you have a responsibility to make it toe the line. The Charter and the UDHR are too great an advance for all of us and our children for us to squander it without stirring to protect and strengthen it. If "The Greater Good" is reading this, then he/she must be wondering how what I am saying is relevant to his/her comment. It is relevant because there IS such a thing as International Law, whose existence your government, whichever it is, will acknowledge. It may even use it to justify, by suppression of relevant facts, the latest atrocity committed by itself or by an ally. So, for example, war is not allowed in International Law to be total. When, therefore, the UK, the US or Israel wage total war and their allies condone this, they are all betraying their own peoples: because they break the Law which is there to safeguard all of us by being applicable to all of us. A question: does any of us belong to a country in which the UDHR is systematically taught in the schools? The countries which originally made the UDHR solemnly undertook to teach it in their schools. The UK for one told an immense lie when it declared this. The UDHR is not mentioned, let alone taught, in British schools. The expression "human rights" is frequently mouthed by UK governments, especially in condemning whoever is the latest "bad guy". But the UDHR is ignored.

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Thanks to those who commented on my post regarding International Law.
Rather than reply regarding various points, I stand by my initial post, THE ALLEGED THEORY AND STRUCTURE OF OPEN POWER.

-----Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

Maureen Clare Murphy

Maureen Clare Murphy's picture

Maureen Clare Murphy is the managing editor of The Electronic Intifada and lives in Chicago.