UN warns that Gaza food aid about to run out

A Palestinian family breaks the Ramadan fast on the rubble of their home in Rafah, southern Gaza, recently destroyed in Israeli strikes, 14 May.

Ashraf Amra APA images

Every one in two Palestinians in Gaza is food aid dependent, and the largest provider of humanitarian assistance in the territory is warning that it may soon be unable to provide that aid.

UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestine refugees, stated on Monday that it must secure $60 million by June to be able to provide food aid to one million Palestinian refugees in Gaza – half of the territory’s population.

Some 620,000 Palestinians in Gaza survive on $1.60 per day. An additional 390,000 survive on around $3.50 per day, according to the agency.

It is the latest plea by a UN body for increased international assistance to Gaza, where, as UNRWA puts it, “financial support has been outpaced by the growth in needs.”

Israeli siege increases need

Those needs are a direct consequence of Israel’s land, sea and air blockade on the territory, now in its 12th year, and successive Israeli military offensives that have wrought widespread destruction and greatly diminished Gaza’s productive sector.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has said that Israel’s blockade of Gaza violates the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Israel’s use of force in the territory has been the subject of multiple UN commissions of inquiry.

“From fewer than 80,000 Palestine refugees receiving UNRWA social assistance in Gaza in the year 2000, there are today over one million people who need emergency food assistance without which they cannot get through their day,” the agency stated.

More than half of Gaza’s population is unemployed, one of the highest rates in the world. International aid and remittances from abroad “have held Gaza back from the brink of total collapse,” according to UNRWA.

Last year the US, formerly UNRWA’s single largest donor, said that it would stop funding the agency. In addition to freezing $300 million in funding to UNRWA, the US cut $200 million in bilateral aid to the West Bank and Gaza.

The aid cuts are at once a punishment against the Palestinian leadership for protesting Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and an attempt to bludgeon Palestinians into submitting to the White House’s “peace” process and erase Palestinian refugees out of existence.

“The American administration’s actions are part of a wider campaign that aims at imposing a one-sided solution on Palestinian refugees – contrary to international law, relevant UN resolutions, and the principle of justice,” the Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council stated on Tuesday.

The council called on the UN General Assembly “to establish a mandatory financing mechanism, rather than voluntary state contributions, in order to secure consistent and sustainable funding of UNRWA,” with an expanded mandate “to fulfill the legal protection standards that refugees are entitled to.”

UNRWA – in contrast to the UN High Commission for Refugees, which looks after refugees from the rest of the world – has no mandate to facilitate the exercise the right of return home for refugees.

8.7 million Palestinian refugees worldwide

Today there are 8.7 million Palestinian refugees and displaced persons worldwide, constituting two-thirds of the Palestinian people.

“Israel’s failure to respect the right to return for Palestinians who were forced to flee their homes in 1948 is a flagrant violation of international law that has fuelled decades of suffering on a mass scale for Palestinian refugees across the region,” Amnesty International stated on Tuesday.

Every two in three Palestinians in Gaza is a refugee from towns and villages now inside Israel. For more than a year Palestinians in the territory have protested against the blockade and to demand their right to return to the lands from which their families were expelled before, during and after the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.

More than 200 Palestinians have been killed during the protests, dubbed the Great March of Return.

Around 60 Palestinians were killed by the Israeli military during protests in Gaza this day last year, and a further 1,300 were injured by live ammunition, making it the bloodiest day yet during the Great March of Return.

The staggering number of casualties during the protests has overwhelmed Gaza’s healthcare system.

Some 1,700 Palestinians injured during the Gaza demonstrations may require amputations because specialized treatment for what medical groups have described as war injuries resulting from Israeli army sniper fire is unavailable.

The UN is seeking $20 million for Gaza’s medical facilities which are “under very serious stress,” Jamie McGoldrick, a humanitarian official with the world body, stated last week.

Two thousand Gaza families still displaced

Meanwhile, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that as of the end of April, there was no funding to cover the basic needs of Palestinians in Gaza still displaced from Israel’s 51-day military offensive on the territory five years ago.

More than 2,200 Palestinians were killed during that offensive, and 17,800 homes were destroyed or severely damaged.

Israel’s bombardment of Gaza in the summer of 2014 resulted in the largest internal displacement of Palestinians since 1967, when Israel occupied the territory, along with the West Bank, the Syrian Golan Heights and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula (from which Israel later withdrew).

As of February this year, more than 2,200 Palestinian families – or 12,300 people – were still displaced as a result of the 2014 offensive.

Nearly $130 million is needed to address needs resulting from the offensive, according to OCHA, “including for shelter repair ($75 million), reconstruction of houses ($47 million) and cash assistance ($6.5 million).”

Israel habitually destroys Palestinian infrastructure in Gaza and third states pay for its reconstruction, with no cost to Israel, which controls what raw materials for reconstruction are brought into the territory.

Gaza’s population is repeatedly brought to the brink before a stop-gap aid contribution prevents total catastrophe.

Last year, OCHA warned that following Israel’s 2014 military assault – after which third-party states pledged $3.5 billion to rebuild the devastated territory – “humanitarian financing to the occupied Palestinian territory has been gradually, but definitively, decreasing year on year.”

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Maureen Clare Murphy

Maureen Clare Murphy's picture

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