Photo: Burkina Faso: 20 000 trees are planted to create living hedges. Credit: UNCCD - Photo: 2021

Palestinian Refugees in a Critical Situation

By J Nastranis

NEW YORK | GAZA (IDN) — The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) has welcomed the ceasefire agreed in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel on May 21 after more than ten days of rocket fire and airstrike exchanges between the warring parties that have killed more than 250 people and injured thousands.

Speaking from Gaza, Matthias Schmale from the UNRWA, said that there was no “going back to normal” in the enclave. “Going back to normal life means having to watch very carefully where we are going; unexploded devices, we know that at least one school, one of our 278 schools, where we have established two deeply buried bombs, and we have alerted the Israeli authorities”, he said. “Obviously we cannot just rush back into our buildings and schools, we have to make sure they’re safe.”

The senior UNRWA official also noted that the Kerem Shalom crossing was due to open for several hours on May 21 but that for the duration of the clashes, it had not been possible to get people out for medical treatment, or aid reinforcements in.

Mr. Schmale noted that UNRWA staff who are mainly residents of the region said that the violence had been “worse in intensity and terror than 2014”, before echoing the UN Secretary-General’s call for a meaningful political process to resolve the grievances of both Palestinians and Israelis.

“Normality here also means 50 per cent employed and rising…I’m convinced after being here two and a half years that we will be back in war unless underlying causes are not addressed, and from a Gaza perspective that means giving people and especially young people a dignified perspective of a dignified life”, he said.

“If you have your own money and take home your own money to buy food instead of depending on handouts from the UN”, the top UN official added, “you’re less likely to run into groupings like Hamas”.

UNRWA pointed out most of the violence has taken place in Gaza, Palestinians in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem have also been impacted by the conflict. Below the ground situation update from the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

Thirty Palestinians have been killed by Israeli Security Forces in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem; Over 700 Palestinians have been wounded by live ammunition; 6,370 Palestinians have been wounded in total in some form since May 10, which marked the beginning of the latest flareup of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict—halted by a ceasefire on May 21.

UNRWA emphasized that of all the injuries recorded in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, about 60 percent required medical treatment after inhaling tear gas, 25 percent were hit by rubber bullets and 11 percent were shot with live ammunition.

A 17-year-old refugee, in Arroub camp, was shot in the head by Israel Security Forces and killed. His friend was also shot with live ammunition and is still in critical condition in hospital.

Under international law, military forces are prohibited from using live ammunition against demonstrators unless in exceptional circumstances of a direct and immediate threat of death or serious injury to those around them.

According to the UNRWA, the risk from settler violence remains very high in the West Bank. Since the beginning of May 2021, UNRWA has seen approximately 200 incidents of settler violence resulting in 40 Palestinian injuries.

Schools had been closed most of the week since Eid holidays, which ended due to the violence. UNRWA was able to re-open 23 schools on May 20, except those close to settlements or ISF (Israeli Security Forces) checkpoints. Hebron Boys Schools, for example, remained closed due to its proximity to settlers and the need for students to pass through checkpoints where clashes have been taking place.

Six Palestinians were injured with live ammunition by Israeli settlers near Jalazone camp. Injuries were by ISF live ammunition during an evening of protest.

UNRWA’s school in Shu’fat camp was teargassed week. UNRWA collected 20 tear gas canisters from the school compound in Shu’fat camp this week. Tear gas seeps into material and clothing, and everything needs to be washed down to clear the air. Tear gas and skunk water permeate the streets of the densely populated camps, entering everyone’s home.

On May 19, the UNRWA launched a US$ 38 Million Flash Appeal for Gaza and the West Bank. The UNRWA said it urgently requires the funds to cover the most urgent humanitarian needs of affected populations in Gaza and the West Bank, following the dramatic intensification in violence in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) in recent days.

This includes the escalation of hostilities leading to massive Israeli airstrikes on Gaza, and clashes in the West Bank, including in East Jerusalem. The humanitarian emergency in both Gaza and the West Bank is exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Indeed. In addition to the airstrikes, the displacement and the psychological trauma, there is also the added danger of the spread of COVID-19 among those seeking shelter. As the conflict has forced the COVID-19 vaccination programme in Gaza to stop, Palestinians in Gaza are at more risk than ever. Despite the preparedness of UNRWA staff and UNRWA facilities in providing shelter in conflict, UNRWA now also contends with the unprecedented circumstance of the COVID-19 pandemic which requires additional measures to be taken.

The Flash Appeal outlines the priorities to respond to the immediate food, non-food, health, psychosocial, and other urgent needs following the massive bombardments in Gaza. Psychosocial support and protection measures for vulnerable groups and especially children and women will be implemented.

UNRWA will assess subsequent needs, including shelters rehabilitation and support to livelihoods, once the security situation permits and will adjust its response and budgetary requirements. [IDN-InDepthNews – 21 May 2021]

Photo: Aerial photograph of al-Aqsa Mosque, on the Temple Mount, the site of some of the clashes. C BY-SA 4.0

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