Dichiarazione del Commissario Generale di UNRWA al IV Comitato dell’Assemblea Generale

Introductory Remarks by Greta Gunnarsdottir, Director of the UNRWA Representative Office in New York


Madame Chair,

Distinguished Delegates,

It is an honor to present to you, on behalf of the Commissioner-General of UNRWA, his annual report on the work of the Agency.

The Commissioner-General is fully engaged in UNRWA’s response to the humanitarian and human catastrophe in Gaza and sends his regrets for being unable to address you in person today.

I will now turn to the Statement of the Commissioner-General.


Madam Chair,

Distinguished Delegates,

This session of the Fourth Committee comes at a time when the eyes of the world are on Israel and Palestine.

As I told the United Nations Security Council on Monday:

The last three weeks have been horrific. Almost everyone in Israel, the occupied Palestinian territory and the broader region is in mourning.

The horrific attacks by Hamas in Israel on October 7th were shocking.

The relentless bombardment by the Israeli Forces of the Gaza Strip is shocking.

I was in Gaza two days ago for the first time since this conflict started.

The day I spent with the UNRWA team on the ground was one of the saddest of my entire 30-year humanitarian career.

I visited a school, hosting thousands of displaced persons. The place was overcrowded. The level of distress and the unsanitary living conditions were beyond comprehension. Everyone was asking for water and food. Instead of being at school to learn, children were asking for a sip of water and a loaf of bread. It was heartbreaking.

The school I visited was damaged by bombardments. One person was killed and 80 were injured. Yesterday, four schools in Gaza, sheltering nearly 20,000 displaced persons, were hit during bombardments leading to the deaths of at least 23, and injuring at least 35.

Since the beginning of the war, nearly 50 UNRWA buildings and assets have been impacted, with some being directly hit.

Entire families moved to our shelters with the hope that they would be safe, in a UN building, under the UN flag.

In my discussions with my staff in Gaza, they reported that basic services, including health care, are collapsing. Fuel, medicine, food and water are all running out.

Depriving a whole population of items essential for survival is collective punishment. It is a violation of international humanitarian law.

The streets of Gaza have started overflowing with sewage, which will cause a massive health hazard very soon.

Recurring communications blackouts aggravate panic and distress among civilians.

Madam Chair,

We have lost 72 UNRWA colleagues in less than a month.

It is the highest number of aid workers killed in a conflict in such a short time in the history of the UN.

Like most Gazans, our staff have lost relatives, friends, neighbors and are themselves displaced with their families.

And yet, at least 5,000 of my UNRWA colleagues in Gaza show up every day to work and operate 150 UNRWA shelters, keeping one-third of our health centers open and run 80 mobile health teams.

They support the entry of humanitarian convoys and the storage and distribution of aid.

They distribute the little fuel we have left to hospitals, bakeries and shelters.

My UNRWA colleagues are a glimmer of hope for the entire Gaza Strip, a ray of light as humanity sinks into darkness.

But they will soon be unable to operate if we do not act decisively now.

Let me be clear — a handful of convoys being allowed through Rafah does not make for a meaningful humanitarian operation, nor is it commensurate with the intense political and diplomatic shuttling that has been taking place.

How is it that a near full siege is imposed for two weeks, then lifted ever so slightly to allow a trickle of aid, and no fuel in?

The system in place to allow aid into Gaza is geared to fail unless there is political will to make the flow of supplies meaningful, matching the scale and magnitude of the needs of over two million people.

It is my duty to bring to the attention of this Assembly that hunger, despair, and a feeling of abandonment are turning into anger against the international community. Gazans cannot comprehend how the world can watch this tragedy unfold without protecting and assisting civilians.

I fear that their anger will soon shift towards the UN and UNRWA. In Gaza, the international community is better known as UNRWA.

My colleagues in Gaza are warning against a breakdown in civil order – we saw the beginning of this when scores of people broke into UN warehouses on the day of a full communication blackout.

We anticipate more such incidents if the UN does not live up to the expectation of people that it will protect and assist them. A breakdown of civil order will make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for us to continue operating. It will also make it impossible to bring in convoys.

I say this while being fully aware that UNRWA is the last lifeline for the Palestinian people in Gaza.

Madam Chair,

There is trouble brewing far beyond the borders of the Gaza Strip.

The West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is simmering with tension, as violence has reached unprecedented levels not seen in the last 15 years.

Rising settler attacks and movement restrictions have displaced over 800 people in the West Bank since October 7th.

The Israeli military is conducting daily incursions into refugee camps.

According to OCHA, the total number of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces or settlers since October 7th is 123, including 34 children.

Street demonstrations are turning increasingly violent.

Movement restrictions across the occupied territory are severely undermining UNRWA’s ability to deliver services.

Along the Israeli-Lebanese border, regular clashes and civilian casualties are reported.

The situation inside several Palestine refugee camps in Lebanon has been boiling for years.

The latest conflict between Palestinian factions in Ein El Hilweh refugee camp caused the displacement of 4,000 people and rendered UNRWA schools, which provide education to nearly 6,000 children, unusable.

This came in the context of unprecedented economic hardship for Palestine Refugees, who have virtually no economic prospects in the country.

There is a telling example from our own operations that captures the despair well: in July, UNRWA opened 13 vacancies for sanitation laborer posts.

We received no less than 37,000 applications, including from refugees with university degrees.

This shows how little opportunity there is for Palestine Refugees to lead a life of dignity and opportunity.

In Syria,

Palestine Refugees are confronting one disaster after another.

They have endured the civil war, economic crises, a devastating earthquake, and now they risk further instability with an increasing number of reports of strikes on different actors’ positions on Syrian territory as the region heats up.

In Jordan, widespread protests are taking place across the country in solidarity with the people of Gaza.

These protests are happening against a backdrop of soaring poverty rates and unemployment. This has the greatest impact on the most vulnerable – Palestine Refugees from Syria and those who came from Gaza in 1967.

Distinguished delegates,

We must immediately agree on urgent measures to tackle together.

First, there must be strict adherence to international humanitarian law. Civilian infrastructure including humanitarian and UN facilities, particularly those sheltering civilians, must be protected wherever they are, North and South. Hostages must be released.

Second, we need an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and the flow of humanitarian aid, including fuel, should be safe, unimpeded, substantial and continuous. And it should reach all people across Gaza.

Third, for UNRWA to lead the humanitarian response in Gaza, we need adequate financial resources.

UNRWA has received generous contributions towards its initial flash appeal.

But without a fully-funded core budget — the backbone of the Agency – we will not be able to pay the salaries of our staff, including those in Gaza, this month and next.

With the alarming violence in the West Bank, the protracted conflict in Syria, the fragile stability in Jordan and the near collapse of Lebanon, THIS is the time to stand firmly with UNRWA, one of the most stable entities in an otherwise unstable region.

Over the last 10 to 15 years, we have seen the Israeli-Palestinian conflict deprioritized by the international community.

The political stagnation has translated into the chronic underfunding of UNRWA.

On October 6th, the Agency was already so weakened that it was heading towards financial implosion.

Yet, since October 7th, UNRWA has established itself as the most authoritative international voice on the tragic developments in Gaza. This is primarily thanks to the UNRWA staff that continue to work and report to us.

UN Member States, the media, and political analysts have all sought UNRWA’s views, figures, and policy advice.

And they have all recognized that with its huge footprint in the local community, UNRWA is a pillar of stability for civilians in Gaza, if it can effectively play its humanitarian role.

But to play its stabilizing role, in Gaza and beyond, UNRWA requires a sustainable model.

Over the last two years I have put forward several solutions, but none have been the game-changer that Palestine Refugees, the Hosts and the region need.

Now more than ever, I strongly urge Member States to step up, be bold and find concrete solutions for ensuring that a stable and predictable UNRWA remains the international community’s greatest asset in the region.

Madam Chair,


Looking at the day after, one must acknowledge that there is no going back to the pre-war status quo that fueled the present disaster.

The biggest open-air prison, over two million people under air, sea, and land blockade for 16 years – that status quo cannot be tenable.

Israelis and Palestinians are neighbors. Their fates are intertwined. They will need to find a way to co-exist, and the actions being taken today against the civilian population of Gaza will only poison that shared future.

A political solution has become a matter of life and death for millions of people and must be put firmly back on the table.

A genuine prospect of Palestinian statehood and security for all people is critical to stabilize the current situation and to step back from the brink, before it’s too late.

I urge all Member States to change the trajectory of this crisis, and with your help, UNRWA is ready to do its part.

Thank you.