Gaza – C’è un tentativo deliberato di paralizzare le attività di UNRWA, denuncia Philippe Lazzarini
GENEVA, 16 November 2023 – It has been almost six weeks of hell for the people of Gaza.
Six weeks far too many for the Palestinians, for the women, for the children.
Six weeks far too long for the hostages and their families.
And far too long for the entire region.
It has also been six weeks of total disregard for international humanitarian law. I have to say the scale of destruction and loss is just staggering, and this is taking place under our watch.
We have just witnessed the largest displacement of Palestinians since 1948.
It is an exodus under our watch. A river of people being forced to flee their homes.
Some were forced to relive the unlivable: traumas from the past, mostly unhealed.
Others, the younger generation, were forced to live through traumas of ancestors or parents.
This week, our teams reported people arriving after hours and hours of walking. Coming from the north of Gaza, Gaza City, to the South. They were dehydrated, hungry, exhausted, and shell shocked.
Many were just asking “What next?”, “Where do I go now”?
Unlike in other global conflicts in recent years, the people of Gaza are trapped in a 365 square kilometre enclave with no way out. With no border to be crossed. This enclave has now shrunk by half.
Many continue to flock to UNRWA shelters where we are hosting more than 800,000 people.
I went recently to one of these shelters.
What I saw there will never leave me.
I was shocked by the tragic and sudden transformation of a place I have known very well for more than 30 years.
Until recently, and I know it is hard to believe, many people in Gaza were living like you and me. With the same kind of dreams, the same kind of aspirations for their children.
But suddenly, overnight, their dignity was stripped.
When I was in this school, the children were pleading for a sip of water and a loaf of bread. And they were doing this in the same school where many of them used to get teaching and education.
We keep talking about the unsanitary living conditions in these overcrowded shelters. First, we see it because there is almost no water in places where you have thousands of people. But then these are places which were never meant to be shelters. Basically, water is not available. There is only one toilet available for 700 people. These are the living conditions.
On top of that, most of the people left their homes at the last minute. They left without anything, and many of them basically do not have even the clothes to change their clothes after six weeks. That is what we are talking about when we talk about people being stripped of their dignity.
No doubt this kind of rapid deterioration brings us back to a kind of medieval age. The siege that we see is a collective punishment imposed on an entire population.
Let me give some of the latest issues of concern and also few issues where I would like to address some misunderstandings or, I would say, misinformation.
**1. The first one where I want to be clear and repeat: there is nowhere safe in Gaza. **
Whether in the north, in the south, in the middle. There is none. People have been asked to go from the north to the south but in reality, one third of the colleagues killed have been killed in the south. So, the south is not safe. Even the UN compounds are not safe. Up to 60 of them have been hit. Since the beginning of the conflict, we had more than 60 people killed. We had a hundred people injured. There is no safe place, and I am saying this because you heard certainly yesterday Martin Griffiths talking about safe zones or humanitarian zones. Basically, in a war situation there is no such safe zone or humanitarian zone where people could feel safe.
**2. Secondly, we have at least 103 UNRWA colleagues who have been killed. **
This is the number we were able to confirm. The reality is we might have more people who have been killed. And I worry that some of them are still under the rubble.
These were UNRWA colleagues. They had absolutely nothing to do with the conflict per se.
They were civil servants of the United Nations, dedicated to serving their community. They have now been killed.
I know that last Monday, in Geneva and across the world, the UN declared half-mast to remember them. We did it everywhere except in Gaza, where basically our colleague felt very strongly that the best way to honor them is through a message that we will continue to maintain our humanitarian response in the Gaza Strip.
3. Thirdly, because there have been again a number of articles, I want to make it clear again that UNRWA does not teach hatred in its schools.
Over the past few weeks and amid a sea of emotions, a targeted and orchestrated campaign was launched against our education system, which in reality is recognized for its excellence. So let me just reconfirm a few facts:
UNRWA rejects claims linking its personnel and schools to the abhorrent October 7 attacks in Israel — attacks that UNRWA has condemned in the strongest terms, and which I will always continue to condemn.
I question the motivation of those who make such claims, through large advocacy campaigns — especially under these current circumstances.
I have always been clear on this: UNRWA is committed to upholding UN humanitarian principles, and we have absolutely zero tolerance of hate speech, racism and incitement to discrimination, hostility, or violence. I acknowledge that we are operating in a very emotional and divided environment. This environment has risks, but as the UN when it comes to this, we apply a no tolerance policy.
4. The question of diversion.
UNRWA does not let aid be diverted. First of all, we are an agency that directly implements its programmes. We do not have any intermediary. Secondly, whenever we work with suppliers, they are systematically checked against a sanctions list. Thirdly, all our staff on a yearly basis the names are communicated to the host country, and when it comes to the occupied Palestinian territory also to the Occupying state, namely Israel.
In reality, we are certainly one of the most scrutinized organizations. I experience this usually when I travel to capitals. Whenever we go to a Parliament, most questions about international aid are in reality directed to UNRWA.
**5. UNRWA is now running out of fuel. **
We will not be able to uphold our commitments to provide for the Palestinian people any longer.
I do believe there is a deliberate attempt to strangle our operation and paralyze UNRWA operations.
For weeks on end, we have pleaded, and I have pleaded three weeks ago at a press conference, warning about the impact of the lack of fuel. We have succeeded in the last three weeks to tap into the remaining fuel in the Gaza Strip, which was not UNRWA fuel, and we always coordinated with the Israeli Authorities. But now we are running out.
Yesterday, we received a tiny shipment of fuel, in reality half a truck, and on top of that it was delivered with conditionality meaning that it is to be used only for the trucks collecting the goods arriving at Rafah.
Which means this fuel cannot be used for other purposes, which means the fuel is not available anymore for, for example, the desalination water stations, the sewage pumping system, or for the bakeries. As of yesterday, 70 per cent of the population in the south has no access to clean water. And as of today, we have raw sewage starting to flow in the streets.
Without the fuel we will not be able to bring the relief we are receiving from Egypt to the people in need. Clearly, if the issue of fuel is not addressed, we run the risk of having to suspend the entire humanitarian operation.
I do believe that it is outrageous that humanitarian agencies are reduced to begging for fuel and forced after that to decide who will we assist or not assist, when you have such a large population in a lifesaving situation.
**6. Another point I want to raise is the fact that UN facilities are being violated. Over the last six weeks, quite regularly. **
I mentioned before the premises sheltering displaced people. But I would like to tell you that over the last few days I received reports that several of our UNRWA schools (in the north) have been used for military purposes, including reports of an (alleged) recent discovery of weapons in schools and the positioning of Israeli Forces’ tanks in at least two UN schools in the north.
I reiterate here that UN facilities must never be used for military purposes or political gains and control. This is precisely the meaning of the UN flag.
Before I conclude, let me, and I think it is important to always remember the situation in the West Bank.
We should not forget the plight of the Palestinians in East Jerusalem and in the West Bank.
Long before the October 7 massacre, there was a lot of violence, mainly in the Refugee camps. Today, we have recorded since the beginning of the year more than 400 people killed, which is nearly three times higher than last year, and last year was already the highest number of people killed on record since 2005.
I just came back from a visit before coming here in Shufat camp in East Jerusalem where staff told me how they are living in constant fear and worry, amid Israeli Forces’ operations.
Just after I left the Shufat camp, the school I visited had to evacuate again with 600 girls and boys because of such an operation.
In conclusion, just before taking question, I will again reiterate our asks:
- A ceasefire is now urgently needed if we want to save whatever is left of our humanity. In fact, it is long overdue.
- I am just receiving the information now that Gaza is again in a total communication blackout. And if it is again in a total communications blackout, it is because there is no fuel. As I told the member states, no fuel no bakery, no fuel no hospital, no fuel no water and here no fuel no communications. No communications are amplifying the anxiety and the panic and accelerating the last remaining civil order we have in the Gaza Strip.
- First, we need a ceasefire. We need fuel, fuel and fuel. A decision should have been taken a long time ago but the more we wait, the more we will see now the siege taking over and become the main reason why people die and could be killed in the Gaza Strip.
- The last point, when we talk about unhindered, unconditional and meaningful access of commodities in the Gaza Strip it is not only and just for humanitarian assistance and also to make basic commodities available on the market and for that we need also a flow of commercial movement in the Gaza Strip.