UN Reports Israel’s Gaza Attack Has Spurred Anger and Harmed Women

March 4th, 2009 - by admin

United Nations Department of Public Information – 2009-03-04 21:38:42



United Nations Department of Public Information

NEW YORK (March 4, 2009) — Combating violence against women was a particularly complex task in the context of Palestine, Khouloud Daibes, Palestinian Minister for Women Affairs, said today at a Headquarters press conference on the margins of the current session of the Commission on the Status of Women.

Because they were subjected not only to the typical aggression of the global phenomenon of violence against women, but also to the political violence resulting from the Israeli occupation, she said, women in Palestine faced unique difficulties in playing an active role in society.

Despite the high percentage of educated Palestinian women, the 13 percent actually working was proportionally low due to the generally high unemployment rate in Palestine, which resulted in turn from Israel’s destruction of infrastructure, among other things.

The fact that almost two thirds of the Palestinian population lived below the poverty line also added to the challenge of increasing the number of women in the labour market, said Ms. Daibes, who is also Minister for Tourism and Antiquities. The occupation further limited women’s access to education and health services by restricting their freedom of movement.

The construction of the separation wall had increased that lack of access and in some cases women were delivering babies at checkpoints. Israel’s recent invasion of Gaza had only worsened the overall situation while causing the deaths of 114 women and injury to more than 800 others.

She emphasized that combating violence against women was one of the main pillars of the Women Affairs Ministry, which, as a policymaking body, largely relied on civil society and non-governmental organizations to act as its implementation arm. That was particularly true in Gaza, where the Ministry had not been able to work at full capacity since Hamas had taken over the territory two years ago. But even with Government support, there remained a need for new, innovative approaches.

The Ministry would continue working with the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and the International Labour Organization (ILO), among other agencies, but until the occupation ended, it would be unable to develop plans that could be implemented fully. “This is our dilemma: whatever we build, we have no guarantee that it will not be destroyed by Israel, not only the infrastructure, but the structure of daily life. We always end up in an emergency so that we have to start from zero again.”

She said that should be reflected not only in reports under the Commission’s consideration over the next two weeks, including the Secretary-General’s report on the situation of and assistance to Palestinian women (document E/CN.6/2009/5), but also in the overall approach to violence against women.

Planning within the Women Affairs Ministry last year had focused on strategic plans to develop programmes to empower women and increase their participation in the economic and political arenas, but today its work had, of necessity, turned back to providing aid and emergency support, particularly by rebuilding homes in Gaza.

Yet, the violation of women’s human rights were still being documented so they could be passed on to the relevant organization, and hopefully the Ministry could return to its strategic plans, implementing in parallel with emergency aid, after a few months of reconstruction.

The current international focus on reconstruction and the financial support pledged at the Sharm el-Sheikh donors’ conference earlier this week gave some hope for the relaunch of the peace process, she said, adding, however, that, while there was a strong commitment to financial support, there was no vision of how to prevent a recurrence of the current situation. There was, therefore, a need to revise the current international approach.

Asked about the different situations of women in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the Minister said that, theoretically, all Palestinian women enjoyed the same equality, but economic pressure in Gaza had resulted in different social contexts that circumscribed their ability to move and exercise those rights. “Under such situations, people tend to be more conservative than open, when you are not able to move a few kilometres, when you are not exposed to the outside world and when you cannot go outside of the country.”

In that regard, she noted that protests by different groups, such as the one being planned in Egypt by CODEPINK through 20 March, were symbolically very important in making Gazans feel connected to the outside world and encouraging them to keep moving forward.

She went on to spotlight recent progress towards gender equality, noting that 3 of the 15 Palestinian Government Ministers were women, 2 of whom supervised more than one ministry, so that 5 of the 22 ministries were run by women.


United Nations Department of Public Information

NEW YORK (January 30, 2009) — Almost two weeks after the end of fighting, the mood in Gaza had “moved from a pervasive sense of grief to a pervasive sense of anger”, the head of United Nations relief operations there said at a Headquarters press conference today.

Speaking via video link from Gaza, John Ging, Director of Operations in Gaza for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), said that people there were very frustrated, with tens of thousands of Palestinians now seeing “piles of rubble” where their homes used to stand and the aid effort hampered by the lack of access.

“There are more extremists in Gaza today than there were a couple of weeks ago, as a direct result of […] this conflict, in terms of how people now see their future or lack thereof,” he said. The current misery and despair were fertile ground for extremism.

The crossing points were still effectively closed, he said in response to questions. Shamefully, there were thousands of tons of aid waiting on the borders of Gaza that needed to be delivered. The donors had been very generous, the operation of getting aid from all over the world to the region had been a success, but now there was a bottleneck at the border. Against the backdrop of huge demand, only some 100 trucks of aid were coming in daily, despite the fact that almost 90 percent of Gaza’s refugee population now depended on food assistance. The Government of Israel had to find solutions to get the crossing points opened.

The bottom line was that people in Gaza needed food and other supplies, and they needed them right now, he warned.

Another aspect of the issue was that only a very restricted list of items was allowed in, he added. For example, today, he had been informed that UNRWA would not be allowed to bring in the plastic bags that it used to distribute supplies. With some 20,000 food parcels distributed daily, those bags were a vital component of the operation.

Asked if any explanation was provided for the exclusion of the plastic bags and other items, he said that part of UNRWA’s frustration was that Israel did not give any explanations, just rejected items “for security reasons”.

UNRWA’s predominant focus at the moment was to meet the most urgent needs in terms of food and basic necessities, he continued. A big issue was how to help those who had no homes. UNRWA was looking for alternative accommodations for some 10,000 people who had remained in its shelters at the end of the conflict, providing rental subsidies and moving people from UNRWA schools to other shelters. Homeless people also received immediate assistance in the form of blankets, mattresses and other basic items, including clothes.

The good news was that, with the regular deliveries of fuel to the power plant, the electricity supply had significantly improved, he said. As for the provision of water, the area had now returned, more or less, to the pre-conflict levels, with some 100,000 people without water in their homes, down from 500,000 last week and 750,000 during the conflict. The situation with sewage was less reassuring, because more significant repairs to the infrastructure were needed. Without being able to import the equipment and supplies for that purpose, no real progress would be made.

On the cash situation, he said that UNRWA had received 40 million shekels to distribute to “the poorest of the poor”, who were given cash assistance amounting to 200 shekels (a little more than $50 per family). About $25 in cash was also given to children, so they could buy supplies to return to school.

He said he had found reassuring an op-ed by the Foreign Minister of France, Bernard Kouchner, in the International Herald Tribune, in which the Minister had emphasized the need for the restoration of non-politicized implementation of humanitarian law. Another positive development had been his own meeting with the United States Special Envoy, Senator George Mitchell, in Jerusalem today. “We are all taking some hope and optimism from his engagement,” he said.

Responding to several questions regarding Senator Mitchell’s visit, he said that the Senator’s mandate was “to come and listen”, and that was exactly what he did. UNRWA’s message to the Special Envoy had been that access was key to restoring the population of Gaza to a dignified existence, which was essential “before we start talking about sustainable security and a peace process”. Briefing the Senator, Mr. Ging had emphasized the needs of the ordinary people and the importance of restoring confidence. Among other things, he had also referred to Mr. Kouchner’s op-ed in the International Herald Tribune.

Regarding the Rafah crossing, he said that it was a passenger terminal, which was not set up for a large logistical operation. For that reason, the Egyptian authorities were only allowing some medical supplies through it. To a question about the possibility of delivering aid by sea, he said that the port of Gaza had been destroyed and ships could not dock and unload there. Their only option was to go to one of the neighbouring countries.

To questions about the investigation of the bombings of UNRWA facilities, he said that the Agency was gathering evidence and testimonials of the staff. It had also called for an independent investigation.

Asked if UNRWA had submitted a bill to the Israelis for the damage, he said that a bill would be submitted, once the damage had been assessed –- within a week or so from now. Surveys of all the damage were now being done at numerous locations affected by fighting.

Regarding education, he emphasized that it was UNRWA’s number one priority. “We are in a big fight on the ground against the conditions working against us in terms of bringing up a generation that will be minded towards civilized behaviour and away from violence,” he said. The focus was on respect and discipline, and a new human rights curriculum was being introduced. Within five days of the ceasefires, all of the Agency’s 225 schools had become fully operational. That did not mean that they were “in perfect order”, as many had suffered serious damage. Repairs had been made, where possible, and solutions had been sought, because up to 49 schools had been used as shelters.

He added that more than 200 counsellors had been deployed to the schools to evaluate the psychological impact of the conflict on the children and refer them for medical treatment, where needed. In general, health was also among the priorities on the ground. The good news in that regard was that the much needed supplies and medical staff had made their way into Gaza and that the patients who needed treatment abroad had been evacuated.


Opening 2009 Session of Palestinian Rights Committee,
Secretary-General Renews Pledge to Revitalize Middle East Peace Process

NEW YORK (February 11, 2009) — “What I saw left me shocked, but more determined than ever,” United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People this afternoon, expressing his determination not only to address Gaza’s humanitarian and reconstruction needs, but also achieve the end of the occupation that began in 1967, the establishment of a Palestinian State that would coexist alongside Israel in peace and security, and a comprehensive, just and lasting peace between Israel and all its Arab neighbours.

Updating the Committee on his trip to the Gaza Strip on 20 January, he described the tremendous suffering and hardship as a result of the recent conflict and warned that the situation remained fragile. Efforts were under way, under Egyptian leadership, to transform unilateral ceasefires into a durable and fully respected ceasefire, as called for in Security Council resolution 1860 (2009).

Calling repeated shelling and destruction of United Nations facilities unacceptable, he said that he had demanded a thorough investigation into every single one of them. Those responsible should be held accountable for their actions. He was initiating a United Nations board of inquiry into the casualties and damage at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and the Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East (UNSCO) facilities in Gaza and had also raised with the Security Council the issue of an inquiry into the broader question of the parties’ conduct during the hostilities.

The United Nations had launched a flash appeal for humanitarian assistance, he continued, insisting that Gaza needed to be “brought back to a level of normality”. The challenges of humanitarian assistance, early recovery and reconstruction would be discussed at a meeting in Cairo early next month. The world body was working very closely with Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, as well as key partners, Egypt and other Arab countries, the European Commission, the World Bank, Norway as Chair of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, Turkey and the members of the diplomatic Quartet on the Middle East peace process.

Another critical challenge was the re-opening of all Gaza crossings to allow full access for humanitarian goods, and eventually commercial traffic, based on the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access, he said. In addition, Palestinians needed to achieve reconciliation under the leadership of President Abbas, within the framework of the legitimate Palestinian Authority. The peace process must be revitalized, and negotiations should resume leading to a lasting settlement of the conflict, based on relevant Security Council resolutions, the Road Map, and the Arab Peace Initiative.

In connection with the United Nations inquiry, the representative of Malaysia, among the speakers making brief statements, urged the Secretary-General to include in the investigation the impact the events had had on the people of Gaza.

Riyad Mansour, Permanent Observer for Palestine to the United Nations, said that, out of the ashes of the war in Gaza, Palestinians and Israelis should see hope of going back to the negotiations to reach an agreement, where the occupation would end and the Palestinian State would be born. “We need all your help in this regard, and I am sure that you will help us,” he said, stressing the Committee’s crucial role in the face of this year’s challenges, which included the need to address the humanitarian situation in Gaza, open the crossings, ensure the unity of the Palestinian political system and land and make the Cairo meeting next month a success.

He did not know what Government would come to power in Israel after yesterday’s elections, but lessons should be drawn from the 2007 Annapolis conference, he continued. It was also important not to repeat the mistakes of yesterday, expecting different results.

He stressed the importance of an immediate cessation of all settlement activities and said that Palestine could not negotiate indefinitely with any Israeli Government without the end of the occupation that had started in 1967 and without allowing a Palestinian State to be borne, with East Jerusalem as its capital. As for Palestine, he said, it needed to “put our house in order as soon as possible”. He also commented on some positive signs from the new Administration in Washington, including a successful recent visit of Special Envoy George Mitchell to the region.

Expressing appreciation for the Secretary-General’s decision to form a commission to investigate the events in Gaza, he expressed confidence that the terms of reference of that body would be inclusive enough to reflect what the representative of Malaysia had raised, so that all those guilty of the crimes against the civilian population and property of the United Nations were held accountable and faced justice.

Providing an update on developments in Gaza, Andrew Whitley UNRWA Representative Office, New York Director, said the population of Gaza remained in a state of shock, grief and in many cases anger. The Agency itself had suffered heavily: 53 of its facilities had been damaged; its headquarters compound had been hit repeatedly by Israel Defense Forces shells, and $4.5 million worth of medicine and other goods had been lost. Five staff had been killed, along with nine trainees from the Gaza Training Centre. Approximately 290 refugee children had been killed and over 1,200 injured.

He said the speed and volume of financial support from donors had also been unprecedented, including from much of the Arab world. Total pledges to the UNRWA flash appeal had reached $103 million so far. Intended only for the most urgent relief and early recovery challenge, UNRWA’s appeal for nine months, however, amounted to $346 million. The larger task of reconstruction was more problematic, given the severe restrictions imposed by Israel.

Reiterating the importance of full and consistent opening of all the Gaza crossings into Israel and Egypt, he said that, although 100 trucks of basic supplies and food had been permitted into Gaza daily, that figure should be compared with the 840 trucks required in normal times. The banking system must be allowed to operate normally. There must, of course, also be political reconciliation and a re-establishment of the Palestinian Authority in Gaza.

He said that UNRWA had been doing its part to promote a rapid return to normalcy and had been assisting the 50,000 who had taken refuge in its schools to return to their homes or get temporary accommodation. Most schoolchildren were back at their lessons. UNRWA was helping to maintain essential local services such as water, fuel and sanitation, but it could not, and should not be expected to carry that burden on its own.

Committee Chairman Paul Badji (Senegal), speaking in his national capacity, said that, after three weeks of intense bombardments, the adoption of resolutions by the Security Council, the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly, a precarious ceasefire had been reached. He invited the parties to strictly respect that ceasefire and reiterated his country’s appeal to establish an international observation mission, as well as mechanisms to investigate crimes committed in Gaza.

He said the repeated practices of Israel, the occupying Power, were clearly incompatible with the wish for lasting co-existence. He also asked the Palestinian people and their leaders to do everything possible to build national unity so that negotiations could be pursued with a united front under President Abbas.

Further, the Security Council and Quartet should take the necessary measures to help the Palestinians to overcome the obstacles to independence. Senegal would continue to demand the realization of indispensable conditions for peace, namely: an end to the occupation; establishment of an independent Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its capital; and return of Palestinians to their homes and recovery of their property. Senegal was not working against the interest of Israel; rather, it meant to aid Israel.

Also this afternoon, the Committee elected Paul Badji ( Senegal) as its Chairman; and Zahir Tanin ( Afghanistan) and Abelardo Moreno Fernández ( Cuba) as its Vice-Chairs. Saviour F. Borg ( Malta) was elected the Committee’s Rapporteur. The Committee also adopted its programme of work for 2009.

The Committee was informed about the developments and activities since its last meeting on 24 November 2008, including the adoption on 11 December of Assembly resolution 63/140 on assistance to the Palestinian people, which had been sponsored by 65 Member States; the adoption of resolution 1860 (2009) by the Security Council; and the resumption of the Assembly’s tenth emergency special session, which had adopted a resolution in support of an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. The Bureau of the Committee had also reacted to the situation in the Gaza Strip by issuing statements on 31 December and 8 January 2009. On 29 January, the Bureau had met with UNRWA Commissioner-General Karen AbuZayd.

The Chairman also reported on the United Nations Latin American and Caribbean Meeting in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace and the United Nations Public Forum in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace, which had taken place in Santiago, Chile, on 11-12 December and 13 December, respectively.

He said that participants of the Meeting had called on all Palestinians to unite in support of President Abbas and his Government. They further expressed the view that the process towards achieving a two-State solution could benefit from the experience of Latin American and Caribbean States in their quest for independence and for economic independence and sustainable development. At the Public Forum, a key note presentation had been made by Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riad Malki.

The Committee also approved the provisional programme for the forthcoming United Nations Seminar on Assistance to the Palestinian People, to be held on 9 and 10 March, on the theme of “International Response to the Humanitarian and Economic Needs of the Gaza Strip”.

Short statements were also made by representatives of Tunisia, Cyprus and Chile.