UNRWA reacts to Israel's decision to ease the Gaza blockade

17/06/2010

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Israel has announced that it will ease the blockade on Gaza to allow more civilian goods to enter the territory. This comes after the UN Secretary-General called on Israel earlier this week to end the blockade. UN Radio's Patrick Maigua in Geneva spoke on the line to Jerusalem to Chris Gunness, spokesman at the UN agency, which assists Palestinian refugees, for a reaction to today's news.

GUNNESS: What's been reported is that there's going to be greater assistance given to international organizations like the UN who are working with specific projects, though it's far from clear whether, for example, the Karni crossing, which is the industrial-scale cross-transhipment point into Gaza from Israel, will be opened up. We're being forced into the bottleneck which is a crossing called Kerem Shalom, where you have to take goods out of containers, put them on pallets-you know, the back-to-back system where trucks take things into an open ground on the Israeli side and then later they come in from the Palestinian side. So, you know, it looks like a deliberate policy to slow us down, and we have to open up the Karney crossing which is for industrial-scale shipments into Gaza.

MAIGUA: Do you think life for Palestinians is going to change with the easing of this blockade?

GUNNESS: Well let's see if there comes an easing of the blockade and let's see how much is let in. Because what we're seeing is the very basics allowed in, and for life for Palestinians in Gaza to change, we have to end the blockade. And, you know, we talk about materials going into Gaza; I want to talk about materials coming out of Gaza, i.e. exports, because Gaza is 80 per cent aid dependent and logically by sending in more aid you make it more aid dependent. What we want to do is make it less aid dependent and that means getting exports out. There is an international agreement which foresees 400 trucks a day of exports. That's the direction in which we need to move. We have to get exports out of Gaza because people in Gaza are dignified, they are entrepreneurial, they are industrious. They can help themselves. We need to stop complaining about all this money we throw at the Palestinians, about how aid dependent they are, and all we need to do is get the Israelis to stop this illegal blockade and allow exports to come out, and we can begin to go down that road.

MAIGUA: Can you give us maybe just a brief on what kind of goods are allowed in?

GUNNESS: Well, the trouble with doing that is to fail to understand the capriciousness of the blockade. So one day certain things are allowed in like pasta, like tomato sauce, the next day they are not. Some days goods from certain destinations are allowed in, some days they are not. So it is an impossible question to answer. But that is a deliberate policy and strategy by the Israelis who don't want people to know what isn't and isn't allowed in. So we're paying demurrage charges on storage house, storage equipment, storage facilities, for equipment which may be banned from Gaza. We simply don't know. So, let's just get around all this by lifting the blockade. That's the simple answer.

MAIGUA: How would you describe the life of an ordinary Palestinian right now?

GUNNESS: It's grim. The number of people who have come to us saying they can't feed their families or themselves, otherwise known as the abject poor, has tripled in the last year. It's gone from 100,000 to 300,000. So the average Palestinian is having a terrible time, and the lower than average Palestinian is having an absolutely terrible time. So that's why I say lift this illegal blockade, end the collective punishment.

MAIGUA: And when they come to the UN and they find the UN cannot assist them then they must be extremely desperate?

They're desperate and they turn to other people. If the United Nations cannot help them, there are other people in Gaza who can help them and with that of course comes a political price. And that's why we say let the international community do what it needs to do: allow us to get in there with industrial-scale construction materials and other equipment and other materials we need to lift this blockade and to end the collective punishment.

PRESENTER: Chris Gunness is spokesman at the UNRWA: the UN agency which assists Palestinian refugees.

Producer: Dianne Penn
Duration: 3'07"