The top United Nations humanitarian official today called for “radical” changes in Israeli policies towards the occupied Palestinian territory to allow people to carry out normal and dignified lives.
“For this to happen, marginal improvements here and there are not enough,” Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes underscored in Jerusalem while on a visit to the region.
In Gaza, border crossings must be re-opened, while in the West Bank, illegal demolitions and evictions should stop, he said. In the so-called Area C, which covers 60 per cent of the West Bank and remains largely off limits to Palestinians, he called for the allowing of natural development.
In Shu’fat refugee camp in East Jerusalem, Mr. Holmes saw first-hand the impact of the barrier – which Israel says it is building to keep out suicide bombers and other attackers – on the Palestinian community. It has curtailed access to health, education and other basic services, while also limiting livelihood opportunities.
He also witnessed the effects of continued demolitions and forced evictions in the Arab neighbourhoods of Al Bustan and Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem, where many families have been forced from their homes and many more are at risk of displacement.
“I was moved by what I saw and heard today during the discussions I had with Palestinian families forced out of their homes,” Mr. Holmes, who also serves as UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, said.
“The recent decision of the Jerusalem municipality to delay the planned demolitions in Al Bustan is a positive step, but what is really needed is the cancellation of demolition orders and evictions in Palestinian areas,” he added.
In Area C, the Under-Secretary-General visited a school in the Al Jahalin Bedouin community, which has been in the area for generations. It has come under pressure recently due to a nearby settlement and restrictions on building permits and access to the area.
The school, built with the help of the UN and its partners, has been marked for demolition, which he says cannot be justified. “The case of this school shows how difficult it has become for herding communities to continue living in Area C and for humanitarian agencies to assist them,” he noted.
In the West Bank city of Ramallah, Mr. Holmes met with Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, expressing his support for the Palestinian Authority and the UN’s determination to continue helping vulnerable people in the occupied Palestinian territory.
Earlier this week, the UN official saw for himself the conditions in Gaza, just over one year after the end of the three-week Israeli military offensive, known as operation “Cast Lead,” which had the stated aim of ending rocket attacks by militants operating in the area.
The fighting left more than 1,400 people dead, injured 5,000 others and reduced homes, schools, hospitals and marketplaces to rubble.
“I have a lot of admiration for the resilience and ingenuity of Gaza residents in trying to cope with the present circumstances,” he said. “The work of relief agencies to assist those who have to endure hardship is also remarkable.”
But he stressed that it is “disturbing” that one year after the fighting ended, “no meaningful reconstruction has yet started.”
Mr. Holmes is scheduled to leave Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory tomorrow.