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Gaza’s Arab Spring Shuts Down UNRWA, which Blames Israel

Gaza Arabs rioted and forced UNRWA to close down after the agency removed thousands of families from aid list. UNRWA: it’s Israel’s fault.
By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu
First Publish: 7/26/2011, 2:48 PM

UNRWA school in Gaza
UNRWA school in Gaza
Flash 90

Gaza Arabs rioted and forced UNRWA to close down after the agency removed thousands of families from its aid list. UNRWA says it’s... Israel’s fault.

UNRWA is responsible for the care of hundreds of thousands of Gaza Arabs, whom it classifies as "refugees,” similar to people who live in foreign countries that do not grant them citizenship.

Protesters blocked UNRWA’s offices with large trucks because the United Nations agency removed tens of thousands of Gaza Arabs from its food distribution list, according to the Bethlehem-based Ma'an news agency.

UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness blamed Israel for the lack of donor funds and for the protest, he reasoned, “The real problem is that we are asking our donors to fund emergency programs, which aim to mitigate the effects of Israel’s illegal collective punishment of 1.5 million people. The International Committee of the Red Cross has called the blockade a 'clear breach of international law.'"

Israel lifted the land embargo on Gaza nearly a year ago, except for items that can be directly used for terrorist activities. Hundreds of tons of food and merchandise are shipped into Gaza every week.

The Arab protesters pointed fingers not at Israel but at UNRWA, which has made drastic cuts in its emergency program because of an inadequate donor response.

Gunness said their demonstration was counter-productive because the agency was now unable to operate its Gaza command center.

“We need access to our computers to service projects, to manage our education, health, relief and social service programs,” he said. “ It's where the personnel department is based for, for example, paying staff salaries, it's where our IT department is, it's where the radio room is for security and without these things our full programs become unsustainable very quickly."

“The lack of donor funds to UNRWA is now directly affecting the stability of the Middle East with anti-UN protests threatening to shut down UNRWA on the doorstep of Israel at a time of already heightened instability in the region.”

He explained that 100,000 Gaza Arabs have been removed from its food distribution list “because UNRWA is now using a more accurate poverty assessment system to determine eligibility for food assistance…. Many business people, wealthy merchants and property owners have come off the lists,” allowing more people to be added to the roster of recipients.