Gaza City (GPA) – United Nations chief Antonio Guterres is touring Gaza and proposing changes, even as Israel tries to scare him into compliance.
Today saw UN chief Antonio Guterres take a tour of the Gaza Strip to view the current humanitarian crisis underway in the small slice of Palestinian territory. While Guterres did remark that the Hamas government should fall in line with the goals of the Palestinian Authority (PA) he still did make some significant gestures towards the citizens of Gaza.
Guterres’ call for “Palestinian unity” was primarily directed at the democratically elected Hamas government in Gaza that is currently in opposition to the PA in the West Bank, led by Mahmoud Abbas and his party Fatah. This demand, is of course, in line with what Israel and the western world are constantly asking for but at the same time, Guterres did make some concessions to the people of Gaza, where the UN runs several aid programs in an effort to counter a 10-year long blockade on the region.
UN Aid and the Gaza Blockade
Gaze is currently in the midst of a massive humanitarian crisis caused by two major factors. The first is the blockade that went into effect after Hamas won the 2007 elections in Gaza and had been enforced by Israel and Egypt ever since.
The second injustice comes via the fellow Palestinians in the PA in the West Bank, who have drastically cut payments to Gaza for both medical and electricity needs. The two factors combined have devastated Gaza, leaving the tiny slice of land with an unemployment rate over 40% and some areas without power for stretches that can extend up to 20 hours.
Guterres addressed both of these issues today. Speaking at a UN school in Gaza, Guterres decried the current situation as “one of the most dramatic humanitarian crises.” In this speech, Guterres called on Israel and Egypt to at least lighten the restrictions of the blockade, which they have in place “to stop the flow of troops and arms.”
Guterres also responded directly to the cuts in fuel and medical payments from the West Bank, issuing a package of aid for Gaza totaling around $2.5 million. The new aid package will provide fuel for generators that run essential facilities like hospitals as well as pay for essential medical supplies which also aren’t allowed through the blockade.
Currently, the only way for Gaza to receive both fuel and medicine is through Israel with the payments subsidized by the PA. The aid package is also expected to include cash payments, solar panels and agricultural supplies to assist small scale farming in the region and hopefully help Gaza rebuild some economic independence.
Israeli Fear Mongering
Another major factor contributing to Gaza’s suffering is the semi-regular air wars waged by the Israeli Air Force. Israel claims threats are coming from Hamas all the time and as could be expected, they continued to play up this fear on the leg of Guterres’ tour that they led.
This part of the tour was helicopter ride for Guterres, in which he was escorted by Israel’s UN ambassador Danny Danon and Israeli Defense Forces Deputy Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi. The tour was meant to highlight the “threats” from blockaded Gaza and their small arsenal of missiles and underground tunnels into Israel.
In reality, these tunnels are most likely used for smuggling consumer goods and medicine across the Israel-Gaza border. The fact that there’s not really ongoing guerrilla attacks in the region should show that the tunnels aren’t as devious as Tel Aviv regularly claims.
The rockets in Gaza also seem like an overblown threat when you realize they’re wildly inaccurate and only have a range of around 2 miles. Although the rockets do occasionally make it past Israel’s massive anti-missile defense system, they rarely hit specific targets. And Israel always responds one hundred fold with their billions of dollars in US-supplied military equipment.
Ignoring these realities, Danon went on to blame Hamas for all of Israel’s aggression saying that the organization “continues to arm itself in order to harm Israel as it exploits the generous humanitarian aid provided by the international community.” According to Danon, Hamas’ response to a strangling blockade shows that “Instead of working to ensure a better future for their children, Hamas has turned the residents of Gaza into hostages, and is investing its resources into digging murderous terror tunnels.”
This all is of course in keeping the line that Israel is the actual victim, which was also expressed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In his joint press conference with Guterres, Netanyahu complained that the historically weak UN fails to “check Palestinian hate speech” and “absurdly denies” that Israel owns Jerusalem because they’re not allowed to steal parts of the city previously promised to Palestine.
Guterres didn’t actually promote any of this obviously and was still only there to support the universally accepted two-state solution. Netanyahu – the face of modern Zionism – never concerns himself with details like this, so his remarks should probably be taken as an indication of how little to expect from this latest UN visit.
Also published on Medium.