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UN: Gaza's Human Suffering, Destruction Unprecedented

  • Lisa Schlein

Palestinian students look inside a classroom that witnesses said was shelled by Israel during its offensive, on the first day of the new school year east of Gaza City September 14, 2014.

Palestinian students look inside a classroom that witnesses said was shelled by Israel during its offensive, on the first day of the new school year east of Gaza City September 14, 2014.

A senior United Nations official says unprecedented human suffering and destruction occurred in Gaza during the 50-day war between Hamas and Israel, and that it will take years to rebuild the Palestinian enclave back to where it was before the war began.

The latest U.N. figures put the number of people killed in the war at more than 2,100, including 500 children. At the height of the conflict, the data indicate, 470,000 people were displaced and 100,000 Palestinians still have no homes to return to.

Many of the displaced, says James Rawley, Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, are living in schools run by the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) or with host families.

While the level of destruction in this latest conflict far exceeds that which occurred in the two previous wars between Israel and Hamas, in 2008 and in 2012, parts of Gaza look like they were hit by an earthquake, and the humanitarian needs — 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza are food insecure — are immense.

“It is not like there isn't food, [but] people just do not have the money to buy it and, therefore, the international community — UNRWA, WFP, in particular — have a huge caseload that has gotten worse as a result of the 50 days of war," he said. "Other areas that require an emergency response are the areas of water and sanitation.”

Rawley also says thousands of people who have been traumatized by this latest conflict need psychosocial support, and that about ten percent of the some 80,000 shells launched into Gaza during the war remain unexploded, posing a hazard to peoples’ lives and preventing them from farming their land.

A $551 million UNRWA appeal for emergency development launched more than two weeks ago is now 42 percent funded, and Rawley says the Palestinian government will be presenting a plan for longer reconstruction at an international conference in Cairo on October 12.

Rawley tells VOA the reconstruction and rebuilding of homes, the repair of hospitals, schools and other infrastructure will be a boon to the construction industry and will be good for the Palestinian economy. He also says Israeli authorities have been very cooperative in forwarding the plans.

“We have had an effective [dialog], and we appreciate the willingness of the Israeli authorities to sit down with us and the Palestinians to map out a way whereby — and this is very important — [we can] not only increase the volume of construction materials and dual-use materials going into Gaza, but do it in a way that recognizes Israel’s legitimate security concerns,” he said.

As plans advance, he says it is important that Israel and the Palestinian authorities solidify the fragile ceasefire in Gaza.

Ultimately, he says, it is essential for Israeli and the Palestinian authorities to go back to the peace table and negotiate a permanent solution for their peoples.

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