News / Middle East

    UNRWA Eyes Gaza's Post-Conflict Needs

    Palestinian man carries boy past UN-run school that was struck whole sheltering those displaced by Israeli ground offensive, Jebalya northern Gaza, July 30, 2014.
    Palestinian man carries boy past UN-run school that was struck whole sheltering those displaced by Israeli ground offensive, Jebalya northern Gaza, July 30, 2014.
    Margaret Besheer

    United Nations schools in the Gaza Strip have sheltered some 270,000 displaced Palestinians during the current hostilities between Israel and Hamas militants.

    At least six schools were recently shelled, leading to dozens of casualties and tensions between the U.N. and Israel. The U.N. has also found rocket caches belonging to armed groups in three of their schools, raising questions about how they got there.

    UNRWA, as the agency is known, is one of the largest and oldest U.N. programs. It has operated in the Israeli occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza for 60 years, as well as in Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, providing schooling, vocational training, health care and social services to 5 million Palestinians.

    UNRWA has a staff of over 30,000 — most of them from the refugee population. In the current conflict, 11 staffers have been killed.

    Over 90 percent of UNRWA’s annual budget comes from U.N. member states.  Before the current round of hostilities leveled parts of Gaza, UNRWA had budgeted $1.4 billion for this year and next. That number will now have to be revised to reflect reconstruction needs.

    UNRWA’s schools have been in the news recently, because they are housing so many displaced Gazans. As U.N. facilities, they are protected under international humanitarian law as safe zones, but on six occasions they have come under direct fire that killed and wounded civilians.

    U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon again expressed his outrage about the attacks this week, saying U.N. shelters must not be combat zones.

    "Those who violate this sacred trust must be subject to accountability and justice," he said. "In the most recent case of shelling on a U.N. facility, the Israelis were informed of the coordinates 33 times.”

    Israel has said that it never intentionally targets civilians, but it also blames militants for intentionally launching rockets from populated areas, incrasing the risk of attracting return fire that puts civilians in harm's way.

    Israel has also criticized UNRWA because rocket caches have been found in three of its schools. U.N. humanitarian operations director John Ging told reporters recently that those three schools had been abandoned due to intense fighting and that the rockets were discovered when staff returned to inspect the buildings.

    “In each and every case where schools are under U.N. control, there is a very careful inspection regime to make sure that there is no violations, either by armed people coming in or that there are any arms hidden in that school, and that is done by inspecting the school on an ongoing basis, and particularly when recovering a school that has been abandoned,” he said.

    Ging noted that both militants and Israeli forces have occupied abandoned UNRWA buildings in the past, and that weapons have not been found in any building under active U.N. control.

    U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq says since the weapons caches were discovered, UNRWA has tightened security at its empty facilities.

    “What we have had to try to do better is make sure that if a building is left vacant, that it won’t be used as a repository for weapons," he said. "So we are trying a series of procedures to make sure all our facilities are appropriately guarded.”

    Militants resumed firing rockets into Israel from the Gaza Strip Friday morning as a 72-hour humanitarian cease-fire expired. Israel responded with airstrikes.

    The resumption of hostilities means UNRWA may have to cope with more displaced Palestinians in need of assistance. The agency has already appealed for $367 million for immediate needs.  

    When the conflict does finally stop, UNRWA will be faced with many challenges, including meeting large-scale humanitarian needs. Its staff will also have to relocate the thousands of Palestinians currently sheltering in UNRWA schools so the buildings can be readied for the nearly quarter-million students the agency teaches during the academic year.

    You May Like

    Turkey, US Splits Deepen Over Support for Kurdish Militants

    Ankara summons American ambassador to protest remarks by State Department spokesman who said Washington does not consider Syria's Kurdish Democracy Union Party (PYD) a terrorist organization

    Obama Seeking $19 Billion for National Cybersecurity

    Move, touted as attempt to build broad, cohesive federal response to cyberthreats, calls for increase in cybersecurity spending across all government agencies

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire, who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Al from: North Carolina
    August 09, 2014 1:58 PM
    It is hard to believe that taxpayers from the Untied States will be rebuilding schools in Gaza. The Hams are completely responsible for this war on Israel. This is just another reason to get the U.N. out of our lives and pocketbooks.

    by: Martina S. from: UN
    August 09, 2014 10:37 AM
    UNRWA is a corrupt organization that must be dissolved. We are funding a terrorist organization - its illegal for US to fund a terrorist organization..!! Hamas, Fatah, ISIL, MB, Islamic Jihad, Al Qaida, these are the same depravity - it is EVIL. you can not soft focus it...
    We must confront it, defeat it and discredit it. We also know that this Islamic filth has metastasized into Europe through the agency of UNRWA. UNRWA is a clear and present danger to your children - it is Ebola.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clownsi
    X
    February 09, 2016 8:04 PM
    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay Prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Middle East Affairs and national security.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.