Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Middle East: Palestinian, Israeli civilians face brunt of violence

Humanitarian chief Valerie Amos (right) greets Palestinian Bedouins on her visit to the West Bank on 15 May 2011

UN - Palestinian and Israeli civilians are bearing the brunt of the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, the United Nations humanitarian chief said today, urging an end to the indiscriminate violence in the region.

Speaking to reporters after a four-day visit to the region, Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, said Israel must suspend the forced eviction and displacement of civilians from their homes in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt).

Ms. Amos, who is also the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, described the policy as illegal under international law and said it had devastating, long-term humanitarian consequences for residents.

“Palestinians are utterly frustrated by the impact of Israeli policies on their lives,” she said. “Their homes are regularly demolished. They cannot develop their communities.”

Ms. Amos said Palestinians needed to right to move freely and in safety throughout the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip to access services and resources.

“Freedom of movement is imperative for Palestinians to develop their economy and reduce dependence on humanitarian assistance.”

She also called for the lifting of the blockade on the Gaza Strip to facilitate economic growth and development and reduce dependence on humanitarian aid.

The Under-Secretary-General stressed that Israelis also had the right to live without fear of attack. She said she had visited an Israeli community in the town of Sderot that has faced constant fear and uncertainty as a result of rocket attacks from Gaza.

“I met mothers at an indoor children’s playground, where their children have just a few seconds to reach bunkers during shelling.”

But she added that Israel must ensure that access restrictions to restricted areas are kept to the minimum required for its legitimate security requirements.

Ms. Amos noted that what struck her most was the fact that most Palestinians and Israelis wanted the same goal – “to live normal lives in peace, security and dignity.”

She said she was deeply moved by the impact of the Barrier on the Palestinians in the Jerusalem governorate.

“At 700 kilometres long, with 85 per cent of its route inside the West Bank, the Barrier cuts off communities from basic services, denies people access to their homes, and leaves thousands of people dependent on humanitarian handouts.”

Recounting a meeting she had with Palestinians who had been evicted from their homes in East Jerusalem to make way for Israeli settlements, Ms. Amos said they faced daily violence and threats from settlers, noting the attacks on Palestinians are rarely prosecuted.

Thousands of Palestinians had lost their right to live in East Jerusalem and those in the West Bank struggled to access specialized education and reach medical facilities that are only available in Jerusalem.

Visiting the so-called Area C, which is under Israeli military control, and constitutes over 60 per cent of the West Bank, Ms. Amos said she went to see a one-room school with no windows and where improvements are not permitted because of zoning rules.

“This is just one example of the unacceptable way that children’s health and well-being are being deliberately undermined.”