Thirtieth special session of the Human Rights Council on the grave human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, Thursday, May 27, 2021
Statement by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), by Gwyn Lewis, Director of UNRWA West Bank Affairs
UNRWA is deeply alarmed and affected by the recent escalation of violence and hostilities in Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and by the devastating human and physical toll it once again inflicts on civilians, including to Palestinian refugees. Women and children have unfortunately been disproportionately affected. UNRWA calls for the protection of civilians and reiterates what the Secretary-General has said: Nothing justifies the abdication by the parties to the conflict of their obligations under international humanitarian law.
Mr. President, Gaza Strip
Allow me to pay tribute to all UNRWA staff for their courage and strength in providing a truly humanitarian response as buildings fall around them and the global pandemic hangs like a shadow over Gaza, and extend my sincere condolences on behalf of all colleagues at UNRWA to the families who have lost loved ones, including children.
In Gaza, 11 long days caused immense destruction to the ground, lives and civilian infrastructure. Nearly 100,000 people have been displaced from their homes, including more than 71,200 internally displaced persons who have sought protection in 59 UNRWA schools in Gaza. More than 240 people have died; 66 of them were children and 19 of them attended UNRWA schools. More than 8,000 people are now homeless. The UNRWA offices were not spared either. In Israel, 12 people died in rocket attacks, including 2 children. All the loss of life of innocent civilians is unacceptable. There was no safe place for civilians on either side of the hostilities and their indiscriminate effects.
After 14 years of blockade and repeated cycles of hostilities, Gazans continue to wonder why, as a global pandemic has exposed the human effects of persistent restrictions on movement and property, they continue to suffer constraints that punish the people of Gaza, with no hope of a dignified future.
West Bank, including East Jerusalem
During the escalation of hostilities in Gaza, little attention was paid to the intense violence that occurred in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. In May, Israeli security forces used more live ammunition against Palestinians in protests than in the first four
month of the year, which raises serious human rights concerns. Palestinian refugees were among the wounded and killed.
UNRWA is sensitive to the difficult security situation, including the protests in which Molotov cocktails and large stones were thrown at Israeli security forces. However, as an occupying Power, Israel must respect international law, including the principles of necessity and proportionality, and exercise maximum restraint. Where violations are alleged to have occurred, those responsible must be held to account.
UNRWA also remains deeply concerned about the vulnerability of Palestinian refugees to violence and incitement, in particular Israeli settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, including reports of the use of live ammunition. Discrimination and stereotypes against Palestinians, including Palestinian refugees, are unacceptable and may constitute human rights violations. The Agency reaffirms the vulnerability of Sheikh Jarrah’s community in East Jerusalem, including the eight families threatened with imminent eviction. Israeli security forces set up a checkpoint severely restricting the exit and entry of Palestinians into the neighborhood. Practices that fuel perceptions of inequality and differential treatment are the ingredients of a drastic escalation of tensions, which can lead to more losses and victims on both sides.
The United Nations has called on the government of Israel to end these deportations as they violate international law and risk forcible transfers.3 UNRWA calls on the international community and member states to pay attention to the situation in the West Bank and to East Jerusalem, the use of live ammunition and incitement against Palestinians and take immediate action with the government of Israel to prevent Sheikh Jarrah and other ongoing deportations and protect equal rights for Palestinians , including Palestinian refugees.
UNRWA will continue its activities, including addressing the mental health crisis resulting from these events and the much needed early recovery efforts, and has launched a flash appeal for Gaza and the West Bank to this end. The Agency calls on donors and the community of States to ensure that the activities of UNRWA and our partners are adequately funded, during the current phase of acute need, and for longer-term basic services that contribute to a sense of normalcy for Palestine refugees, such as health, education and social services.
For Palestinian refugees and their families throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the ceasefire is welcome, but it should not give the false sense that we have returned to normalcy. Innovative political solutions are needed to comprehensively address the root causes of conflict. While fully respecting the humanitarian nature of UNRWA’s mandate, the Agency strongly supports the appeal of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on all sides
– and States – to take immediate measures to ensure respect for international law, including international human rights law, to ease tensions and work towards a resolution of the conflict. Now is the time to take concrete, concrete action.
1 Address by the Secretary-General to the meeting of the General Assembly on the situation in the Middle East and Palestine [as delivered], May 20, 2021, available at: https://www.un.org/sg/en/content/sg/statement/2021-05-20/secretary-general’s-remarks-the-general-assembly- meeting-the-situation-the-middle-east-and-palestine-delivered
2 UNRWA press release, “UNRWA installations in Gaza hit during hostilities”, May 13, 2021, available at:
3 UN News, “Stop evictions in East Jerusalem quarter immediate, UN rights office urges Israel”, May 7, 2021, available at: https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/05/1091492.
UNRWA faces increased demand for services resulting from an increase in the number of registered Palestinian refugees, the extent of their vulnerability and the deepening of their poverty. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions and financial support has been overtaken by growing needs. As a result, UNRWA’s program budget, which supports the provision of basic essential services, is operating with a large deficit. UNRWA encourages all Member States to work collectively to make every effort to fully fund the Agency’s program budget. UNRWA’s emergency programs and key projects, which also operate with large deficits, are funded through separate funding portals.
UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and mandated to provide assistance and protection to some 5.7 million Palestinian refugees registered with UNRWA in its five areas of operation. Its mission is to help Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip to realize their full potential for human development, while awaiting a just and lasting solution to their fate. UNRWA’s services include education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, protection and microfinance.