An Israeli-imposed blockade has caused conditions to become increasingly dire in the already war-torn Gaza strip. At the end of 2008, following repeated rocket attacks on Israel from the Gaza strip that the local government was unable to control, Israel conducted a three-week offensive, Operation Cast Lead, to rid the Gaza Strip of rockets. The fighting left 1,400 people dead and 5,000 injured. Israel has occupied the territory and kept up the blockade to prevent further transfer of rockets and other weapons that could be used against it.
The blockade, now over 1,000 days, has also prevented aid and humanitarian assistance from outside Gaza, and has led to the flourishing of a new illegal economy. In his March 10 address, Filippo Grandi, the Commissioner General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), said that the problems faced by Gaza are not just humanitarian, but “encompass every aspect of society.”
UNRWA serves about 4.7 million Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and the Palestinian territory, with a budget of $600 million per year, funded by voluntary contributions from member states. It employs 20,000 teachers.
Outside aid of nearly $5 billion has been pledged to help rebuild Gaza, but those funds cannot be disbursed. No materials or construction equipment can be transported from Israel.
Secretary General Ban Ki Moon was the first international leader to visit Gaza after the 2008 fighting ended. Under-Secretary-General John Holmes has called for radical changes in Israeli policies toward the occupied territory.
The “Roadmap” for Israel endorsed by the Quartet, comprising the United Nations, the European Union, the United States, and Russia, calls for two States—Israel and Palestine—living side by side in peace and security. In addition to continual attacks on Israel from the Arab world, Israel has continued to build Jewish settlements on Palestinian soil. These provocations from both sides continue to frustrate the international community.
On March 12, 2010, the Quartet issued a statement condemning Israel’s decision to build 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem. UN News announced that Mr. Ban put Middle East tensions on the top of his list of priorities during his visit to Russia, where the Quartet will meet March 19.