UNRWA official: Israelis, Palestinians both suffering

WASHINGTON (JTA) — A U.N. official wants "friends of Palestine" to visit Israel and "friends of Israel" to visit Gaza.

John Ging, the director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency’s operations in Gaza, which is in charge of assisting Palestinian refugees there, says he wants these friends to "look at the plight of both civilian populations."

Speaking Tuesday at an event on Capitol Hill for members of the U.S. Congress and their staffs, Ging said that having only one crossing into Gaza open is "just not adequate to get supplies in that are needed," which include everything from food and medicine to building supplies to school textbooks. He said most Gazans are hungry, although not starving, and only receiving an "emergency ration" of food that covers 60 percent of their nutritional needs.

He also pointed to the suffering of Israelis who are constantly under rocket fire in southern cities such as Ashkelon and Sderot, adding that "there is no justification for firing rockets at civilian targets."

Critics of UNRWA in Congress have said the agency needs more transparency and accountability, and they have proposed legislation that would call on UNRWA to make public a list of its employees so they can be independently verified for ties to terrorists.

Asked about the legislation, Ging suggested that he supported efforts to ensure that UNRWA was focused solely on its job of assisting refugees.

"We should not employ anyone involved in anything other than refugee" assistance, he said, admitting that he had been "betrayed" by staff in the past but had an "active zero-tolerance policy."

"There has to be accountability," he said.

Ging also said that UNRWA has stopped using the Commercial Bank of Syria for financial transactions, which the United States says has been used by terrorists to transfer funds. He said the agency used the institution because it had a "massive network of offices," but has conferred with U.S. State and Treasury department officials in recent weeks and is now looking for a different bank.

Tuesday’s event was sponsored by Reps. Brian Baird (D-Wash.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), who visited Gaza earlier this year.

 

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