UN Officials React to Today’s Gaza Tragedy

Earlier today it was reported that yet another Israeli shell hit a UN school in Gaza.  The UN schools have been used as shelters by thousands of Gazans because the ‘no-go’ zone declared by the Israeli military encompasses nearly half of the Gaza strip. If Gazans cannot count on the UN buildings to keep them safe, it raises serious questions about whether there is anywhere they can go to seek refuge.   

Two top UN officials briefed the press today about this incident. Their frustration at the ongoing conflict was palpable.

John Ging, Director of Operations at the Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) declared “nowhere is safe” for Gazans to go despite Israel’s warnings to leave areas about to be attacked. It is true that Hamas hid caches of weapons in three UN schools, but Ging explained today that those particular schools had already been abandoned because of fighting and are completely out of UN control. UNRWA has not found rockets hidden in schools being used as shelters, “so there’s no excuse,” said Ging.  

Also briefing the press was a frustrated Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson. He poignantly said today, Israel and Hamas “need to put the human being at the center,” and “stop the fighting now.”  His boss, Ban Ki Moon, is in Costa Rica today and issued a harshly worded statement on the attack saying, “nothing is more shameful than attacking sleeping children.”

Meanwhile, during an interview with Al Jazeera UNRWA’s indefatigable spokesperson Chris Gunnes simply broke down.

In times of conflict the job of the UN Secretariat and the international civil servants who inhabit it is principally humanitarian.  Their job goes on, despite pleas for a ceasefire. And every day that their call for a humanitarian pause in fighting falls on deaf ears means more civilian deaths.  As Ging observed in the press briefing today, one child has died for every hour this conflict has dragged on.