UNRWA Struggles for Permits to Import Musical Instruments, Textbooks Into Gaza

UNRWA's written requests to Israel to deliver essential goods into Gaza remaine unanswered.

Wooden handles for brooms, metal rulers for graphics classes, study books and public library books, refrigerators, musical instruments and needles.

These are some of the numerous items that Israel prevents UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees) from bringing into the Gaza Strip. UNRWA needs these items to operate its schools, clinics, community centers and offices. The ban, which has been in effect for several months, is not connected to Israel's almost hermetic closing of the border crossings to the strip following the Qassam rocket fire over the past month. Since September, in the midst of the cease fire between Israel and Hamas, the UN agency has been trying in vain to obtain the Israeli authorities' permission to bring into Gaza products that are essential to its work, UN sources told Haaretz. UNRWA's written requests to the coordination and liaison administration, which is part of the Defense Ministry's coordinator of government activities in the territories, have not been answered in writing.

By Thursday, the coordinator's spokesman had not replied to Haaretz's written questions from November 30. On Wednesday this week, however, Israel permitted a delivery of medical supplies and equipment to the Gaza Strip after holding it up for more than three months.

The delivery consisted of distilled water for medical laboratories, medicines for diabetes and children's heart disease, vitamin A, kits for pregnancy tests, classifying blood types and diagnosing diabetes and Brucella, a disease transmitted by consumption of unpasteurized milk products or exposure to infected cattle or sheep.

An instrument for an operating theater, a Roentgen (X-ray) unit, Roentgen photography film and physiotherapy equipment were also among the items. In contrast, delivery of wool and cloth for the visually-impaired in the agency's rehabilitation centers has been banned for the past year, leaving thousands of women in the refugee camps, who make their living by embroidery, out of work.

The delivery of 58 fire extinguishers has also been prevented for several months. Israeli officials informed UNRWA by telephone that no permit was issued to bring wool and cloth into Gaza. The items that Israel has been preventing UNRWA from bringing in to Gaza, since last September, had been allowed in the past. Israel has also been holding up delivery of office chairs and desks, televisions and DVDs, air conditioners and heaters, tapes, printers, scissors, industrial brooms, sewing threads, ink and drawing pens. Due to the absence of some of these products, UNRWA cannot print text books. At the beginning of November, Israeli officials told UNRWA on the telephone that electric appliances such as printing machines, washing machines, refrigerators and computers were not allowed into Gaza. Some two months ago, UNRWA was allowed to bring in 20 out of 300 computers it had asked clearance for. UNRWA has asked the Foreign Ministry for a permit to bring these items into Gaza, but has received no reply yet.