Thirtieth Special Session of the Human Rights Council, Statement of UNRWA delivered by Gwyn Lewis

31 May 2021
Gwyn Lewis, Director of UNRWA Affairs West Bank

Thirtieth Special Session of the Human Rights Council on the grave human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, Thursday 27 May 2021

Statement of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), delivered by Gwyn Lewis, Director of UNRWA Affairs West Bank

Mr. President,

UNRWA is deeply alarmed and affected by the recent escalation of violence and hostilities in Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the devastating human and physical toll it is taking once again on civilians, including Palestine refugees. Women and children have sadly been disproportionally affected. UNRWA calls for the protection of civilians and reiterates what the Secretary-General has stated: There is no justification for the abdication by the parties to the conflict of their obligations under international humanitarian law1.


Mr. President, Gaza Strip

Allow me to pay tribute to all UNRWA staff members for their courage and strength to deliver a truly humanitarian response as buildings fall around them, and as the global pandemic hangs as a shadow over Gaza, and to extend sincere condolences on behalf of all UNRWA colleagues to the families who have lost loved ones, including children.

In Gaza, 11 long days caused immense destruction on the ground, to lives, and civilian infrastructure. Nearly 100,000 people were displaced from their homes, including in excess of 71,200 IDPs who sought protection in 59 UNRWA schools across Gaza. Over 240 people died; 66 of them were children, and 19 of them went to UNRWA schools. More than 8,000 people are now homeless. UNRWA offices were not spared either2. In Israel 12 people died in rocket attacks, including 2 children. All loss of innocent civilians' lives is unacceptable. There was no safe place for civilians on either side from the hostilities and its indiscriminate effects.

After 14 years of the blockade and repeated cycles of hostilities, residents of Gaza continue to ask themselves why, when a global pandemic has made clear the human effects of sustained restrictions on movement and goods, they continue to suffer under constraints that punish the population of Gaza, without hope for a dignified future.


West Bank, including East Jerusalem

During the escalation in hostilities in Gaza, little attention was paid to the heavy violence that occurred in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. During May, more live ammunition was used by the Israeli Security Forces on Palestinians in demonstrations than in the first four

months of the year, leading to serious concerns from a human rights perspective. Palestine refugees were among the injured and killed.

UNRWA is sensitive to the difficult security situation, including demonstrations where Molotov cocktails and large rocks were thrown at Israeli Security Forces. However, as an occupying power, Israel must abide by 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 very concerned about the vulnerability of Palestine refugees to violence and incitement by, in particular, Israeli settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, including reports of use of live ammunition. Discrimination and stereotypes against Palestinians, including Palestine refugees, are unacceptable, and may amount to human rights violations. The Agency reiterates the vulnerability of the Sheikh Jarrah community in East Jerusalem, including the eight families facing imminent eviction. Israeli Security Forces have set up a checkpoint severely restricting Palestinian exit and entry to the neighbourhood. Practices that fuel perceptions of inequality and differential treatment are ingredients for a drastic escalation of tensions, which can lead to more losses and casualties on both sides.

The United Nations has called upon the Government of Israel to halt these evictions since it violates international law and risks forced transfer.3 UNRWA appeals to the international community and Member States to pay attention to the situation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the use of live ammunition, and incitement against Palestinian and take immediate action with the Government of Israel to prevent the Sheikh Jarrah and other pending evictions and protect the equal rights of Palestinians, including Palestine refugees.


Mr. President,

UNRWA will continue its activities, including addressing the mental health crisis stemming from these events, and much needed early recovery efforts, and to this end has launched a Flash Appeal for Gaza and the West Bank. The Agency calls on the donor and state community to ensure that the activities of UNRWA and our partners are properly funded, during the current phase of acute need, and for the longer-term core services that contribute to a sense of normality to Palestine refugees, such as health, education and social services.


In conclusion,

For Palestine refugees and their families throughout the occupied Palestinian territory, the ceasefire is welcomed but it should not create a false sense that we have returned to normality. Innovative political solutions are required to comprehensively address the root causes of the conflict. While fully respecting the humanitarian nature of UNRWA’s mandate, the Agency strongly supports the call 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, ease tensions and work to resolve the conflict. The time is now to take real and substantive action.

Thank you.

1 Secretary-General’s Remarks to the General Assembly Meeting on the Situation in the Middle East and Palestine [as delivered], 20 May 2021, available at:’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”, 13 May 2021, available at:


3 UN News, “Stop evictions in East Jerusalem neighbourhood immediately, UN rights office urges Israel », 7 May 2021, available at:

Background Information: 

UNRWA is confronted with an increased demand for services resulting from a growth in the number of registered Palestine refugees, the extent of their vulnerability and their deepening poverty. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions and financial support has been outpaced by the growth in needs. As a result, the UNRWA programme budget, which supports the delivery of core essential services, operates with a large shortfall. UNRWA encourages all Member States to work collectively to exert all possible efforts to fully fund the Agency’s programme budget. UNRWA emergency programmes and key projects, also operating with large shortfalls, 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 Palestine refugees registered with UNRWA across its five fields of operation. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip achieve their full human development potential, pending a just and lasting solution to their plight. UNRWA services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, protection and microfinance.

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