Conflict in Gaza: Discussion

It is a great pleasure to welcome Mr. John Ging, director of operations of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in Gaza, to this committee meeting. He is accompanied by his assistant, Ms Trudy Strand, from Norway. She should feel very happy here. Even though this location is on the southside of the city, most of the descendants of the Battle of Clontarf are on the northside of the city and we can get her to meet some them. She will be surprised at the likeness. Senator Callely is another northsider, as I am.

Some 20 months ago, Mr. Ging appeared before this committee in the immediate aftermath of Operation Cast Lead. Mr. Ging commented that the first casualty in any conflict is the truth. Until we can obtain the truth of what happened, there will be no possibility of the region emerging from this provocative, self-reinforcing cycle of violence. We noted that point on the last occasion and it remains important today. Some 20 months later, it seems empty rhetoric is getting in the way of truth and political and societal progress in the region. The elders, led by the former president, Mrs. Mary Robinson, visited Gaza last month and reported that progress in rolling back the blockade of Gaza has been very limited so far. The elders also expressed the view that marginalising the Hamas leadership from the current peace process is counter-productive. I would be grateful if Mr. Ging can update the committee on his work in Gaza, the humanitarian situation there and whether a dignified existence is possible for the people of Gaza in an area in the fourth year of siege. We have been guests of Mr. Ging at lunch in the open air in the middle of Gaza and we are grateful for the insights he gave us while we were there as a delegation from this committee. We are keen to know how things are at the moment.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that members should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence they give this committee. If you are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence in relation to a particular matter and you continue to so do, you are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of your evidence. You are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and you are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, you should not criticise nor make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

Mr. John Ging

Thank you, Chairman. It is a privilege to appear again before the committee. I will take the opportunity in my opening remarks to update the committee, as it is useful for it to know how matters have evolved since the flotilla. I am more than anxious to take questions and provide particular information which may be of interest to the committee.

Since the tragedy of the flotilla and loss of life that occurred, a decision was made by the government of Israel to adjust the blockade. The good news on this is that all consumer goods which had been prohibited in Gaza for more than four years are now entering through the legitimate crossing points between Israel and Gaza, coming from Israel and the West Bank. This is positive not only in the sense that more goods are available in the shops but because it has switched the economic benefit from the underground tunnel economy coming from Egypt, which has reduced by approximately 80% to be replaced by legitimate trade through the crossing points with Israel and into the West Bank. This is enriching the business community which had been left to one side for almost four years. This should encourage us to continue to move in this direction. One of the major issues we have had during the four years of the blockade is its counter-productivity, with regard to who was benefiting and who was being enriched under it. Now we see a turn and a beginning.

We need to be very clear that the only change is in switching the routes of supply. We must now look at the impact. The level of aid dependency remains at 80%. The entry route for shoes, clothes and other items which people need to survive does not create jobs or affect the state of employment in the Gaza Strip. We have unprecedentedly high unemployment with 80% of the population dependent on food assistance.

There are still problems with infrastructure because construction materials continue to be prohibited. A small amount of construction materials are allowed in for some limited projects under international supervision and this is very welcome. Its implementation is evidence that we can do it, as hypothetical arguments had been put forward that the UN and others could not control the supply, but we are proving that we can do so. However, we must keep this in context. We have approval for approximately 7% of our recovery and reconstruction plan over the next six months. The needs are very desperate and urgent.

UNRWA needs to build 100 schools and has approval to build seven of them. According to WHO standards, 90% of water is not drinkable. We need massive infrastructural development to address this. The sewerage system is in a state of collapse with 80 million cubic litres of sewage being pumped into the Mediterranean every day. Also, 95% of businesses remain closed because they are awaiting the reintroduction of commercial trade when commercial importing and exporting can be resumed.

Let us acknowledge the positive. It is positive to see the business community is strong enough to reassert itself. It is also positive to see that given a choice, the people of Gaza want to re-establish their links with the West Bank and Israel. However, we should not let these positives deceive us with regard to the scale of the need, which is why it is so urgent to move forward in a much larger way. A number of high-level delegations have visited and I thank the members of the committee who have done so. I also express our appreciation to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Micheál Martin, for his visit. These visits have been followed by visits from several other European leaders, which are very important to help to gain better understanding. The rhetoric is well-rehearsed and very convincing if one wishes to accept it, but unfortunately most of it is a half-truth or not the complete picture.

There are 1.5 million people in Gaza, 800,000 of whom are children. They are in a very desperate state of aid dependency. We have an opportunity, if we can overcome the access problem, to turn around the situation very positively and quickly. We should now be encouraged to build on the small positive developments that have occurred in recent months and translate them into very large developments whereby people are given back an economic capacity for self sufficiency to move beyond aid dependency and relieve the international community at this time of huge financial crisis of the burden of paying for humanitarian assistance when the people have the capacity to be self-sufficient if they were given the opportunity to be so.

I thank the committee and the Government for their very strong political and financial support for our organisation. The appreciation of the people is very high. We should all focus on what we can do to reduce the level of aid dependency and move to a period of economic development. The people have the capacity to do so. The operational security challenges are very real but recent months have shown that where there is a political will there is a political way. There is an operational way to overcome them and day by day we want to see a big improvement so people can move from a position of aid dependency to self-sufficiency.

Thank you, Mr. Ging. I ask members to speak for only two to three minutes because Mr. Ging must attend another meeting with the Minister.

I welcome Mr. Ging. Some of us visited him in Gaza and saw at first hand the issues there. I welcome the increase in the availability of consumer goods and the improvements outlined by Mr. Ging. However, I wonder about rebuilding and the level of materials coming into Gaza. The Israelis state that they approve projects under the supervision of the international community. Does this mean there will be free access for the supplies necessary as identified by the international community? How does UNRWA fit into this? Can it order supplies as need be?

Have the schools and factories which were demolished been replaced or has any effort been made to replace them? The repair of houses for the elderly was a serious problem for the individuals involved. Recently, a statement was issued that Israel had allowed the UN agency to take four automatic weapons into the Gaza Strip to provide protection for the local chief, Mr. John Ging. If it is appropriate I would like him to comment on this and let us know the background to it. From where is the risk coming?

What does Mr. Ging see as the priorities in the short term in Gaza? What might this country or the European Union do? More generally, what does Mr. Ging see as the short to medium requirements for a settlement of the problem in the Middle East?

I welcome Mr. Ging and commend him on his commitment to and bravery in Gaza, which I witnessed last year when I visited the region with my party leader, Deputy Kenny. In regard to the pledges made by the international community on rebuilding Gaza after Operation Cast Lead, has funding been forthcoming? Are the restrictions on local people entering and leaving Gaza, particularly in medical emergencies, as strict as ever? I ask Mr. Ging about the political relationship in Gaza between Hamas and Fatah.

Is there any sense of life returning to normality given that the blockade has been partially lifted? What work has been done to rebuild industry in the region so that it is less dependent on the international community? In regard to products, such as cement and timber, that continue to be blocked at the border, what is being done to make them more available? All of us have seen the temporary camps the UN provided. Are houses being rebuilt for the people who have been displaced?

I join my colleagues in sincerely welcoming Mr. Ging. Having visited Gaza on four occasions, I am aware of the incredible work carried out under difficult circumstances by the agency of which he is head.

I take cognisance of the letter members received yesterday from the Israeli ambassador. Contrary to impressions given recently in this committee, I read all the letters I receive. Along with Senator Norris, I am one of the longest serving members of this committee. We developed the concept of the committee and we are here to provide critical and accurate reception of information and to offer responses in that spirit. I wish I did not have to say that. To make my comments more valuable while being fair to the ambassador's letter and Mr. Ging's presentation, I would like to establish certain points of fact that may enable us to get past obstacles.

The ambassador's letter suggests that the only products that are forbidden are weapons, war material and materials capable of dual use. One of the last delegations from the committee to visit the region suggested that the definition of "dual use" should be referred to an independent authority. We sought the intervention of the UN representative after we left Gaza and I am interested to learn whether this is possible.

The letter also suggests that applications were made for 20 schools, of which six have been approved and two are under construction. This contrasts with the figure supplied by Mr. Ging. It should be possible for us to establish the facts. Mr. Ging estimated the required number of schools as 100.

In regard to the housing projects we visited, some were constructed to roof level but were not yet completed and repairs were required on others. Has construction been completed on these projects?

The ambassador's letter suggests that strawberries and flowers have been exported from Gaza over the past four years and that exports are increasing. When I visited Gaza, which admittedly was a long time ago and not as part of the most recent delegation, I found that the delays at border crossings caused produce to deteriorate.

The letter goes on to claim that crossings at Kerem Shalom have increased by 92%. I entirely agree with Mr. Ging that facilitating consumption of what goes into Gaza is not the same as economic recovery. In respect of the 82% aid dependency rate, Mr. Ging's previous comments on the dangers to the water and sewerage system were of concern to members. Could the issue of sewerage and clean water be addressed if the required materials were allowed in?

An international medical report has been produced on the welfare of children in the region. One section of this report deals with post-traumatic stress among children. I ask Mr. Ging to comment on the current health situation.

Perhaps Mr. Ging can identify obstacles to Gaza's recovery and outline how they might be addressed. I raised the issue of dual use and the issue of export goods is also pertinent.

What opportunities exist for civil society to emerge? We met many different people who are trying to construct a new reality. At no time since Senator Norris or I became members of this committee did we suggest impunity for those who are guilty of human rights abuses.

We have been clear in our condemnation of them wherever they arise. Now is not the time for propaganda or bilious statements; it is a time for helping the people of Gaza based on the facts as presented to us by Mr. Ging.

As I was not yet a Deputy when Mr. Ging last addressed the committee, it was interesting to hear from him today. It is heartening to hear positive news because it can be grim and depressing to be a member of this committee. Having been a teacher, I was concerned to learn about the number of people who are being deprived of even a basic education. Aside from rebuilding, is anything being done informally to facilitate education?

People from one of the inner city areas which I represent travelled to Paraguay with Habitat for Humanity. They had an amazing experience in addition to contributing to the society which hosted them. We do not hear about similar visits to Gaza. Are volunteers from groups such as Habitat for Humanity prevented from entering Gaza to do that kind of work?

What role is Hamas playing?

Is it impeding recovery, as has been said, and, if so, to what extent?

I happened to be at a recent lecture which Mr. Mike Mansfield gave at the FLAC event. He made interesting points about an Irish company, Cement-Roadstone Holdings, and its contribution to what is happening. I noticed in yesterday's edition ofThe Irish Times it was disputing, saying that it did not know where the cement was going, but yet it admitted to Amnesty International that it knew that it was going to the wall. Is the delegation aware of other corporations which are in similar situations and using excuses?

Like my colleagues, I welcome Mr. Ging. I am very glad that he front-loaded the good news because it is important that we get some. It is very invigorating. It is very much in tune with Mr. Ging's extraordinary diplomatic gifts. I place on the record a universal feeling in this committee, namely, our pride as Irish people in the courage and integrity he has shown in a very difficult situation.

Most of the questions have already been asked. I concur with Deputy O'Hanlon in asking about Mr. Ging's personal security. It is being used by the Israelis for particular purposes but I am interested in the factual aspects. Putting aside the good news, I am also interested in Mr. Ging's view, if he will give it, on Al-Haq, the Palestinian human rights organisation.

I presided at a very interesting function in the University of Galway, at which Deputy Higgins was also a very distinguished participant. We awarded a human rights award to Mr. Shawan Jabarin who was prevented from travelling by the Israeli authorities on the grounds that he was a member of a terrorist organisation. They seemed to imply that Al-Haq was in some way associated with terrorism.

I am very concerned about the water situation, an issue which several other people have raised. Mr. Ging said 90% of the water is not drinkable according to international standards, which is appalling. It is a human rights abuse and there is no excuse for it. When one combines that with the fact that 80 million cu. m. of sewage goes into the Mediterranean every day it is appalling for its neighbours and Israeli society. What happens down the coast? I would like further information on that.

Deputy Higgins asked about construction. Facilities have been constructed before. I remember being in Gaza and seeing a sewage treatment plant which was built at the expense of the European Community and was then targeted. It was extraordinary. Can they be built and protected and given some kind of immunity? It is a very basic level of human existence to have clean water and adequate sewerage systems and not to be poisoned. It puts in context the ambassador's protest about trying any comparison with the Warsaw ghetto. It is not an exact parallel but there are elements of a parallel and if it stings the Israelis maybe it will awaken their conscience.

I do not want to place Mr. Ging in any difficulty because I know he navigates a very problematic line but I am interested in the final paragraph of the ambassador's letter. He said, "[B]iased commentators give the impression that Gaza is permanently on the brink of humanitarian catastrophe etc. Nothing could be further from the truth. All life factors in Gaza (such as life expectancy and infant mortality) are better than in some EU countries and far better than in many Arab or other developing countries."

How far is one's sense of humanitarian catastrophe removed from the truth? Having visited Gaza on several occasions, it is pretty close to the truth and closer than the ambassador's letter.

I join others in expressing my sense of pride at work Mr. Ging, as an Irishman, is doing in the international spotlight in such trying circumstances. I also want to reinforce the sense of environmental justice denied to the people of Gaza through the lack of sewage and water sanitation and a systematic removal of trees. I would be interested to hear whether significant tree planting is part of the overall work of the relief agency or any of the relief efforts. A denial of environmental justice is completely indiscriminate and is deliberately designed as part of the collective punishment I firmly believe is being inflicted.

On logistics, what is the interface between the relief agencies and the supply of goods that have and may in the future come through flotillas? I had some involvement in the cargo which was on board theMV Rachel Corrie and heard a little about how it was dealt with, treated and inspected when it finally came ashore at the port of Gaza. Much of it was rendered useless by the inspection that followed which was very debilitating for the donors and damaging for any efforts at reconstruction because the vast bulk of the cargo was cement.

If the Chairman will allow it, I would like to counterpoint the initial comments of Mr. Ging with the letter that came from the Israeli ambassador. He referred to the number of schools which are being built whereas Mr. Ging referred to the number of schools which need to be built. It highlights the fact that the deliberate use of partial information does nobody any favours. It is extremely difficult to find a counterpoint to what is in the ambassador's letter.

The letter is in response to Mr. Ging's presence but it is particularly useful to have him before the committee, telling us in an authoritative and truthful way what is happening on the ground because otherwise we may be left with very partial information.

I thank Mr. Ging for his presentation and for giving us an update on the current situation in Gaza. The questions to which I would have referred have already been asked, in particular on the lack of education. The presentation stated that 40,000 children do not have access to proper education. It is very serious. What will the children do? How do they spend their time if they are not in structured education? I want to reinforce the points made by Deputy O'Sullivan on that aspect of the issue.

Mr. Ging referred to the easing of the blockades since last June but the reconstruction is slow. Clay houses are being built, there is no proper education and sewage is an issue. I reiterate many of the points raised by my colleagues, in particular on education. It concerns me, in terms of the future building of Gaza.

I welcome Mr. Ging back to the committee. He is the embodiment of grace under pressure. I have watched him more on CNN than in the committee. He seems to be able to hold his head when everybody else is losing theirs. His action and bravery bring great honour, not just to him but to Ireland.

The question of what Ireland can do in regard to the lack of supplies going into Gaza has been asked. Mr. Ging referred to half-truths and the ambassador's letter which speaks of tonnes and 272 trucks. The same number of trucks probably goes into Kerry each day which has a population of only 126,000 people. It does not give the full picture and it is a half-truth.

One of the lines in the letter is, "There has never been hunger in Gaza." In Mr. Ging's experience has there been and is there hunger in Gaza? My colleague, Senator Dearey, referred to flotillas. Deputies Chris Andrews, Aengus Ó Snodaigh and I were in Cyprus. The Cypriot authorities would not let us on to theMV Mavi Marmara, which was subsequently attacked within 48 hours. It obviously had an effect and changed Israeli policy, because it was loosened to a degree. There are talks of more flotillas but we would prefer not to see that because of the consequent loss of life. What is Mr. Ging’s view? There is supposed to be another flotilla in March. Can we get the supplies needed for the citizens in Gaza in before a flotilla leaves with possibly serious consequences for those on board?

UNRWA has proved that construction materials can be controlled, an issue we discussed when we were out there. That is a positive development that must be expanded upon quickly. About 40,000 houses needed repairs at the time. I noticed from recent figures that 43,000 houses were supposed to have been repaired by now. Have those been repaired? If they are repaired, 60,000 was mentioned as the total number of buildings requiring work. What about new, uncompleted buildings? What has happened with them? These were fine buildings that were left half finished and many in the international community had put money into these building projects. These were crucial and it would be a great help if they could be finished.

The elders say it was counterproductive to keep Hamas outside the current peace process. Is Hamas any nearer to some form of negotiations, direct or indirect? We would feel strongly that it is important to have all the parties involved in talks as soon as possible.

What is happening with rockets? We saw the Qassam and the al Quds rockets, which have a longer range and can reach Ashkelon, a city of 200,000, as opposed to the very small population of Sderot, where the Qassam rockets were landing. Those rockets were terrorising people but they were not terribly damaging unless a person happened to be under one when it landed. They were not guided rockets. Have the guided missiles stopped? Those coming from the Israelis were guided missiles while these others could land anywhere.

Mr. John Ging

I thank the committee for the generous compliments and for its support. The supplies getting in for the UN and the degree of access we have for reconstruction are limited. There is a limited capacity at those crossing points that are open and there is also limited opening of those crossing points. At one crossing point, aggregates come on a conveyer belt; that crossing point opens two days a week. Previously that conveyor belt was used to get animal feeds and grain into Gaza. Now it shares that burden with getting in the construction aggregates for the projects that have been approved. If it is not opened up for more days, it is very difficult.

Equally, all the other additional burdens and demands arising from the few UN projects that have been approved represent about 7% of the overall recovery and reconstruction plan presented at the time of the Sharm El Sheikh conference in March 2009, when the international community pledged $4.5 billion dollars for the recovery and reconstruction of Gaza. We are talking about a small percentage of the rebuilding and recovery.

We are now constrained by the physical infrastructure of the crossing points that are open because the main crossing points remain closed. They are trying to get the additional material in through a few small crossing points that are already well burdened and now additionally burdened because of consumer goods. It is a challenge and unless and until there is a significant increase in the physical capacity of those that are open, which will take a long time, or there is a reopening of the pre-2007 crossing points, such the Karni crossing point, the single largest commercial crossing point, and the Sofa crossing point, which was open for construction, or there is a massive expansion of the physical infrastructure at the smaller crossing points, we will not see a meaningful amount of construction material getting in because it physically cannot be done.

That is why schools are now in a double shift system, whereby two schools share the same building during the same day. In the morning, 1,000 kids come in, sit down for four and a half hours, get up at lunchtime and then another 1,000 kids come in for their education in the afternoon. There is truncated education where we should be expanding education.

Are the same teachers there all day?

Mr. John Ging

No, in the afternoon there is a second set of teachers. As a result of this truncated education, in UNRWA there are 39,000 kids failing at the end of the school year. We do not leave it there, because this is a result of the truncated system and the overcrowded classrooms, with 45 to 50 kids in a room. We bring the kids who have failed back in for the summer months. There are no holidays for the teachers; they are all back, this time with ten to 15 in a classroom, because they can be spread out. During the school year, there are 215,000 kids to accommodate but we are down to 39,000 during the summer so they can be spread out and given the attention they need. Of those kids, 85% go from failure to success over the summer months. That is proof positive that the kids have the ability, all they need is the attention and quality of education that will bring about the realisation of their potential. That is also the standard befalling all kids throughout the system. Even those kids who are passing, in our view, could do better if they were getting more time and attention.

The calculation on the number of schools needed is related to the double shift system. We are trying to cope with 52,000 children born in Gaza every year, leading to increasing numbers every year. In grade 1, we have 29,000 children while in grade 9, there are 19,000, which demonstrates the shape of the demographics. The letter talks about a request for 20 schools but we have a plan presented at Sharm El Sheikh to build 100 schools. Our counterparts in the Palestinian Authority have a similar need in their schools. That is what needs to be done. At present we have approval for six or seven of those schools to be built in the next six months which means we face the next school year in September with parents asking about their children. Of the 40,000 children who are eligible to be in the UN education system, 30,000 are in Palestinian Authority schools which are overcrowded, and 10,000 are not in school at all. That is where we have traced them to be. For me the major problem is that parents come into my office and ask why I do not build schools. I say it is because we cannot get the cement in through the crossing points. Immediately they say there is all the cement one needs on the local market. It is available on the local markets because it is coming through the tunnels. The rhetorical question they put to me is this: "We understand why one would not build schools with illegally supplied cement - it is coming through the black market - but which illegality is worse - the illegality of using illegal cement or the illegality of failing to educate the children? Which will have the longer term negative consequence"? We know that failure to educate the children will have a profoundly negative consequence on the prospects for stability, security and Middle East peace, yet this is the debate we are having.

If the cement is allowed in, the crossing points are opened, it might fall into the hands of those who might misuse it. I thank the Chairman for highlighting that we can prove now, beyond any doubt, that the UN, as one actor on the ground, can actually account for every bag of cement. Let us forget about that argument and move on because now we have to build these schools and we have to provide water and sanitation, the infrastructure that is affecting the prospects of this place being habitable into the future.

We must move on from the arguments that something hypothetically might be misused when any visitor to the Gaza Strip can go down to the southern end and look at the tunnels and see the trucks of cement and all the other prohibited items. It is interesting. Whatever is allowed in via legitimate crossing points, immediately dries up on the tunnel side, but whatever is prohibited from the legitimate crossing points continues to come in on the tunnel side. That counterflood activity is evident for everybody to see. We should not get into trainspotting or truck counting but should look at what is actually happening on the ground.

It is fine - I have quickly glanced over this letter - to talk about the additional number of trucks. The consumer goods are now coming in from Israel rather than from Egypt under the ground. That is not the end of it, that is just the beginning. We have now proven in the practice of the past few months that it can be done. We can exchange legitimate commerce for a black market economy. Let us build on that and let us build on it urgently because the most important issue for all of us is the development of the next generation of Palestinians, 800,000 children under the age of 18, living in the Gaza Strip. Will they be good human beings in terms of their academic development, their capacity for self-sufficiency, their values, their mentalities, their mindsets, their outlook - is it going to be peaceful or violent and so on? A very big component in determining that will be the quality of education they receive. We take this very seriously at UNRWA to make sure these children develop to be good human beings, not a reflection of their current environment. The parents are working very hard with us on this because that is exactly the vision they want to see realised for their children as well.

I note the letter mentions the UN staff security arrangements. I find this inexplicable and it is unprecedented. I do not know anywhere else in the world where the details of security arrangements for United Nations staff are so publicly discussed. What can I say? I am not going to be distracted by that. We live and work in a conflict zone. For sure we are facing the threats and actions of extremists every single day but we are surrounded by a civilised and committed population who are supporting us and protecting us against the effects and the violence of extremism. We are there to work with the population, to succeed in the face of very difficult circumstances, not least circumstances that somehow help to reinforce and support the agenda of extremists and extremism, even though, let me be crystal clear, it does not justify at all any extremist action or any extremist mentality to be caught up in such circumstances. However, it is a reality of human frailty that many people in such devastating, bewildering, frustrating circumstances go over to a mentality of extremism and violence. What is humbling for Ms Trude Strand, myself and all my colleagues is to witness how stoically resilient the civilian population is to resist that temptation and how much effort they are making to ensure their children remain committed to what we call universal standards, values, an outlook for peace, a tolerant orientation and so on. That is what we need to work on, with and develop.

The phrase "dedevelopment" has been coined. A number of members asked what are the indicators? Is there hunger in Gaza? By different indicators around the world, what is the status of the population? It is not Ethiopia. The big tragedy is that it is probably the only place on the planet that is being dedeveloped. We always get involved in development around the world, yet what we are witnessing here are first world standards when it comes to infant mortality, health indicators, child development, nutrition, education and so on. All of these classic indicators are going negative rather than being built-on to their potential. That is the big tragedy of the opportunity we are missing.

The movement of people still remains very restricted. Since the flotilla the Government of Egypt has opened the Rafah terminal much more for medical cases, migrant workers, and people who have visas to go abroad. There is a conduit for students and so on but the numbers going in and out through the Erez crossing point into Israel remains very limited and not much development has been made there.

Life most definitely has not returned to normal. The shop shelves are full and that is great but most people have no money so they cannot buy what is available. The fact that shop shelves can be full is an indication that we get can get things into Gaza but let us get the things in that matter. Let us get the supplies in that will make a difference to the economic status, to the human conditions in which people live and to the infrastructure. That is why we need to focus on the supplies I mentioned.

There was a question on dual use products and who defines that. There is an international standard that is applied globally when we talk about items that are prohibited or considered to be for dual use. Perhaps Ms Trude Strand can deal with that issue.

Ms Trude Strand

It is the Wassenaar standard.

Mr. John Ging

The Wassenaar standard is based on the Wassenaar protocol. On top of that there are additional items. There is the Wassenaar list and all these other items, cement being a classic. Cement is not on the Wassenaar list. We have to move beyond this hypothetical debate about cement possibly being used to build bunkers and other things. Anyone who has visited Gaza, including members who have been there, knows that all the cement that is needed to build bunkers is available in Gaza already. What is not available in Gaza is the cement to build schools. This is the reason I ask that one moves on to the things that are needed.

As for the exports of strawberries and flowers, on a few exceptional occasions over the last number of years, there have been a few exports of a few flowers and strawberries under a Dutch project. While this has no real significant consequence for the overall economic status of the Gaza Strip, it is of huge importance for those who were involved in that small micro-enterprise at that time. More importantly and more significantly, I believe it points the way. There have been no security incidents any time the strawberries and flowers have been allowed out. We should be encouraged by that and should build on it urgently. One should ask why, if it can be allowed out once or twice in six months, can it not be allowed out twice as frequently, four times as frequently, on a daily basis and so on? As a way has been found, we should move forward and this should be considered.

The water and sanitation situation can be and needs to be addressed urgently, if we can get access for the supplies that are needed as the money is in place. The German Foreign Minister visited Gaza recently and went to inspect and visit a site in which Germany is investing tens of millions of euro for the development of a major sanitation facility. Again, the question of how to bring in materials for that is still under discussion. Solutions are also needed in this regard, sooner rather than later.

The mental health of children is of great concern because kids are not experiencing a normal childhood in any sense of the word. Again this is damaging and consequently at UNRWA we are doing everything we can. However, we also must be honest and state it is not enough. It cannot be enough until the circumstances in which children are growing up change profoundly. It is depressing to see one's brothers and sisters and one's mother and father without a job or a prospect of one. What then is the motivation to continue with education and so on? As for the living environment, parents are unable to provide for the kids. The question of hunger was raised and kids are coming to school hungry. They do not have breakfast. They have become adjusted to the reality of the impoverishment of their parents and come to school without breakfast. We must provide them with a snack as otherwise they will not concentrate. While this was one of our responses, it is a snack and not a three course meal because UNRWA is also impoverished. Its means do not meet the need and nor can we expect this to happen in the current global financial crisis. However, we can expect the needs to reduce. Were there a regeneration and reactivation of the economy on the construction side alone, for example, many people would be off the food queues and would be earning a wage. Moreover, we would be accessing the $4.5 billion that has been pledged by the Gulf countries in particular for Gaza's recovery and reconstruction. Rather then the European Union and the United States paying for food every day, the Gulf countries would be paying for recovery and reconstruction, which would provide jobs to people and so on.

I again thank everyone who continues to focus on education because the future is being determined now. We do not need people to come back in ten, 15 or 20 years time to undertake PhD analysis of the situation. We know now that unless we step up in a highly significant manner the quality of education that is being provided to the children of Gaza, we will face a much more difficult situation in the future when it comes to stability, security and peace. All our evidence points to this.

UN-Habitat is present but also is constrained by questions of access. It is unable to get the access it needs for the programming it needs to do. UNICEF, UN-Habitat and all the various United Nations agencies, such as the World Health Organization and so on, are present but we all are suffering in the same way in respect of access.

In respect of the issue concerning Cement Roadstone and other businesses, I do not follow that and so members should forgive me for not commenting. I am not an expert and let us let the experts speak. The sanitation system also was raised. It is interesting that a response was made in the aforementioned letter before I made my presentation. I would be happy to provide a response to that letter, if members would find that useful.

Yes, that would be very helpful.

Mr. John Ging

I would be happy to do that.

The committee would greatly appreciate that and we will circulate the response.

Before Mr. Ging concludes, that letter also refers to the continuing matter of sergeant Gilad Shalit. Members of this joint committee, both while visiting Gaza and at other times, have always made the request that at the least and immediately, the Red Cross be allowed to visit him and that he be released. I repeat that call and if Mr. Ging has any observations on how that would be helpful, I would appreciate them.

Mr. John Ging

This is very important, particularly for staff sergeant Gilad Shalit and his family. There has been so much unrealised hope and so many positive indications that he would be released, only for it to fail at the last moment. It is inhumane.

The joint committee has always taken that position.

Yes, this has been the case in everything and in all our discussions everywhere and to suggest otherwise simply is wrong. I am concerned about the time available to Mr. Ging. I believe he is supposed to be meeting the Minister by now. Consequently, we had better let him go since he is under a time limitation. If he wishes, he can finish up the other points briefly.

Mr. John Ging

I will conclude by stating that it is more than a humanitarian crisis when one gets up in the morning and has no job, when one switches on one's tap and the water smells to the extent that one cannot even contemplate drinking it, when the sewerage system of the entire place does not work, when one is imprisoned in that tiny strip of land with no real freedom to move and when every day is worse than the day before. This is a psychological, humanitarian, food-related and economic crisis. The entire aspect of human life is in crisis in Gaza. It would be useful to move beyond discussion and start to do things that would help real people on the ground to improve their daily condition and prospects. We must reinject a realistic basis to hope. People in Gaza want to hope and every positive development has been welcomed. There is a new hope emerging from such developments. Even if people who pass a shop cannot afford its stock, they hope the next step will be that they will be able to afford its goods. I have never been among a more hopeful and stoically resilient people.

However, one should not underestimate the situation by thinking this can continue forever. I am most particularly concerned about the situation for the kids. Their parents know this is an aberration. They have lived another life and wish to return to a relationship with their neighbour that is positive and productive. I also visit thekibbutzim within rocket range and my experience there suggests there is ample human empathy between these two populations. There is ample commitment for a peaceful resolution to the conflict. The overwhelming majority continue to state, every time their opinion is polled, that they seek peace. That is the aspiration but unfortunately, every day takes them further away from this and there is a loss of confidence that this aspiration can be achieved. We must be careful that this does not befall the next generation and that they give up or lack the hope possessed by their parents.

I again thank members for their engagement and commitment. As for flotillas, the international community of governments should be responding to their own stated Security Council Resolution 1860, which was adopted in January 2009. They stated they would do it and that there would be unfettered humanitarian access to the Gaza Strip. It is not simply a case of calling for something as one must follow through on that. They must take effective diplomatic and political action to make it happen. It should not fall to human rights activists to fill a vacuum that is the responsibility of the international community of governments. I reiterate my full respect for human rights activists, their courage and bravery but it is time for the international community of governments to step forward and step up to their international legal responsibility. That is what we are talking about here.

I thank all the members. All is not lost and the members continue to create a realistic basis so that people can continue to hope. However, time is not on our side and we need to move on from considering these types of documents to focusing on what we can do. We cannot fix everything in a day, a week, a month or a year but we can do much better and we needed to have started yesterday.

I thank Mr. Ging for attending the committee and for his presentation. I thank him in particular for his steadfastness because that has been one of his main characteristics. He has remained in Gaza, standing firmly for the people there. For the sake of human rights we feel shame at what is happening. We are at a distance and want to help in every way we can. We make presentations when we are in the United States or at international meetings and we keep the issue to the fore. However, Mr. Ging is proving the case, as we discussed. Cement can come in now and the United Nations can control its entry. That is working. Of course, there is righteous anger here at these events and we have been very concerned about that.

We especially appreciate Mr. Ging's emphasis on the good news and on the reality. That is very helpful to us as a committee, enabling us to be very well directed. We appreciate Mr. Ging's support for staff sergeant Shalit. We have always expressed our support for him and we appreciate Mr. Ging's expression today.

We wish him a safe journey and ask him to take care. He has the goodwill of us all.

Mr. Ging should come back here and sort us out.

The joint committee adjourned at 12.42 p.m. until 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 1 December 2010.