UNRWA Gaza chief John Ging promoted to senior UN post in NY

West Bank UNRWA head Barbara Shenstone also scheduled to leave position; replacements have not yet been chosen.

January 18, 2011 02:43
3 minute read.
UNRWA Gaza chief John Ging promoted to senior UN post in NY

john ging 248.88 ap. (photo credit: AP [file])


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John Ging survived Israeli military strikes against Gaza and two assassination attempts by Islamic extremists. During his five years as the head of the Gaza United Nations Relief and Works Agency, Ging was a sharp critic of both Israel and Hamas and a strong advocate for the Palestinian population he served.

On Monday, UNRWA announced that at the request of the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Ging was being promoted to the third-highest position in the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

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It also announced that UNRWA head in the West Bank, Barbara Shenstone, was returning to Canada after four years on the job.

UNRWA Commissioner-General Filippo Grandi said of the two top officials, “Barbara and John have made exceptional contributions to UNRWA’s work under the most difficult circumstances: their commitment to ensuring the quality of UNRWA services has been extraordinary; their advocacy in support of rights has been outstanding – be it amidst heavy bombardment in Gaza during armed conflict or in responding to the abysmal rights abuses in the occupied West Bank.

“I salute the courage, strength and determination of their innovative leadership. I – and all of us – will miss them both as colleagues and for their extraordinary contributions to UNRWA and the refugees we serve,” Grandi said.

Ging is expected to leave in a few weeks and Shenstone in a few months. Their replacements have not been announced.

The departure of two senior UNRWA officials leaves a vacuum in the organization, which provides at least 1.8 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza with education, health care, and basic food supplies.

Ging, in particular, argued during his five years that UNRWA’s work was a strong force in preventing the radicalization of Palestinian society, particularly through its work in education, which focuses on human rights and non-violence.

He took Israel to task for its military strikes against Gaza and the economic restrictions it leveled on the area and he attacked Hamas for its rocket attacks against Israel, including attacks against the Gaza crossings.

In December Ging traveled to England to address the annual Limmud Jewish education conference.

Here he described UNRWA’s work in education and relief and denounced the allegations often leveled against UNRWA that it has links to terrorists.

Ging said that during his time in Gaza, his life had been threatened twice by extremist groups in Gaza, particularly because of his support of human rights and his stance against violence.

“There are extremists groups in Gaza who are very vocal in criticizing the approach we take in human rights and gender [equality],” said Ging.

There are thousands of Palestinians working for UNRWA in Gaza, said Ging, and any of them could betray the values of the organization.

But he said that UNRWA has a zero-tolerance policy on terrorism, fires those who it suspects has terror links and publishes its staff list so that there is transparency.

One of UNRWA’s missions, he told Limmud, was to teach Palestinian children that the path of democracy and human rights was preferable to that of violence and extremism.

What should concern people more than the physical hunger in Gaza, is the psychological welfare of the children, said Ging.

“They are going to hear when they leave our schools another narrative,” said Ging. UNRWA wants to ensure that the children are convinced that that the way to live their life is through universal values of human rights.

“For too many years in Gaza, every day was worse than yesterday,” Ging said. Since Israel relaxed its restrictions on goods entering Gaza, “every day is better than yesterday. The frustration is that it is not as better as it could be.”

But the positive developments are not the totality of what will make a difference, he said. The challenge is to wrest power from extremists.

“I want to see effective action taken to counter extremism, terrorism and violence,” Ging said.

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