Following a recent Israeli offensive in the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank, senior officials from the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees have visited the camp.
The two-day Israeli military operation, the most devastating in more than 20 years, left at least 12 people dead, including four children, and 140 injured. Approximately 900 homes were damaged, with many becoming uninhabitable.
UNRWA’s Deputy Commissioner General Leni Stenseth said: “The destruction I saw was shocking. Some houses were completely burned down, cars had been crushed against walls, roads were damaged.
“But more than the physical damage, I saw the trauma in the eyes of camp residents who had witnessed the violence. I heard them speak about their exhaustion and fear,” she added.
The UNRWA health center at the camp was so severely damaged it was no longer operational. Slight damage was caused to four of the agency’s schools in the camp, but while some students had returned to class, attendance remained low with several parents claiming their children were frightened to leave home.
Adam Bouloukos, director of UNRWA affairs in the West Bank, said: “Children were shaken and shocked. Far from all students attended school today, as many of them were too afraid to leave their homes.
“In one classroom we visited, students shared with us that just 10 days ago, they had buried a classmate who was killed in an earlier incursion.
“It is very hard for children to walk to school as the main roads are still unusable. When trying to find alternative ways to school, some younger children lost their way. We truly feared for their safety due to the risks of unexploded ordnance.
“A priority now is to provide mental and psychosocial support to help children cope with their fear and anxiety,” he added.
The Jenin camp, home to around 24,000 people, has witnessed extreme violence over the last two years, with this year being especially volatile.
Bouloukos said: “The camp is now partially without access to electricity and water. Nearly eight kilometers of water piping and three kilometers of sewage lines were destroyed due to the use of heavy machinery that ripped up large sections of the roads.
“I commend the local and municipal authorities in and around Jenin camp for their hard work to clean up and help the communities resume normal life. They have done an exceptional job. UNRWA will continue to support them over the coming days and weeks,” he added.
UNRWA officials said their priority now was to help restore a sense of normalcy by resuming services including education, health, and sanitation. Another urgent priority was to provide economic support to families who had fled their homes to help them with rent and house rehabilitation.
Stenseth said: “We went to Jenin camp with our partners to show solidarity with residents and reassure them that they are not alone.
“UNRWA is calling on its donors and partners to immediately make funds available for our humanitarian response in Jenin camp.”