IMPEDING ASSISTANCE: CHALLENGES TO MEETING THE HUMANITARIAN NEEDS OF PALESTINIANS
This Special Focus draws attention to the range of measures currently impeding the humanitarian community’s ability to provide assistance to vulnerable Palestinians. The delivery of principled humanitarian assistance requires an operating environment that is conducive to the regular and continued deployment of staff and supplies, and managed in accordance with the principles of impartiality, neutrality and independence. In the occupied Palestinian territory, however, the humanitarian community is facing a number of obstacles to the movement of staff and goods and other restrictions impacting day-to-day operations that limit its ability to efficiently and effectively respond to existing needs.
“When the delivery of humanitarian access is restricted, lives are lost and misery prolonged needlessly.”1
John Holmes, UN Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator
The delivery of principled humanitarian assistance requires an operating environment that is conducive to the regular and continued deployment of staff and supplies, and managed in accordance with the humanitarian principles of impartiality, neutrality and independence. In the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), however, the humanitarian community is facing a number of obstacles to the movement of staff and goods and other restrictions impacting day-to-day operations that impede the provision of humanitarian aid to vulnerable Palestinians.
The current humanitarian operation in the oPt is one of the largest in the world; at the time of its launching in November 2009, the oPt Consolidated Appeal (CAP) for 2010 ranked fifth out of 12 appeals globally, in terms of requested assistance. Through the oPt CAP, UN agencies and international and national NGOs2 requested over US$ 660 million for 2010. This support is intended to help mitigate the worst impacts of on-going conflict on the most vulnerable Palestinians, who continue to face a human dignity crisis, characterized by the erosion of livelihoods and the continued denial of basic human rights; nearly 40 percent of the Palestinian population is food-insecure and unemployment levels in the West Bank and Gaza Strip remain high.3
The humanitarian operations outlined in the oPt’s CAP occur within the context of a prolonged Israeli military occupation in which policies to alter the status and character of the territory continue to be pursued contrary to international law. The situation in the Gaza Strip, in particular, presents severe impediments to humanitarian operations. Sweeping import restrictions imposed by Israel since June 2007 have either prevented the implementation of planned humanitarian projects or resulted in significant delays. For example, UNRWA reports that it has had 24 construction and infrastructure projects, totaling some US$ 109 million in donor funds, frozen as a result of the blockade. Among the affected projects are schools, health facilities, housing units, and sewage infrastructure. Additionally, the ‘no contact’ policy of some donors, prohibiting contact with the Hamas authorities, continues to affect some humanitarian organizations, while Hamas’s requests for compliance with its administrative procedures from UN agencies and NGOs have intensified. This ‘two-way’ tension is narrowing the operational independence of some organizations and, at times, restricts on-going humanitarian operations.
In the West Bank, humanitarian organizations face ongoing restrictions on movement and access. Policies include a permit regime required for staff from the West Bank to enter East Jerusalem, and continued access difficulties stemming from the deployment of hundreds of closure obstacles, among others. In particular, agencies mandated with service provision are limited in doing so in Area C, due to the restrictive planning regime applied by Israel and restrictions to obtaining building permits and difficulties accessing certain areas.
The humanitarian community’s primary concern with the measures outlined in this report is that they impede its ability to meet the needs of vulnerable Palestinians whose livelihoods have been reduced or destroyed by years of continued occupation, conflict and the denial of basic human rights.4 More than ever, immediate steps are required to reverse this trend.
A complete lifting of Israel’s blockade on the Gaza Strip and improved Palestinian access to land and resources in the West Bank and external markets are just a few examples of measures that could significantly improve Palestinian livelihoods through a reduction in unemployment and poverty. Israel’s modest relaxation in recent months of some import restrictions, which have allowed for the entry to Gaza of a number of much needed, previously-restricted items, including glass, wood, and aluminum, among others, have been welcome improvements.
In addition, all parties to the conflict must abide by their international legal obligations to ensure the smooth passage of humanitarian relief and personnel, and that the humanitarian community is able to carry out its work effectively and efficiently. Additionally, there is a need for donor countries to strongly advocate for an improvement in the humanitarian situation and respect for humanitarian operations in their bilateral relations with the authorities concerned. Another necessary step is that relevant donor countries and affected humanitarian organizations re-evaluate their position vis-à-vis the ‘no contact’ policy, where humanitarian operations are concerned, as well as related funding restrictions. Finally, the humanitarian community needs financial support for initiatives designed to resolve or overcome access issues and other restrictions on humanitarian operations.
1Quoted in “OCHA on Message: Humanitarian Access,” April 2010. Original quote from an August 2009 op-ed.
2The humanitarian strategy under-pinning the 2010 CAP is supported by 236 projects, comprising 147 from the NGO community and 89 from UN agencies.
3For additional details on the parameters of the human dignity crisis, see OCHA oPt, “Locked In: The humanitarian impact of two years of blockade on the Gaza Strip,” August 2009 and the oPt Consolidated Appeal for 2010.
4While the report draws attention to some of the specific ways in which the population is impacted, this subject is treated more fully in other OCHA oPt reports, so a detailed impact analysis is not included here. See, for example, regular OCHA oPt reports, “Protection of Civilians Weekly Report” and the monthly “Humanitarian Monitor.” For the impact of specific restrictions, see OCHA oPt Special Focus reports, such as “Locked In”, August 2009, and “Restricting Space: The planning and zoning regime applied by Israel in Area C of the West Bank,” December 2009.
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