GAZA: IMPEDING ASSISTANCE: CHALLENGES TO MEETING THE HUMANITARIAN NEEDS OF PALESTINIANS

SPECIAL FOCUS
May 2010

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.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

“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.

Endnotes
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.

REF: http://unispal.un.org/

VIVA PALESTINE! Gaza aid held-up in Jordan

Since June 2007 Gaza has been under a crippling blockade with few essential goods making it through.

Now an aid convoy of 250 trucks and ambulances is attempting to reach the Strip to deliver much needed supplies.

But a bureaucratic argument with Egypt is holding it back in Aqaba in southwest Jordan.

Al Jazeera’s Clayton Swisher reports.

Visit VIVA PALESTINA!

Cuba Will Continue to Resist – Not a Word About the Blockade

The U.S. administration announced through CNN that Obama would be visiting Mexico this week, in the first part of a trip that will take him to Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, where he will be within four days taking part in the Summit of the Americas. He has announced the relief of some hateful restrictions imposed by Bush to Cubans living in the United States regarding their visits to relatives in Cuba. When questions were raised on whether such prerogatives extended to other American citizens the response was that the latter were not authorized.

But not a word was said about the harshest of measures: the blockade. This is the way a truly genocidal measure is piously called, one whose damage cannot be calculated only on the basis of its economic effects, for it constantly takes human lives and brings painful suffering to our people.

Numerous diagnostic equipment and crucial medicines –made in Europe, Japan or any other country– are not available to our patients if they carry U.S. components or software.

The U.S. companies producing goods or offering services anywhere in the world should apply these restrictions to Cuba, since they are extraterritorial measures.

An influential Republican Senator, Richard Lugar, and some others from his same party in Congress, as well as a significant number of his Democratic peers, favor the removal of the blockade. The conditions exist for Obama to use his talents in a constructive policy that could put an end to the one that has failed for almost half a century.

On the other hand, our country, which has resisted and is willing to resist whatever it takes, neither blames Obama for the atrocities of other U.S. administrations nor doubts his sincerity and his wishes to change the United States policy and image. We understand that he waged a very difficult battle to be elected, despite centuries-old prejudices.

Taking note of this reality, the President of the State Council of Cuba has expressed his willingness to have a dialogue with Obama and to normalize relations with the United States, on the basis of the strictest respect for the sovereignty of our country.

At 2:30 p.m., the head of the Interests Section of Cuba in Washington, Jorge Bolaños, was summoned to the State Department by Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Shannon. He did not say anything different from what had been indicated by the CNN.

At 3:15 p.m. a lengthy press conference started. The substance of what was said there is reflected in the words of Dan Restrepo, Presidential Adviser for Latin America.

He said that today President Obama had instructed to take certain measures, certain steps, to reach out to the Cuban people in support of their wishes to live with respect for human rights and to determine their own destiny and that of the country.

He added that the president had instructed the secretaries of State, Commerce and Treasury to undertake the necessary actions to remove all restrictions preventing persons to visit their relatives in the Island and sending remittances. He also said that the president had issued instructions for steps to be taken allowing the free flow of information in Cuba, and between those living in Cuba and the rest of the world, and to facilitate delivering humanitarian resources directly to the Cuban people.

He also said that with these measures, aimed at closing the gap between divided Cuban families and promoting the free flow of information and humanitarian assistance to the Cuban people, President Obama was making an effort to fulfill the objectives he set out during his campaign and after taking on his position.

Finally, he indicated that all those who believe in the basic democratic values hope for a Cuba where the human, political, economic and basic rights of the entire people are respected. And he added that President Obama feels that these measures will help to make this objective a reality. The president, he said, encourages everyone who shares these wishes to continue to decidedly support the Cuban people.

At the end of the press conference, the adviser candidly confessed that ?all of this is for Cuba?s freedom.?

Cuba does not applaud the ill-named Summits of the Americas, where our nations do not debate on equal footing. If they were of any use, it would be to make critical analyses of policies that divide our peoples, plunder our resources and hinder our development.

Now, the only thing left is for Obama to try to persuade all of the Latin American presidents attending the conference that the blockade is harmless.

Cuba has resisted and it will continue to resist; it will never beg for alms. It will go on forward holding its head up high and cooperating with the fraternal peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean; with or without Summits of the Americas; whether or not the president of the United States is Obama, a man or a woman, a black or a white citizen.

Ref: counterpunch

Also read The OAS Charter, Cuba and the United States

GAZA: “We run out of plastic bags to distribute the food” as Israeli banality continues…

UN officials reiterated their call for Israel to lift the blockade on Gaza and open the crossings for urgent supplies to be sent in to the Palestinian territory.

“It is absolutely crucial that Israel allow the crossings to be opened”

Radhika Coomaraswamy, UN special envoy
“It is absolutely crucial that Israel allow the crossings to be opened and also expand the list of items that go in,” Radhika Coomaraswamy, the UN special representative for children and armed conflict, told reporters following her recent visit to Gaza, the West Bank and southern Israel.

“At the moment less than 200 [aid] trucks are going through [the crossing points into Gaza],” she said.

“We need at least 400 just for the humanitarian needs and over 1,000 once reconstruction begins.”

The UN also appealed for Israel to allow plastic bags and human rights textbooks into the Gaza Strip.

“We run out of plastic bags to distribute the food,” John Ging, the Unrwa director of operations in Gaza, said in a video link on Monday, adding that the process of getting the plastic locally was “unreliable” and “very expensive”.

Unrwa, which only provides assistance to Palestinians holding refugee status, plays a key role in distributing aid in Gaza by handing out food aid to some 900,000 people of out of a population of 1.5 million.

Ref: Al Jazeera