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/

Will Israel be brought to book? (justice for the western supported colonialists?)

The evidence of war crimes in Gaza is a challenge to universal justice: will western-backed perpetrators ever stand trial?

Evidence of the scale of Israel’s war crimes in its January onslaught on Gaza is becoming unanswerable. Clancy Chassay’s three films investigating allegations against Israeli forces in the Gaza strip, released by the Guardian today, include important new accounts of the flagrant breaches of the laws of war that marked the three-week campaign – now estimated to have left at least 1,400 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and 13 Israelis dead.

The films provide compelling testimony of Israel’s use of Palestinian teenagers as human shields; the targeting of hospitals, clinics and medical workers, including with phosphorus bombs; and attacks on civilians, including women and children – sometimes waving white flags – from hunter-killer drones whose targeting systems are so powerful they can identify the colour of a person’s clothes.

Naturally, the Israeli occupation forces’ spokesperson insists to Chassay that they make every effort to avoid killing civilians and denies using human shields or targeting medical workers – while at the same time explaining that medics in war zones “take the risk upon themselves”. By banning journalists from entering Gaza during its punitive devastation of the strip, the Israeli government avoided independent investigations of the stream of war crimes accusations while the attack was going on.

But now journalists and human rights organisations are back inside, doing the painstaking work, the question is whether Israel’s government and military commanders will be held to account for what they unleashed on the Palestinians of Gaza – or whether, like their US and British sponsors in Iraq and Afghanistan, they can carry out war crimes with impunity.

It’s not as if Clancy’s reports are unique or uncorroborated by other evidence. Last week, the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported that a group of Israelis soldiers had admitted intentionally shooting dead an unarmed Palestinian mother and her two children, as well as an elderly Palestinian woman, in Gaza in January. As one explained: “The lives of Palestinians, let’s say, is something very, very less important than the lives of our soldiers. So as far as they are concerned they can justify it that way“.

They also tally with testimony of other Israeli soldiers from the Givati Shaked battalion, which operated in the Gaza city suburb of Zeitoun, that they were told to “fire on anything that moves”. The result was that one family, the Samunis, reported losing 29 members after soldiers forced them into a building that subsequently came under fire – seven bleeding to death while denied medical care for nearly three days. The Helw and Abu Zohar families said they saw members shot while emerging from their homes carrying white flags. “There was definitely a message being sent“, one soldier who took part in the destruction of Zeitoun told the Times.

Or take the case of Majdi Abed Rabbo – a Palestinian linked to Fatah and no friend of Hamas – who described to the Independent how he was repeatedly used as a human shield by Israeli soldiers confronting armed Hamas fighters in a burned-out building in Jabalya in the Gaza strip. The fact of Israeli forces’ use of human shields is hard to gainsay, not least since there are unambiguous photographs of several cases from the West Bank in 2007, as shown in Chassay’s film.

Last week Human Rights Watch wrote to European Union foreign ministers calling for an international inquiry into war crimes in Gaza. In the case of Israel, the organisation cited the siege of Gaza as a form of collective punishment; the use of artillery and white phosphorus in densely populated civilian areas, including schools; the shooting of civilians holding white flags; attacks on civilian targets; and “wanton destruction of civilian property”.


Israel and others also accuse Hamas of war crimes. But while both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have echoed that charge, particularly in relation to the indiscriminate rocketing of towns such as Sderot, an exhaustive investigation by Human Rights Watch has found no evidence, for example, of Hamas using human shields in the clearly defined legal sense of coercion to protect fighters in combat. And as Richard Falk, the UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinian Human Rights, argued recently, any attempt to view the two sides as “equally responsible” is an absurdity: one is a lightly-armed militia, effectively operating underground in occupied territory – the other the most powerful army in the region, able to pinpoint and pulverise targets with some of the most sophisticated weaponry in the world.

There is of course no chance that the UN security council will authorise the kind of International Criminal Court war crimes indictment now faced by Sudan’s leaders over Darfur. Any such move would certainly be vetoed by the US and its allies. And Israel’s own courts have had no trouble in the past batting away serious legal challenges to its army’s atrocities in the occupied territories. But the use of universal jurisdiction in countries such as Spain or even Britain is making Israeli commanders increasingly jumpy about travelling abroad.

With such powerful evidence of violations of the rules of war now emerging from the rubble of Gaza, the test must be this: is the developing system of international accountability for war crimes only going to apply to the west’s enemies – or can the western powers and their closest allies also be brought to book?

Ref: Guaridan

UN war investigators arrive in Gaza

United Nations team has arrived in the Gaza Strip to investigate possible war crimes and other violations of international law during Israel’s assault on the territory earlier this year.

The 15-member team, headed by Richard Goldstone, a South African judge, entered the Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing on Monday.

The team entered from Egypt after being denied visas to cross from Israel, despite multiple requests by the UN.

“We have come here to see, to learn, to talk to people in all walks of life; ordinary people, governmental people, administrative people,” Goldstone said.

The team plans to complete its fact-finding mission in a week, but Goldstone said they were likely to return within a month, before presenting a report in August.

Goldstone’s team plans to meet witnesses and victims of alleged violations, non-governmental organisations and UN agencies in Gaza.

Goldstone is former chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda and lead a public inquiry into intimidation and violence leading up to South Africa’s first post-apartheid elections in 1994.

Hamas welcome

Ghazi Hamad, a representative of Hamas, and local UN officials met the investigators at the Rafah crossing.

“They have already met government officials, mostly from the ministry of health here,” Al Jazeera’s Ayman Mohyeldin, reporting from Gaza City, said.

In depth

Analysis and features from after the war
“They have been presented with nearly two hours of video material prepared by the government, including testimonies of witnesses and those that suffered.”

“Over the course of the next few days … they will see for themselves the wanton destruction across the Gaza Strip. They will visit areas where alleged war crimes have taken place and hear directly from the Palestinian people.”

Israel accuses the UN’s mission of being biased.

“They have been instructed to prove that Israel is guilty and we will not collaborate with such a masquerade,” Yigal Palmor, Israel’s foreign ministry spokesman, told The Associated Press news agency.

Palmor said Israel had no plans to co-operate with the investigation.

In May, Goldstone had said he hoped to visit Gaza and southern Israel and hold public hearings on whether war crimes had been committed.

Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas official, welcomed the investigation in a statement.

“We hope to see the leaders of the Zionist enemy brought to justice as soon as possible as war criminals in the international courts,” he said.

Conduct questioned

During the 22-day conflict which ended in January, 1,417 Palestinians were killed, including 926 civilians, according to Palestinian officials.

But Israel says that the number killed is considerably lower, and that only 295 of the dead were civilians.

International human rights groups, including Amnesty International, have called for a credible and independent investigation of Israel’s conduct in Gaza.

They specifically asked for inquiries into the destruction of residential areas and the use of artillery shells containing white phosphorous, which can cause severe burns.

Israel, which conducted an internal investigation by its armed forces last month, says it found no evidence of serious misconduct by its troops.

ReF: Haartez

Barak: There is neither hunger nor crisis in Gaza

Defense Minister Ehud Barak told the cabinet on Sunday that he felt that there was no crisis in the Gaza Strip.

“There is no hunger or crisis in Gaza,” he said during a security briefing. “More supplies pass through the border crossings today than did during some points of the last cease-fire. Only sensitive materials or construction materials are not transferred in.”

Shin Bet security service Chief Yuval Diskin also briefed the cabinet “An ongoing improvement has been felt in the Egyptian efforts to curb arms smuggling along the Philadelphi route,” he said, referring to a strip of land along the Gaza-Egypt border.

The Shin Bet director explained that the Egyptians replace the forces stationed at the border every few months to prevent soldiers from becoming too attached to the local population, and that several Egyptian officers have already been arrested on suspicion of having taken bribes.

Diskin also addressed the situation within Gaza, saying that tensions were rising between Hamas’ political leadership and the organization’s military wing. According to Diskin, the political leadership wants to engage in public relations and the military wing wants to arm itself and to achieve maximum results in efforts to gain the release of Palestinian prisoners held in Israel.

Diskin added that Hamas’ “Damascus-based political leaders side with the military wing.”

Diskin also remarked that the chances that the Palestinian will successfully establish a unity government were very small, and that tensions raged between the factions over the elections and security issues.

Shin Bet: Hamas cracking down on Gaza rockets, but arming itself

Diskin also explained to the cabinet that Hamas was working to stop militants in Gaza from firing rockets at Israel, it was nevertheless taking the opportunity to reinforce its own strength in the coastal territory.

“Hamas is working against rocket fire from the Gaza Strip toward Israel, but is simultaneously building its own force within Gaza and is trying to expand its rocket range, both through internal manufacture and the smuggling of proper weapons from Egypt,” Diskin told ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.

The Shin Bet director added that Hamas was a particular interest in maintaining calm in the Gaza Strip at this time.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to the briefing by emphasizing that while the current cease-fire between Israel and Gaza was nearly absolute, it was still fragile and threatened by Hamas’ participation in arms smuggling.

“We are asked at all times to ease conditions for the Gaza population, to let in materials and equipment,” Netanyahu said. “But we have other interests in the Strip, and those have to do with security.”

“We do not want to strengthen Hamas, not in its capability, not in prevention, and not economically,” he added. “We want [abducted Israeli soldier] Gilad Shalit back. We are examining the matter of border crossings and trying to find the balance between easing conditions for civilians while preventing Hamas’ rearmament.”

ref: haaretz

Can the First Gaza War be stopped before it starts?

Last update – 10:13 22/12/2008
Can the First Gaza War be stopped before it starts?
By Bradley Burston
Tags: Israel News, Hamas, IDF

Doing nothing is no longer an option.

The week began with Palestinian rockets slamming into the Negev an average of nearly once an hour, around the clock.

“There’s a moral problem here,” says Brigadier General (Res.) Shmuel Zakai, former commander of the IDF’s Gaza Division.

“The basic obligation of a nation is to see to the security of its citizens. The factual situation is that the state of Israel is not doing so, where the residents of the south are concerned.”

Zakai told Army Radio this week that Israel’s real options are down to three. The first is the option that many have taken routinely to call unavoidable: a broad military offensive.

The IDF station began its central morning newscast with an unnamed security source saying that Israel’s three top leaders had decided to end the policy of military restraint, and that “the Hamas organization will be surprised by the might of Israel’s response.”

The scope of rocket attacks, their increasing range, and the fact that there are potential launch sites from Beit Lehiya in northern Gaza to Rafah in the south – coupled with an intensive Hamas effort to arm, booby trap, and fortify entire regions, especially areas where civilian populations and military units are congruent – all but mandates that if Israeli troops launch an offensive, the result will be a war in which then IDF invades and progressively reconquers the entire length of the Strip, at a horrible cost in civilian and military casualties to both sides.

That old familiar cringe has hit the air, the unmistakable feel of the slope turning slippery.

Is it already too late to stop the First Gaza War?

It already has a name, courtesy of cabinet minister and ex-Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter. It already has goals, which are as well defined as they are unrealizable. It has already had its tactics publicly spelled out and thus undermined before the fact.

Still, there are signs that the coming war, which has come to routinely be termed unavoidable, can be halted before it starts.

The most startling of these signs may be realism.

The Israeli military is certainly capable of a Gaza conquest, and at any given time, Zakai, once Israel’s top soldier in the Strip, said on the army-run station. “But the question that we must ask ourselves is this: ‘Okay, we’ve conquered Gaza ? what now?’ We’re ruling over a million and a half Palestinians. Israel’s economic situation is known to everyone. Will Israel’s tax revenues now be used for rehabilitating the sewage and education of a million and a half Palestinians? What, exactly, will this give us?

“In recent years, we’ve made every effort to separate ourselves from the Palestinians. Are we now going to take a step that will bring us back a million and a half Palestinians to rule over? This lacks all sense. ”

Zakai believes Israel should take a different approach, essentially combining two other options with a fundamental reappraisal of how Israelis should regard Hamas. In his view,

At heart, he says, “The state of Israel must understand that Hamas rule in Gaza is a fact, and it is with that government that we must reach a situation of calm.”

Israel must also understand that Hamas is a pragmatic organization, Zakai continues. “The moment that the organization understands that Qassam fire is contrary to its interests, it will stop the fire.

“We need to work in an integrated manner. The situation is a complex one. There is no kuntz [trick], no patent [gimmick] that you can just turn on, in order to end Qassam fire.

“An integrated approach, on the one hand, includes demonstration of military might, a demonstration of the heavy price Hamas would have to pay if the firing continues, and on the other hand, also using a carrot, to cause Hamas to understand that refraining from firing exactly serves their interests.

In Zakai’s view, Israel’s central error during the tahadiyeh, the six-month period of relative truce that formally ended on Friday, was failing to take advantage of the calm to improve, rather than markedly worsen, the economic plight of the Palestinians of the Strip.

He believes that Hamas would have ? and still would ? accept a bargain in which Hamas, the only power who holds sway over the multiplicity racketeers and gunmen of Gaza’s many armed groups, would halt the fire in exchange for easing of the many ways in which Israeli policies have kept a choke hold on the economy of the Strip.

“We could have eased the siege over the Gaza Strip, in such a way that the Palestinians, Hamas, would understand that holding their fire served their interests. But when you create a tahadiyeh, and the economic pressure on the Strip continues, it’s obvious that Hamas will try to reach an improved tahadiyeh, and that their way to achieve this, is resumed Qassam fire.

“The carrot is improvement of the economic situation in the Gaza Strip. You cannot just land blows, leave the Palestinians in Gaza in the economic distress they’re in, and to expect that Hamas will just sit around and do nothing. That’s something that’s simply unrealistic.”

In the end, Israel must realize that “we can’t impose regimes on the Palestinians. We can’t cause the Palestinians [to decide] who will rule over them. Hamas took over the Gaza Strip. This is a fact. I do not believe that the state of Israel should cause another ruler to come to power in Gaza borne on the bayonets of the IDF.

“It’s just like after the disengagement. We left Gaza and we thought that with that troubles were over. Did we really think that a million and a half people living in that kind of poverty were going to mount the rooftops and begin singing the Beitar hymn? That is illogical.”

Ref: Haaretz

Despite truce, still no sign of school supplies in Gaza

Anwar al-Qazaz, 41, sent his eldest son to the market last weekend to buy school supplies for next year for his younger sisters. “He returned home with his sisters and told me there was nothing. No pens and pencils, no notebooks, and no school uniforms,” he told Haaretz yesterday.

“I don’t know what we’ll do now,” the unemployed father of 10 added. “Maybe wait for them to bring stuff in from Israel or Egypt. But the products that come from Egypt are expensive.”
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Staple foods do reach Gaza, Qazaz said, but prices have skyrocketed because demand outstrips supply. As examples, he cited rice, which now costs NIS 6 per kilogram instead of NIS 2, and tea, which is priced at NIS 5 per kilogram instead of NIS 2.

Under its truce with Hamas, Israel has permitted shipments of frozen meat, soft drinks, cookies, jam, shampoo, clothing and other items. However, the amounts are insufficient for the entire population.

In September 2007 – three months after Hamas took over the Gaza Strip, and after the main cargo crossing, Karni, had been shut down – the Israeli government decided to allow only humanitarian necessities into Gaza. On June 19, 2008, pursuant to the truce, Israel decided to expand the list of goods allowed into the Strip. But since no formal government decision was ever made, there was never any explicit determination of what would be added to the basket of sanctioned goods.

Moreover, the once-busy Karni and Kerem Shalom crossings remain closed to trucks, though Karni operates a conveyor belt system for transferring cement and animal feed. So that leaves the Sufa crossing, where traffic is capped at 90 trucks a day.

United Nations officials say the volume of goods crossing into the Strip today is 46 percent of that in May 2007, on the eve of the Hamas takeover. PalTrade, the Palestinian private-sector trade center, reports similar findings. Since the truce began, for instance, printing paper has entered Gaza (218 tons in the first third of this month), but no other stationary supplies have come through. And the number of trucks entering Gaza is still just over half of what it was before the Hamas takeover in June 2007, when 9,400 cargo trucks a month entered the Strip.

The consequence is that numerous goods do not make it into Gaza despite constituting no apparent security risk – such as chocolate spread. Haaretz has seen purchase records for a shipment of chocolate spread that a Palestinian merchant bought for NIS 70,000 last May; it has been standing in a warehouse in southern Israel ever since.

A spokesman for the government’s coordinator of activities in the territories, Peter Lerner, said the only reason why goods that pose no security risk do not enter Gaza is the limited number of trucks allowed to cross. The sole restriction on goods, Lerner said, is if they might be used to produce weapons. Thus metal pipes and fertilizers are out.

Not only is the list of permitted goods still uncertain, but there are also major fluctuations in daily traffic volume. For example, last Wednesday, August 13, 3,300 tons of cement and animal feed went through Karni, while 83 trucks carrying meat, fish, textiles, fruits and vegetables, sugar and other staples crossed through Sufa. A few days earlier, only 42 trucks went through Sufa.

Yair Moshe of the Karni transport company does business with more than 70 Gaza merchants, and knows which goods are and are not getting through. “There is still a ban today on products such as blankets, raw materials for industry, construction equipment like trowels and tiles,” he said. “You’re not allowed to transfer chocolate and chocolate spread; ground coconut, most nuts and seeds are out; and in hygiene products, you can’t bring in creams and gels.”

Merchants in Gaza buy the goods and then wait for permits to transfer them. In the meantime, much of the merchandise they paid for remains for months in Israeli warehouses.

Ref: Haaretz