Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Politics of Aid to Gaza

The controversy in the UK over the BBC decision not to air the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) appeal for aid to Gaza has brought to the foreground the politics of aid to Palestinians. According to an article in The Guardian, "The DEC, an umbrella organization for 13 charities including the Red Cross and Oxfam, has broadcast dozens of humanitarian appeals since the mid-1960s." The decision not to broadcast the DEC appeal for Gaza was ostensibly motivated by a desire to preserve the journalistic objectivity of the BBC, but never in the three-minute television appeal is Israel mentioned. In fact, the narrator states clearly at the outset "this is not about the rights and wrongs of the conflict. These people simply need your help." You can view the DEC appeal on You Tube. The BBC-DEC controversy may have provided more publicity for the Gaza appeal and also more sympathy for the Palestinians. The DEC reports on its website that contributions to Gaza relief doubled overnight increasing to more than £1 million after the appeal was aired and the BBC controversy erupted on Monday January 26.

Historically, international aid and development assistance have played a crucial role in the economy of the Occupied Territories. Palestinians have relied substantially on international aid since the 1970s because Israel not only destroyed the economic base of the Occupied Territories through land confiscations, check points, military closures, and legal barriers to Palestinian economic development, but it also shirked responsibilities to provide basic services, such as garbage removal, sewage and water treatment, public health and education services to Palestinians, counting on international agencies and Palestinian NGO's to assume responsibility for these services in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Furthermore, Israel often reaps the financial benefits of international aid and development programs as it is one of the main suppliers of building materials and consumer goods to the Palestinians. Shir Hever has written an insightful report on "Foreign Aid to Palestine/Israel" that demonstrates the enormous amount of international aid that is sent to subsidize both the Israeli and Palestinian economies and the political aspects of this aid.

The Alternative Information Center (AIC), a joint Palestinian-Israeli organization, has issued recently (January 15, 2009) a call to international donors to challenge the politics of the occupation in connection with Israel's control over aid to Gaza. AIC outlines 6 points for effective international aid:

1) Demand information: Gather, analyze and disseminate information about the situation in Gaza. Refuse to allow Israel to dictate the quality and quantity of reporting on its attacks and their consequences. Share information with other organizations and the media.

2) Hold Israeli accountable for its destruction of the Gaza Strip
: Hold Israel accountable for the destruction it has caused to infrastructure and projects funded by your agency and government in the Gaza Strip. Contact the relevant Israeli authorities and demand explanations and compensation for the destruction of civil infrastructures. Publicize those projects destroyed.

3) Use your political power to enforce international human rights, humanitarian law:
Israel is dependent on international aid to ensure the well-being of the Palestinian population, thus freeing it to take decisions unilaterally and with no consideration for the Palestinians. Donors thus have leverage over the Israeli government and can use it to demand compliance with international humanitarian and human rights law.

4) Don’t assist Israel in economically benefiting from its attacks on Gaza:
The United Nations estimates that 45% of international aid sent to the Occupied Palestinian Territories flows back into the Israeli economy. The Paris Accords often render it less expensive to import goods to the OPT from Israel rather than neighboring or European countries. Demand that Israeli taxes on emergency and humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip be frozen.

5) Demand right to freely implement emergency and humanitarian projects: Demand free passage into and out of the Gaza Strip, in addition to unhampered movement within the Gaza Strip in order to implement projects. Protest Israeli limitations on work, including the associated higher costs in storage and shipping that result accordingly.

6) Support political negotiations grounded in international law between the Palestinians, Israelis:
The Oslo Accords are irrelevant and the Annapolis process has failed. It is time the international community publicly recognizes this reality and focuses on implementation of all United Nations resolutions and international laws applicable to the Israeli occupation and the Israeli-Arab conflict.

Despite the significant ground swell of international humanitarian aid for Gaza in the wake of the Israeli attack, relief agencies continue to have difficulty entering the region, whose borders remain controlled by Israeli authorities. Israeli officials are restricting deliveries into Gaza, claiming that relief aid will bolster Hamas. An NPR report on Gaza relief efforts quotes Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev, who stated that Israel "will be part of [the] reconstruction effort but one that helps the people of Gaza, but not one that helps Hamas." While Israel impedes the reflief work of the UN and other international aid agencies, Hamas pursues its operations and reasserts its authority in the Gaza Strip, handing out $52 million in humanitarian relief payments to Gazans. (See The Guardian Jan 26, 2009 report on Hamas relief efforts and the devastation of the Gazan economy.) One of the political consequences of the massive Israeli assault on Gaza may be the restoration of Hama's popularity, which had declined in 2008 throughout the Middle East and even in Gaza, as is documented in a PEW Research Center report of January 9, 2009.

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