Don’t Forget Your Duty to “Do No Harm” in Gaza
Dalia Association is a Palestinian community foundation concerned with the affects of civil society’s dependence on international aid on Palestinian self-determination and development. We offer an indigenous perspective about the risks of humanitarian aid flows to Gaza after the recent crisis given the context of an already-failed development aid policy. We are especially concerned about the implications and consequences of actions by donor countries and aid actors themselves.
1. Responsibility for Costs
We support efforts to hold Israel accountable for its violations, including demands that Israel be required to make reparations as required under international law.
Article 31, Articles on the Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful
Acts; Article 3 Hague Regulation IV and article 91 API. It is wrong and dangerous for Israel to cause an excess of 2 billion USD in economic damage alone,
Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, “PCBS release preliminary estimated
for the Economic Losses in Gaza Strip caused by Israeli Aggression.” and be assisted to evade its responsibilities. Europeans, Saudis, Americans and others should not rush forward to pay the cost of humanitarian aid and reconstruction without invoking Israel’s own financial responsibility, as if it had none. This is a wasteful and self-defeating pattern – foreign agencies (using taxpayers’ money) provide “aid” to Palestinians to build social and economic infrastructure, then Israel destroys the results of that aid, and then the foreign agencies pay again to rebuild, each time serving Israeli economic interests.
We deserve credible assurances that infrastructure rebuilt with aid will not be destroyed again. Donor countries and aid actors must insist on these credible assurances. We believe that enabling Israel to act without accountability for its actions is, in our view, a violation of international law that binds donors and other aid actors not to aid or assist in the commission of wrongful acts or in maintaining the situation resulting from them.
Articles 16, 40 and 41, Articles on the Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts.
Further, simply mitigating Palestinian suffering through aid, when donor countries continue to empower Israel through privileged economic, political and military relationships, is cruel, and violates international obligations of third state actors.
Ibid, in particular Article 16.
2. Inability to Profit
Donor countries and other aid actors must prevent Israel from profiting financially from the occupation in general and from its attacks on Gaza in particular. Aid actors must refuse to pay taxes on items procured for aid, should not pay demurrage, storage or “security-related” charges, and should not enable Israeli profit by procuring items from Israel. An estimated 45% of aid to Palestinians actually flows to Israel,
Cited in Alternative Information Center’s 15 January 2009 statement, “Emergency, Humanitarian Aid to Gaza Strip Counterproductive without Political Aid.” which we believe incentivizes Israel’s further wrongdoing.
Also, aid actors themselves must not profit from Gaza’s humanitarian crisis. They must act with transparency and accountability, making public the amounts of money they are raising for the Gaza crisis and exactly what is being done with those funds, including clear disclosure of how much goes toward paying overhead. There is great risk that Israel will continue to deny entry to much-needed reconstruction supplies, as a means of collective punishment. The pressure to spend the aid money raised will push actors to spend it hastily on consumables, palliative activities or other low-priority uses (e.g., research) rather than real development according to local priorities. This practice is well-known, but rarely exposed as the corruption that it is.
3. Palestinians’ Right to Self-Determination, Even During the Aid Process
We understand that it is common in humanitarian disasters for best development practice standards to erode.
See Tsunami Learning Project, Grantmakers without Borders, at www.gwob.net. Palestinians in Gaza are in urgent need of shelter, medical care, food, and other basic needs, however, important principles like beneficiary participation and reliance on local actors, should not be compromised. Aid that feeds Palestinians while denying them even minimal rights to self-determination, and undercuts existing standards, results in a net loss to Palestinian rights and needs. Like development assistance, humanitarian aid cannot be responsibly implemented in a manner that excludes popular participation and local empowerment without compounding the destructive effects of the crisis on the affected community.
Further, we are concerned that momentum from the huge amount of money pledged during the humanitarian emergency phase in Gaza will exacerbate and entrench, rather than mitigate, dependence on aid, both in Gaza, and in the West Bank which risks losing resources that are diverted to Gaza. International aid systems should facilitate, not complicate, local self-help and Palestinian philanthropy. Also, we call for a deadline to the “humanitarian” phase of the international intervention. After the humanitarian phase, the majority of resources should be spent on development, not relief, and development activities should be led by local actors, not internationals, whenever possible.
4. Obligations of Neutrality
Donor countries and aid actors are obliged to provide humanitarian assistance in a lawful manner, without discrimination on the basis of political belief. Indeed, they must not politicize any aspect of the organization and delivery of humanitarian assistance. They must insist on and verify that the Palestinian Authority, international NGOs and local NGOs who deliver aid are also respecting the principle neutrality. In fact, we believe that donor countries have intervened in internal Palestinian politics by favoring some politically affiliated actors and excluding others. If it continues, the donor countries’ policy of isolating Hamas risks undermining the effectiveness of the humanitarian response in Gaza implicating all those in the aid process. We call on aid actors to engage in civil disobedience against these unlawful and immoral anti-terrorism policies by refusing to be contractually obligated to enforce them.
5. Obligation to Address Root Causes
The root cause of the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip is the continued Israeli military occupation, colonization, and dispossession of the Palestinian people. The international community’s efforts should be aimed at this root cause, and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza should not distract from this priority.
Insistence that “humanitarian aid” remains strictly distinct from “political” efforts of governments (who are the donors of the humanitarian aid) serves as a poor excuse for donor countries and aid actors to focus on the symptoms not root causes of the humanitarian crisis, thus perpetuating the conditions for future violations against Palestinians. We consider weak political will to address the root causes a violation of the obligation that binds donors to “do no harm.”
In conclusion, we believe the aid system was broken even before the recent humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Anything short of total vigilance on the part of Palestinian civil society, donor countries, and aid actors themselves, risks leading to a worsened state of dependence, denial of rights, waste, and de-development.
Note: This statement is also available in Arabic and Spanish.
Nora Lester Murad
+972-54-654-1665 or +970-598-248-807
NoraM @ Dalia.ps