Gaza in Context: A Closer Look at the MFA's Numbers on Humanitarian Activity

On Tuesday, May 25, 2010, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) released its latest update, claiming to be actively contributing to the humanitarian needs and even economic development of the Gaza Strip. Contrast the MFA report with UN agency OCHA’s critical report on limitations to access in the Palestinian territory released on May 27, 2010.

We wrote last week about the seeming paradox between a policy whose stated goals are to reduce civilians to the minimum “essential for survival” (but not to fall below it) in order to achieve political gains, while at the same time boasting of one’s humanitarianism.

This week, together with Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-Israel), an Israeli human rights group that protects the right to health, we provide further details.

Humanitarian aid only, and even that just barely trickles through

  • Food and hygiene products continue to account for 76% of the goods allowed in to Gaza, although entrance is routinely denied for many food items including chocolate and vinegar. Food items that could be used as inputs for local food production – such as margarine in large buckets or glucose – are banned. Civil society institutions, critical infrastructure, factories, schools, and even homes can’t function on flour, sugar, and sponges alone.
  • Numbers show that indeed many tons of aid is going into the Strip, destined especially for the 80% of Gaza residents now completely dependent on charity because of the collapse of the economy. Export for commercial purposes, which was allowed on exceptional basis for the strawberry and flower markets, was minimal: 259 trucks in three years were allowed to leave Gaza, which is less than what Gaza residents were exporting in four days prior to June 2001.
The Wrong Diagnosis: Medical Aid according to the Foreign Ministry
  • The Foreign Ministry claims that Israel facilitates “all cases of medical treatments from Gaza unless the patient is a known perpetrator of terror”. Last year, over 2,300 entry permits for medical treatment were either rejected or delayed by Israeli officials. These rejections included many individuals who, according to Israel, “only” wish to improve their “quality of life” – by trying to avoid loss of vision or limbs. In these cases, Israel says it need not allow entrance. It also includes patients denied entry where no security allegation was made, but rather the military claimed there was concern that they would remain in the West Bank after treatment, contrary to Israel’s political goal of separating Gaza from the West Bank.
  • During the first two months of 2010, PHR-Israel re-submitted the requests of 23 individuals who were initially rejected for security reasons. Thanks to expert opinions from senior Israeli physicians attached to each request, 10 out of the 23 cases were overturned. This raises serious questions about the balancing act that Israel claims it performs between each patient’s medical needs and his or her perceived threat to State security. It also raises questions about the State’s definition of “security risk”.
  • Israel claims that Hamas is often an obstacle to granting permits for medical care. However, Hamas has little to do with the permit process. The process was actually created during the Oslo Peace Process, and both the Palestinian Authority and Israel have a role to play. Patients are required to receive an authorized referral from practicing physicians in Gaza, apply for financial coverage from the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, submit papers to a Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee in Gaza subject to the authority of the PA in Ramallah, which then forwards the request to the Israeli Army at Erez Crossing. This process takes an average of 6 weeks and is extremely taxing on Gaza’s sick and injured as well as their families.
  • While Israel has the right to conduct security checks, Israel often exploits a patient’s vulnerable state by preconditioning entry for medical treatment on participation in a Shin Bet interrogation – in violation of international law. In several cases, the Shin Bet has summoned patients to the Erez Crossing for security investigations, and then tried to coerce them into collaborating with the Shin Bet by conditioning an exit permit on their collection and provision of information to the Shin Bet. In a number of instances, the Shin Bet went as far as using the permit application process as a way to “lure” Palestinians to the Erez checkpoint in order to arrest them: upon arrival at the checkpoint, they have been immediately arrested and imprisoned in Israeli jails.

Illustration: Moran Barak, source: PHR-Israel

What about the future? Preventing development, forcing dependence
  • The MFA reports that coordination with international parties on entrance for building supplies takes place regularly. OCHA, the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that it took nine months of negotiations to get approval for entrance of items to finish construction on some 151 housing facilities that were already 85% complete on the eve of the closure in June 2007. This is a hard-fought-for drop in the bucket compared with the 86,000 housing units that are needed in Gaza.
  • Likewise, UNRWA reports that donor funds to the tune of $109 million USD are frozen because restrictions on movement of building materials prevent breaking ground on 24 constructions and infrastructure projects. If it took nine months to negotiate the start of each of the 24 projects, we’d be looking at 18 years of negotiations.
  • We’ve written before about Israel’s refusal to allow books, stationery, toys, and other educational materials for 248,000 students in Gaza, although it makes an exception for other students studying in UNRWA schools. But UNRWA alone, whose schools generally operate three shifts to deal with overcrowding, needs to build 100 schools to meet demand, and Israel refuses to allow the building materials to enter. Even if Israel were to agree to allow in the building materials and if it takes nine months to negotiate the construction of each school, UNRWA would have its schools after about 75 years, about the time that today’s children would be in their 80s.

We are encouraged that the MFA report seems to embrace the need to facilitate humanitarian aid, while encouraging the development of a healthy economy in Gaza. If Israel is truly interested in implementing such a policy, it would be advised to open Gaza’s crossings for movement of goods and people, subject only to concrete security considerations and not political maneuvering.

This entry was posted in economic development, Infrastructure, Movement of goods into Gaza and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.