Confronting the Continuing Palestinian Humanitarian Crisis, London, 23 & 24 October 2007.
Before preparing this statement, I contacted Dr. Jean Claude Ponsin, who visited West Bank many times in 2007, and Dr. Violette Daguerre, who is responsible for this issue in the ACHR. I will try to give the last comments of our delegation to Palestine.
Everything has been done to break the Palestinians, in order to divert the resistance and to prevent the financial aid to reach them, which led into the increase of deteriorated humanitarian cases, especially, during the close of the crossing points for many months. The NGOs activities were paralyzed, the social services stopped their aid and the institutions did not receive anymore support. Thus, the 165.000 civil servants in Gaza and the West Bank did not receive their salaries that usually supported the living of one and a half million Palestinian inhabitants.
The NGOs can no longer rely on their international relations to cover their needs, or to secure the sufficient support and funding the human necessities for the vulnerable groups who suffer most from this situation, mainly, women and children. The decline of funding has limited the charity work within certain sectors only. Knowing that Ramallah who benefits most from this budget at the expense of other regions and the organizations in the northern region, a part of a specific budget has been also devoted to the training of personnel, whose skills have not been sufficiently exploited on the ground.
The funds that were confiscated by Israel were enough to pay the majority of civil servants’ salaries. As for the funds from abroad, especially from Arab countries, even if they were to be sent, they would never be received neither through the Palestinian banks, which are not allowed to issue checks, nor through Amman, where the scanners of the Jordanian Customs can discern the concealed money in luggage before reaching borders. There are clear worries about sending aid to the Occupied Territories. In some cases, the delegations, who have visited Arab countries to ask for help, were told: “Do not say that you came to us!.”
Due to the American pressure, Arab governments have interrupted their aid to the Palestinians under the pretext to stop supporting terrorism. If the Arab “brothers” are doing this, how can we blame the Western countries when they yield to the blackmailing of the United States? How can we blame the Western leaders to serve their own interests and to stop supporting the Palestinians? Meanwhile, since 2004, Israeli Arabs, who used to support their brothers in the Occupied Territories, have difficult access now to the West Bank and they must undergo through a strict search. As for the apartheid wall, it causes a severe asphyxia.
Moreover, Israel has brought in 100.000 foreign workers to replace Palestinian workers. So, the Palestinians’ chances to find jobs are much more reduced. In fact, only 23.000 Palestinians receive work permits. This means that there remain 66.000 unemployed workers. Concequently this have increased the percentage of people living below the poverty line to 72%. Furthermore, 20% of the capital has gone abroad and some companies have chosen to relocate in Ramallah where traffic is partially convenient (Nablus, for example, had 52 soap factories, today there are only three factories, because the Arab countries have stopped importing these products.)
The last 2 years were the hardest for the Palestinians at all levels, especially for Gazaouis. Indeed, the Gaza Strip was asphyxiated. It is undergoing an immensely unfair catastrophic social and economic situation. Up till now, we can not send a special delegation to observe the conditions. This is due to several reasons: first, the evaluation of the new events requires more time. Second, the conditions of passing through check points are tightened. There is a need to obtain a prior authorization, particularly, after the recent agreement, one year ago. This agreement has a disastrous effect on the free movement and trade instead of improving the living conditions, promoting a peaceful economy and facilitating the movement of goods, food and medicine in particular. Since last June Gaza Crisis, the Western inter governmental institutions suspended all kind of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip.
As a result, the humanitarian situation and living conditions have deteriorated. The poverty rate has increased dramatically both in Gaza Strip and the West Bank. As for human rights, they have been all ignored, principally, the right to development, education, health and food. The entire population suffered this tragic situation especially children, who are suffering from malnutrition and chronic diseases.
More than 55.000 Palestinian emigrated from the West Bank during the past months; more than 11.000 counterfeit visas were seized by the European Union. This means, no doubt, that the Palestinians go abroad in search for solutions to their problems, especially now that they have the opportunity to emigrate to the USA, Canada, Sweden or Australia. We met people who think that despite all the sacrifices and concessions the Palestinians have only this alternative: either to be physically removed or killed by the Israelis or to head into exile abroad.
Our delegation was informed that 50.000 Palestinians have submitted to Western embassies requests for expatriation; besides, the embassy of the USA has accepted the requests of 10.000 Palestinian graduates.
Today, the Palestinian conflict sank into the level of fratricidal fighting, with practically 2 Palestinians “in cage” authorities. The Palestinian people live now the most tragic episode in their contemporary history: the conflicts of influence that are directly addressed against NGOs are very sad examples. Due to these situations, Palestinian refugees continue to flee into exile. They settle abroad permanently and obtain other nationalities. These bi-nationals can not return to their country except as tourists, assuming that the occupant would allow their return. In this case, they have to leave every three months and renew their residence application if it is given to them.
A recent report of B’TSELEM resumes the situation in Gaza Strip as follows: (It grows increasingly dire: violence between Palestinian factions, ongoing Israeli military operations, and crushing poverty and despair.
Despite the so-called “disengagement” in August 2005 and the recent internal violence, the Gaza Strip remains subject to Israeli control. In fact, Israel has turned Gaza Strip into the largest prison on earth, while at the same time renouncing responsibility for the lives and welfare of its residents.)
Gaza Community Mental Health Program (GCMHP) started the initial preparations for launching an international campaign to break the Israeli siege imposed on Gaza. The campaign will include a number of activities such as, conferences and workshops with participation of local and international experts to discuss the humanitarian, health, environmental, social, cultural, and political repercussions of the siege. It will include many media activities, interviews and press releases and regular visits for different visitors and solidarity groups to Gaza. The campaign is planned to last from November 2007- May 2008. I hope that all NGOs would be able to help and participate in this campaign.
t is useful to remind of the IBH delegation’s recommendations
1 – The suspension of all forms of siege and the international boycott against the Palestinian official and non-official institutions. Indeed, the current position is directly responsible for a humanitarian catastrophe premeditated by the Western countries where the consequences are well known.
2- The Palestinian and Arab banks must be allowed to cooperate with the rest of the Occupied Territories’ banks without the control of the occupation authorities.
3 – The occupant must put an end to daily force and prosecution against the humanitarian NGOs and charities, as well as, against various civil society organizations.
4 – The Arab and Islamic countries, which are against the American pressure, must support the Palestinian people directly in order to break the embargo. They must allow the Palestinians to provide the basic needs of vulnerable groups. We must ensure a minimum standard of living for all of them according to the International covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Fourth Geneva Convention and the First Additional Protocol of Geneva Conventions.
5 – The Council of Human Rights has condemned the financial boycott which is imposed on Palestinian government because it has disastrous repercussions on the people. The American Administration, the Israeli government and the European Union must take the opinion of the Council into consideration.
6 – The UN General Assembly has condemned Israel for the collective slow and methodical massacre which is committed against the Palestinian people since 58 years ago. In spite of all, Israel is still in total impunity.
7- Finally, the delegation urged all Palestinian parties to banish all forms of violence, to resolve their conflicts and to put the interests of the Palestinian people above partisan and sectarian interests.
Physician and anthropologist, Manna is the President of the International Bureau for Humanitarian NGOs (IBH), Spokes person of the Arab Commission for Human Rights.