Role of NGOs and International Organisations in Gaza
The Role of NGOs and International Organisations
in Gaza Reconstruction
I began this paper with the intention of following the usual format of giving a short background to the current situation, then trotting out the theoretical model of the four generally accepted pillars of post-conflict reconstruction - security, governance, justice, and socio-economic development – followed by some practical applications of how the relevant organisations might implement these in the Gazan context, being sure to emphasise the importance of the participation of women. An inoffensive litany of development best-practice and reconstruction best-practice.
But the more I read, the more inane this task seemed. What can I possibly say that has not been said a hundred, a thousand times before?
From Palestinian governmental reports to Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) reports, United Nations (UN) documents , and World Bank-funded research reports , plus a plethora of development and reconstruction academic literature , codes of conduct and a wealth of media items , it seems every conceivable angle has been covered by every conceivable actor, including several unabashed apologists for ‘regime change’ under the guise of aid.
In fact, if we had a bag of cement for every word that has been written about Gaza in the last five years, a solar panel for every report, an educational resource for every academic article published, a fully-stocked and staffed clinic or hospital for every conference, meeting or seminar, we would not need to be here today.
But we do need to be here, and we (or you, at least) are. Why?
Because, one, we are still faced with the unmitigated consequences of the state of Israel’s actions - Operation Cast Lead - which resulted in the “extensive destruction… of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly” and which deliberately and systematically targeted housing, water supplies, food production, sewage treatment and industrial infrastructure, which deliberately and systematically targeted government buildings and persons of the Gaza authorities, and which deliberately and indiscriminately attacked civilians - compounded by Israel’s inhuman and illegal siege of the Gaza strip.
Because, two, despite the combined wealth of theoretical knowledge of best practice, the billions of promised aid, all of the supposed good intentions of the NGOs and international organisations, there appears to be a very real lack of genuine will in many of these organizations to reconstruct Gaza.
How else can we describe the failure to make more than a small dent in the massive task identified by so many, two years ago?
How else can we interpret the permitting of a rogue state to determine the manner, content and delivery of humanitarian assistance, contrary to accepted humanitarian principles? A state which is considered to have committed war crimes , which continues to breach its obligation “… under the Fourth Geneva Convention and to the full extent of the means available to it to ensure the supply of foodstuff, medical and hospital items and other goods to meet the humanitarian needs of the population of the Gaza Strip without qualification” and which continues to enforce an illegal siege constituting collective punishment, and crimes against humanity?
It is difficult not to conclude that humanitarian assistance for Gaza has become ‘threat-based’ rather than ‘needs-based’, and is being deployed according to political objectives, in this case to get rid of the Hamas government, rather than according to impartial assessments of humanitarian needs.
Several commentators have also made the point, and I will not list them now. Suffice to quote the Dashed Hopes report, which plainly states “The Government of Israel and parts of the international community remain reluctant to fully lift the blockade as long as Hamas holds power in Gaza.”
Underlying this is the tacit acceptance by many donors of Hamas as a terrorist organization - but there is no corresponding application of the term, or the consequences, to the state terrorism and/or war crimes perpetrated by Israel, or its enabler the United States of America.
It is necessary therefore to make some cogent points about Hamas.
1. The Hamas government was
elected in 2006 by a majority of Palestinians in free, fair,
and open elections, and is therefore both legitimate, and
representative of the will of the majority of
2. The Hamas government voluntarily and in good faith entered into a power-sharing arrangement with Fatah in 2006 in the interests of national unity, an objective it continues to pursue;
3. Hamas declared a cease-fire with Israel following Operation Cast Lead, which it has honoured, and continues to do so;
4. Since assuming control, Hamas has immensely improved public security in Gaza, and both prevents - and punishes when unsuccessful - breaches of the ceasefire;
5. Hamas has indicated its willingness to negotiate along the lines set forth in 1967 UN Security Council Resolution 242, a document that supposedly embodies international consensus.
In brief, then, Hamas is a legitimate majority government that, although operating under siege conditions in a post-disaster environment, is nevertheless actively seeking both national unity and a just and peaceful relationship with its neighbours, while trying to rebuild and reconstruct a society devastated by the state terrorism of Israel, and to defend Palestinians from continuing and ongoing attack.
As Mushir al-Masri said at the reconstruction conference in Egypt in 2009,"We would like to stress that the rebuilding of Gaza should not be politicized, and this cause needs to be placed in its correct context—the welfare and humanitarian one.”
I will therefore now remind NGOs and international organisations of the core principles of humanitarian assistance, the primary purpose of which is to ensure the survival and dignity of populations at risk, as outlined in several relevant United Nations resolutions and international Codes of Conduct.
1. Humanity, neutrality
2. respect for sovereignty,
3. international co-operation, with strictly humanitarian motives, in accordance with international and national law,
4. facilitation of transit of assistance by states in close proximity,
5. United Nations guarantee of prompt and smooth delivery of relief assistance, in full respect of the above-mentioned principles,
6. the creation of “relief corridors for the distribution of emergency medical and food aid,” and
7. commitment to economic growth and sustainable development as an accompaniment to humanitarian assistance.
Reports from UN agencies and numerous NGOs as well as media reports make it clear that in the case of Gaza, these seven principles have not been adhered to.
The refusal of many donors and/or countries to deal with the Hamas government clearly breaches 1 – 3. Humanitarian need should be the determining factor, not politics, not regime change.
Under Article 4 of UNSC Resolution 1502 (2003), as a close-proximity state, Israel (and Egypt) are required “to allow full unimpeded access by humanitarian personnel to all people in need of assistance, and to make available, as far as possible, all necessary facilities for their operations, and to promote the safety, security and freedom of movement of humanitarian personnel and United Nations and its associated personnel and their assets.” Israel’s siege of Gaza, and its continued refusal to open its borders and/or allow the passage of necessary vehicles and assistance into Gaza, is a clear breach of Article 4. Israel’s attacks on humanitarian aid flotillas, and the murder of nine humanitarian personnel on board the Mavi Marmara in May 2010, is a clear breach of Article 4, in addition to being a crime. Numerous reports have found Israel’s siege of Gaza to be illegal, and possibly a crime against humanity.
What is the United Nations doing about these breaches, these reports?
After all, principle 5 places the onus directly on the United Nations to guarantee the prompt and smooth delivery of assistance. Two years later it has still not arrived in the measure required. The United Nations – and everyone else – knows exactly what materials are needed, what medicines, food, and supplies, and in what quantities – there have been enough needs assessments to build a small shelter, after all. So where are the ‘assets’? Gazans are dying for lack of medical care, children cannot attend school, families do not have a roof above their heads, workers are without employment, basic infrastructure remains destroyed.
Where are the ‘relief corridors’ demanded of the UN in the sixth principle? How come the UN is permitting an illegal siege by a rogue state to impede the access of humanitarian ‘personnel and their assets’? Gaza has a long coastline onto international waters, and a port of sorts. It is not Israeli territory. Why has the UN not declared this a relief corridor, and brought in the necessary humanitarian assets by sea, as a couple of boatloads of ordinary citizens have done?
One could be forgiven for wondering who is directing the play here – the United Nations through its various bodies and instruments, or Israel through brute force, ably abetted by an international community too cowardly to stand up for the principles it purports to uphold, and the US use of its power of veto in the UN.
For all of their resources, and all of their moral authority, the UN and numerous other international humanitarian organizations have so far failed to deliver very much more than rhetoric. Instead of leading the way, it is ordinary people disgusted with their governments’, their NGOs’ and international organizations’ miserable failure to alleviate the suffering and reconstruct any semblance of normality in Gaza who are driving the convoys of humanitarian assistance into Gaza. People who have said “Enough!” and expressed their solidarity and support by courageously doing the job their governments, their international bodies, their humanitarian relief agencies should be doing, but aren’t – establishing an aid corridor that delivers the requisite materials in the requisite quantities, materials that UN agencies and NGOs require to fulfil their own independent and impartial functions and mandates as humanitarian assistance providers.
It is not Israel who should be determining what enters Gaza – it is NEED. If Israel has fears for its security, it could try complying with international law, beginning with UNSC Resolution 242. That would be more conducive to its security than any siege of Gaza will ever be.
The UN should be calling the shots, not Israel, and it is way past time it started behaving with the requisite strength of purpose.
The illegal siege of Gaza must be lifted immediately – or be defied by all, including the UN and other international organizations. Only then can the people of Gaza have any hope of receiving the desperately-needed humanitarian aid to alleviate their immediate suffering, let alone realising the seventh principle – that of economic growth and sustainable development.
I repeat, the role of NGOs and international organisations in reconstruction is to adhere to the core principles, and to respectfully provide assistance determined by human need, in accordance with international and humanitarian law.
So let’s start doing it – beginning with breaking the siege. If Israel won’t lift it, defy it. After all, it is illegal, thus deserves no respect or observance.
I once had a Prime Minister, Norman Kirk, who sent two frigates plus a randomly-selected Cabinet Minister to Moruroa Atoll in the Pacific in 1973 to protest against French atomic testing there in breach of international law.
I now have an ex-Prime Minister, Helen Clark, who is currently the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme. It would be historically and morally consistent if Helen Clark exhibited the same commitment to standing up to breaches of international law, by sending at least a couple of UN boats full of the ‘assets’ necessary to enable UN and associated humanitarian personnel to do their work in Gaza, and I now call upon her to do so.
Many other NGOs and international organisations here have also identified the siege as the greatest impediment to your reconstruction work – will you join her?? Or the next international flotilla?