OCHA’s Special Focus on Occupied Palestine

By Stephen Lendman

On June 9, McClatchy and other publications revealed some of what’s rarely, if ever, acknowledged in the press – that Israel’s blockade of Gaza is "economic warfare," not for security as most commonly reported, based on an Israeli document the Gisha Legal Center for Freedom of Movement’s lawsuit obtained.

Gisha’s director, Sari Bashi, said the document shows the siege is collective punishment, in violation of Fourth Geneva’s Article 33 stating:

"No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited."

For over 43 years of occupation, Israel has willfully and maliciously violated this and virtually all other Fourth Geneva and other humanitarian rights law provisions.

In the wake of the Flotilla massacre, a Gisha June 9 press release headlined, "The Pyrrhic Victory of Jam and Halva," saying:

Israel agreed to let these items, razors, coriander, cardamon, and cookies enter Gaza, after banning them for three years. However, it "continues to prevent the transfer of purely civilian goods, such as fabrics, fishing rods, and food wrappers, as part of what it calls "economic warfare" aimed at crippling Gaza’s economy, (and by doing so) denies 1.5 million human beings the right to engage in productive, dignified work," let alone rebuild and survive under unending harshness.

The day before on June 8, the London Daily Telegraph’s Adrian Blomfield and Alex Spillius headlined, "Israel to accept British plan to ease Gaza blockade," saying:

Its government is willing to do it "in exchange for international acceptance of a watered-down investigation into last week’s deadly raid," massacring humanitarian activists in international waters. In other words, a whitewash, along the lines of a June 10 Haaretz Barak Ravid and Amos Harel report saying Washington and Tel Aviv agreed to let former Israeli Supreme Court Justice Yaakov Tirkel head an internal investigation into the matter, an idea the Obama administration proposed to include international law jurists (nationalities not named, but very likely will be Israelis) and two observers – one American, the other European.

The legality of the blockade will be examined and whether Israel’s Flotilla massacre violated international law. On June 9, "A team of (Israeli-appointed) military experts headed by Major General (res.) Giora Eiland began its own examination of the flotilla incident."

On June 11, the neoconservative Weekly Standard’s William Kristol headlined, "Sources: Obama Administration to Support Anti-Israeli Resolution at UN Next Week," saying:

Obama officials "have been telling foreign governments that the administration (will) support (a UN) independent commission….to investigate Israel’s behavior in the Gaza flotilla incident" – what Kristol called "an extraordinary singling out of Israel, (a biased) investigation, (and one that will set) a terrible precedent, (perhaps leading to) outside investigations of incidents involving US troops or intelligence operatives (in) our war on terror."

On June 11, Haaretz writer Natasha Mozgovaya headlined, "US denies pushing for Gaza flotilla probe," quoting State Department spokesman Philip Crowley, saying:

"We are not aware of any resolution that will be introduced at the UN next week….We support an Israeli led investigation and we are open to the potential ways in which the international community can participate in it;" that is, with individuals acceptable to Israel and Washington, ruling out independent judgments – in other words, assure whitewash, the usual practice by both countries to keep sensitive information suppressed.

These investigations won’t reveal the purpose of the siege or attack, let alone their illegality. Israel needs Hamas, and would invent it if it didn’t exist as a pretext to hype fear, impose harshness, and conduct repeated assaults against bogus security threats – without challenge the way Israel’s done it for decades, the Flotilla attack the latest atrocity after thousands of others previously.

Why so this time was to maintain an oppressive siege, keep 1.5 million Gazans trapped, cause enough harm to deter other aid missions from coming, and assassinate designated activists on board, the commandos given names and photos in advance. The death toll – 9 confirmed dead, another 6 or 7 missing, likely dumped overboard to perish at sea.

OCHA’s Report on Occupied Palestine

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs occupied Palestinian territory issued a May 2010 report titled, "Impending Assistance: Challenges to Meeting the Humanitarian Needs of Palestinians," citing "obstacles to the movement of staff and goods and other restrictions impacting day-to-day operations that limit its ability to efficiently and effectively respond to existing needs."

According to John Holmes, UN Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, "When the delivery of humanitarian access is restricted, lives are lost and misery prolonged needlessly."

OCHA discussed needs throughout the Territories, but highlighted them in Gaza. Besides sweeping import restrictions, UNWRA reported its 24 construction and infrastructure projects are frozen and can’t begin, including for schools, health facilities, housing units, sewage, and sanitation.

In the West Bank, free movement and access restrictions impede efforts, including the problems of getting permits. As a result, the needs of vulnerable Palestinians go unmet, a trend OCHA calls vital to reverse.

"A complete lifting of Israel’s (Gaza) blockade and improved (West Bank) access….are just (two) examples of measures that could significantly improve Palestinian livelihoods through a reduction in unemployment and poverty."

Israel’s modest Gaza relaxation is woefully inadequate, and largely cosmetic. It’s a welcome baby step provided much more follows, including international community pressure to enforce change as well as political and financial support.

The General Assembly’s February 2004 Resolution 58/114 "Strengthen(ed) the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations," stating:

"All governments and parties in complex humanitarian emergencies, in particular in armed conflicts, and in post conflict situations, in countries in which humanitarian personnel are operating, are called upon in conformity to relevant provisions of international law and international humanitarian law to: cooperate fully with the (UN) and other humanitarian agencies and organizations; and to ensure the safe and unhindered access of" personnel, supplies and equipment to aid civilians, refugees and displaced persons.

Israel refuses to honor this and dozens of other UN resolutions. As a result, humanitarian missions are severely impeded, especially in Gaza under siege. Since its onset, "the UN has literally spent thousands of staff hours attempting to secure entry of goods….with only limited success, and virtually none for reconstruction.

"Since 2007, UNWRA has been unable to complete any of its construction projects, including those projects meant to re-house 14,200 people, many of whom had their homes destroyed by Israeli military operations between 2000 and 2004," let alone from Cast Lead.

A 2007 Khan Yunis project, funded by the Arab Emirates Red Crescent Society, planned to build 600 housing units for 3,575 individuals. Yet it was suspended after Israel prohibited entry of necessary construction materials, including for related infrastructure.

Prior to the blockade, 151 units were partly built, and only after months of negotiations did Israel agree to let in some materials to complete them – as of May, enough only for about 13, "completely inadequate to address" the enormous need.

A new UNWRA poverty survey showed how Palestinian refugees are "completely unable to secure access to food and (lack) the means to purchase even the most basic items" like soap and safe drinking water – a population that tripled since June 2007.

Overall, the UN and other relief agencies face enormous obstacles throughout the Territories that negatively impact their operations or deter them altogether. For example, in the West Bank’s Area C, home for 60% of its population, Israeli control caused years of neglect.

As a result, a recent West Bank UNICEF, WFP, and UNRWA survey found severe restrictions on Palestinians’ access to range land and water, raising herder communities’ food insecurity levels up to 80%, compared to 25% overall in the Territory.

Construction is also impeded for needed schools, medical clinics, dwellings, and vital infrastructure as a result of the permit approval process, taking years, and discouraging funding as a result.

One example involved an ambitious 2010 plan, focused on meeting urgent West Bank water, sanitation, education, and housing needs. The proposal includes 15 projects in 17 Area C communities for 52,000 people, and for a moratorium on home demolitions for lacking permit permission to build them.

Three months after the plan’s submission, the UN and its partners still await an official Israeli response, and may wait months longer before hearing anything.

Besides numerous obstacles impeding the movement of goods and day-to-day operations, humanitarian agencies face a range of restrictions, including West Bank checkpoints and permits (taking 3 – 6 months to obtain), entry into East Jerusalem, and access to Gaza under siege, besides invasive searches and other measures to enter through Erez crossing.

At minimum, they delay work and raise costs. At worst, operations can’t meet the population’s needs. For example, in March 2010, UN staff reported 53 West Bank access incidents, costing 287 staff hours or the equivalent of 38 days. Over two-thirds of the delays or denials resulted from Israeli demands to carry out measures contrary to UN conventions and guidelines, such as vehicle searches and requirement that staff exit them at checkpoints.

Entering Gaza was severely restricted after September 2000, the start of the second Intifada, and today it’s much harder under siege, requiring lengthy permit procedures, many denied on "security grounds."

Getting into Gaza is especially hard, including needing visas, then delays, strip searches, whether entry can be vehicular or on foot, and numerous other impediments affecting operations.

In June 2009, Louis Michel, European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, called the Occupied Territory situation "wholly unacceptable" with regard to access and security of humanitarian workers, adding that:

"The violation of International Humanitarian Law is as deadly as any weapon. And no reason can justify it."

Especially in Gaza under extreme conditions, including up to 95% of its water contaminated, according to Amnesty International, inadequate power, electricity, and sanitation, 60% of households food insecure, chronic malnutrition rising, nearly all of the Strip’s production capacity entirely or partially shut down, construction at a standstill, the fish catch down about 50%, unemployment and poverty at record high levels, the health sector overworked and unable to function optimally, education heavily impacted, and numerous other hardships unimaginable in the West.

OCHA and other international agencies are concerned, calling for the immediate, unconditional lifting of the siege as well as improved West Bank access, including to and from East Jerusalem.

Nothing should impede humanitarian organizations from carrying out their mission effectively and efficiently. Israel, of course, does it willfully, repeatedly, and illegally, a situation no longer to be tolerated, and high time for world leaders to demand it unconditionally, something few have the courage to suggest.

A Final Comment

Commenting on the OCHA report, the International Labour Organization (ILO) said:

"The longer the (Gaza) closure continues, the more it undermines future prospects of workers and their families, in particular of the younger generation.

Restrictions on access and movement in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, which include the separation barrier, checkpoints and other physical obstacles, together with an increasingly sophisticated permit system, continue to strongly undermine economic activity, the Palestinian social fabric, enterprises and the well-being of workers."

A lasting solution to the conflict rests on building an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian State living in peace and security with all its neighbors."

In Occupied Palestine, that vision is unfulfilled, short of international solidarity to enforce it, Israeli harshness firmly in place.

On his June 11 Killinghope.org posting, William Blum said "The worst thing that ever happened to the Jewish people is the Holocaust. The(ir) second worst thing…is the state of Israel," what Palestinians have understood for 62 years with no visible letup to this day.

Besides innumerable daily hardships, on June 10, the International Middle East Media Center reported that 25 fundamentalist Knesset members "submitted a bill proposing that the (body) transfer money allocated to the Palestinian Authority to Jewish settlements, to punish Palestinians for their boycott campaign" as part of the Global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement.

The bill not only targets the Territories, it includes Israeli Arabs, stating that "Israeli citizens must not encourage, initiate or help the boycott campaign, (so those who) violate the new law" must be obligated to compensate affected Israelis.

Under the extremist Netanyahu-controlled Knesset, this is what passes for governance, and what Palestinians have to endure – but it’s one example of many. Repression continues daily in the Territories and against Arab Israeli citizens, resulting in arrests, torture and imprisonments for nonviolent protests and other lawful forms of resistance.

Gazans remain under siege, assaulted by regular Israeli incursions, and West Bank Palestinians face similar hardships, repression and occupation viciousness, what no one ever should endure, what no civilized state would ever impose, what no world community should allow, yet it literally lets Israel get away with murder by failing to hold its officials accountable, what one day will end because what can’t go on forever, won’t, including in Occupied Palestine.

– Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

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