Six month after Gaza slaughter, aid groups still afraid to criticize Israel

A child plays in front of his destroyed home in the Tuffah neighborhood of Gaza City on 9 February.

Anne Paq ActiveStills

Marking six months since a ceasefire agreement ended Israel’s mass slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza, thirty international aid agencies have criticized the almost nonexistent progress towards reconstruction.

But the statement falls short of pinning blame for the catastrophe where it lies.

One of the agencies, Oxfam, has said that at current rates it could take “more than a 100 years” to meet today’s needs in Gaza, where more than 100,000 people whose homes were destroyed in Israel’s summer attack are still without shelter.

The lack of progress in reconstruction has been accompanied by an upsurge in armed attacks by Israeli forces on Palestinians.

“The Israeli-imposed blockade continues, the political process, along with the economy, are paralyzed, and living conditions have worsened,” the aid agencies said in their joint statement. “Reconstruction and repairs to the tens of thousands of homes, hospitals and schools damaged or destroyed in the fighting has been woefully slow.”

In its own periodic update on the situation in Gaza for February, Oxfam explains why: in January, even fewer construction materials entered Gaza than during the previous month.

Oxfam, which also signed the joint statement, says just 579 trucks of essential construction materials entered in January, compared with 795 in December.

The Shelter Cluster, a consortium of agencies that addresses the housing needs of those affected by conflict-related violence in Palestine, estimates that 800,000 truckloads are required to meet Gaza’s current housing needs created by destruction during repeated Israeli attacks and population growth during eight years of siege.

Oxfam says that less than 0.25 percent of this figure entered Gaza between November 2014 and January 2015.

The joint statement from the aid groups, which include several United Nations agencies as well as European and international nongovernmental organizations, faults the “international community” for “not providing Gaza with adequate assistance.”

Little of the $5.4 billion in aid pledged in Cairo last October has reached Gaza, the statement says.

The betrayal of these promises led UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees, last month to suspend aid to thousands of Gaza residents whose homes were destroyed or damaged.

Avoiding blame

The agencies say that “Israel, as the occupying power, is the main duty bearer and must comply with its obligations under international law.”

“All parties must respect international law and those responsible for violations must be brought to justice,” the statement adds, as if there is any equivalence between the massive scale of crimes committed by Israel, and those alleged against others.

Palestinians whose houses were destroyed during Israel’s summer assault rally in front of UNRWA headquarters in Gaza City to demand reconstruction, 23 February.

Ashraf Amra APA images

But aside from this minimal acknowledgment of Israel’s responsibility, the statement avoids laying blame where it also belongs: the home governments of many of the international civil society organizations have been complicit in Israel’s military attacks and siege on Gaza.

Several Swedish organizations signed the statement, for instance. While Sweden’s government has symbolically recognized the “State of Palestine,” it has taken no punitive measures whatsoever against Israel to make it live up to its legal obligations.

The same is the case for the rest of the European Union.

In November, more than 300 European trade unions, political parties and campaign groups called on EU governments to suspend a key trade and cooperation agreement between Israel and the EU and to end the “material support” that the EU affords to Israel’s crimes.

But this demand for action is not echoed in the aid groups’ bland and cautious statement.

Moreover, it is the UN itself that created with Israel the so-called “Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism” that was supposed to kickstart rebuilding.

Instead, Palestinians charge that the mechanism has only lent international legitimacy to Israel’s siege while doing nothing to ease the situation in Gaza.

Given these realities, ritual appeals to a vague “international community” are unlikely to make a difference. Aid agencies should not have waited six long months to speak out. Now that they have done so, they should have called for specific punitive measures against the party they correctly call the “occupying power” to force it to end its siege.

Israel, moreover, could not carry on the way it does without the complicity of “Western” governments: the aid agencies should hold their governments accountable and pressure them to end their complicity.

Upsurge in violence

It has been previously documented that Israel has violated the 26 August 2014 ceasefire agreement on an almost daily basis.

Oxfam confirms that the situation has not improved. “Late January and early February saw the highest spike in incidents since the end of the conflict, with 47 incidents of naval fire and 37 incidents of border fire reported between 22 January and 4 February alone,” Oxfam states.

“In total, between 10 December and 4 February there have been at least 77 reported incidents of naval fire towards fishermen,” Oxfam adds.

Regular attacks on fishermen make livelihoods near to impossible. Oxfam quotes sixteen-year-old Mahmoud, a high school student who helps his fisherman father, telling about one recent attack:

We were about three miles out when the [Israeli] military boats approached us and shouted at us to jump in the water and swim towards them. My friend who was with me immediately jumped. But in winter you can imagine how cold the water is … I was too scared and panicked and refused to jump. Then one of the soldiers shot me in the hand with a rubber bullet. They brought their boat next to mine and arrested me. We were taken away, interrogated and released the next day. But they didn’t return our boat and fishing nets. We lost everything.

The latest sobering reports and statements confirm that every aspect of life for the 1.8 million people in Gaza is being shut down or badly damaged by Israel’s internationally backed siege.

As long as aid agencies engage in handwringing instead of actively mobilizing their home publics to put pressure on their governments to end their complicity, little is likely to change.

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As president of the United States, Barack Obama​ is the most complicit of all, because Israel could not continue to engage in the 'incremental genocide' (as Ilan Pappe, Israel's most distinguished historian, calls it) in Gaza without his continuing to funnel $3 billion a year to subsidize Israeli apartheid. Isn't it time for hope & change for the beleaguered people of Gaza...?

Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.