More than a dozen Israeli human rights organizations are condemning Israel’s attacks and smears against humanitarian aid agencies in Gaza.
Meanwhile, Israel’s defense minister has announced a plan to use basic humanitarian needs to blackmail Palestinians in the occupied West Bank into submitting quietly to Israeli military rule.
The human rights groups, including Adalah, B’Tselem, Gisha and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, “urge the Israeli government to refrain from impeding the activities of these organizations, and to avoid vilifying the vital work of the aid community.”
Their statement comes after Israel arrested officials from two international agencies in Gaza, accusing them of helping the military resistance wing of Hamas.
“On the basis of these indictments, Israeli authorities have made sweeping, far-reaching and irresponsible allegations claiming that humanitarian operations in the Gaza Strip as a whole are connected to Hamas and serve the organization,” the Israeli human rights groups said.
They added that even if the two men were guilty as accused, “this will not detract from the importance, integrity and dedication of international humanitarian organizations assisting residents of the Gaza Strip.”
Many of the nearly 1.9 million Palestinians in Gaza depend on humanitarian aid because of the devastation to the territory’s economy after three successive Israeli military assaults and a decade-long Israeli siege.
In June, Israel detained the Gaza director of global Christian aid and development charity World Vision, interrogated him for more than 50 days and then charged him with diverting up to $50 million to the military wing of Hamas.
Mohammad El Halabi’s detention only came to light earlier this month.
Halabi’s lawyers have said he was tortured and prevented from seeing an attorney for three weeks.
World Vision leaders have pointed out that the Israeli accusations fly in the face of the facts: the group’s entire budget in Gaza over the last decade was about $22.5 million – less than half the amount Israel claims Halabi, who had limited control over funds, diverted in just six years.
The UN development agency UNDP also revealed that Israel had detained one of its employees in Gaza, accusing him of providing rubble to Hamas for use in construction.
Israeli officials then launched a full-scale smear campaign against aid agencies working in Gaza, accusing them of supporting “terrorism.”
Israel’s accusations against World Vision and other groups have been picked up by its apologists in an effort to cut off humanitarian aid to Gaza altogether.
Writing in The Jewish Chronicle, anti-Palestinian commentator Melanie Phillips argued that Western government financing for UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees, as well as groups like World Vision, Save the Children and Oxfam, amounted to funding the “mass murder” of Jews.
Senator Marco Rubio, the failed US Republican presidential candidate, sent a letter to President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry demanding what could amount to a government witch hunt against those who support Palestinians.
“I urge you to investigate every allegation and use all resources to ensure American taxpayer dollars as well as individual private donations of Americans are not being used to fund terrorism,” Rubio wrote.
In the meantime, he urged the administration to “suspend all US assistance to Gaza until a review of the controls in place to prevent a diversion of funds can occur.”
“Carrot and stick”
Last week, Israeli defense minister Avigdor Lieberman announced a new “carrot and stick” policy that amounts to depriving Palestinians of basic needs unless they willingly submit to occupation.
This is another demonstration that Israel sees resources for humanitarian needs as weapons to subdue the Palestinians who live under its military rule.
According to Israel’s Ynet, areas from where there is no “terrorism,” as Israel terms any form of Palestinian resistance, will be allowed to build hospitals, kindergartens and other basic infrastructure.
But villages that have “bred many terrorists” will be subjected to “heavy security,” amounting to the already ongoing policy of collective punishment, which is illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention that governs Israel’s occupation.
Only allowing Palestinian communities to meet their basic needs as long as no one resists also looks like a clear violation of international law.
As the International Committee of the Red Cross notes, the Fourth Geneva Convention requires that, “To the fullest extent of the means available to it, the occupying power must ensure sufficient hygiene and public health standards, as well as the provision of food and medical care to the population under occupation.”
New “village leagues”?
Lieberman’s intention, according to Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz, is to bypass the Palestinian Authority, talk to Palestinians “directly” and “cut out the middlemen.”
“If there are intellectuals, academics, outstanding municipal officials – why should they talk to us through Mahmoud Abbas?” Lieberman asked.
Ahmed Majdalani, an aide to PA leader Mahmoud Abbas, and a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, compared Lieberman’s plans to the short-lived “village leagues” of the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Israel armed and funded these collaborationist bodies in the West Bank to act as “representatives” of the population after dismissing elected mayors who were affiliated with the PLO.
The aim of the village leagues was to bypass the PLO, which at that time Israel saw as a threat and an enemy.
But since the Oslo accords of the early 1990s, the PLO, whose bureaucracy and resources were effectively transferred over to the PA, has become Israel’s partner in administering the occupation.
This close relationship involves PA security agencies collaborating with Israel to arrest and torture Palestinians.
Despite near universal Palestinian rejection of it, Abbas has called the close relationship with the occupation “sacred.”
Lieberman is optimistic indeed if he thinks he can find Palestinians any more willing to do Israel’s bidding than the PA.