On 2 March 2009, major international donors convened in Sharm al-Sheikh, Egypt to collectively respond to the destruction caused by Israel’s 23 day military offensive on the Gaza Strip. During the conference, a total of $4.5 billion was pledged in reconstruction funds for Gaza. In light of the extensive destruction across the Gaza Strip, especially the destruction of civilian homes and infrastructure, reconstruction is urgent.
However, as Palestinian and Israeli human rights organizations, we must note that by agreeing to reconstruction without specific, binding assurances from the State of Israel, international donors are effectively underwriting Israel’s illegal actions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). International law — including international human rights law, international humanitarian law (IHL), and the law of state responsibility for wrongful acts — places specific, binding obligations on the State of Israel (based, inter alia, on its duties as an Occupying Power) with respect to the maintenance and development of normal life in occupied territory. By repeatedly restricting their action to providing aid, without holding Israel accountable for its specific obligations, international donors are relieving Israel of its legally binding responsibilities.
Individual donor states — as High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions — are under an obligation to ensure respect for the conventions at all times. They are also bound by international law which prohibits complicity in internationally wrongful acts. By repeatedly covering the cost of the occupation, without demanding accountability from Israel, the international community is implicitly encouraging violations of international law perpetrated by Israeli forces in occupied territory: individual donor states may thus be acting contrary to their own legal obligations.
We are concerned that such action negatively impacts upon respect for the rule of law, and is in violation of states’ legal obligations. Ultimately, the continuation of this policy may reduce the protections afforded to civilian populations, further exposing them to violations of the laws of war.
The legal and contextual situation relating to this issue has been outlined in a joint fact sheet, “Human Rights Organizations Call for an End to International Donor Complicity in Israeli Violations of International Law,” released on 6 May.
As human rights organizations we are calling for international donors to demand specific, concrete assurances from the State of Israel. These assurances, and the political will necessary to ensure their compliance, must form an integral part of international assistance to the Palestinian people. As the responsible party, Israel must accept the consequences of its actions. As illustrated in the fact sheet, the State of Israel is subject to explicit legal obligations: it bears the responsibility for reconstructing and maintaining the Gaza Strip. Bank-rolling the occupation without demanding an end to its violations is equivalent to tacit complicity on the part of the international community.
Reconstruction aid must be accompanied by strict conditions and assurances from the State of Israel. Otherwise, the taxpayers of the international community will continue to support an endless cycle of aid-destruction-aid-reconstruction. The Palestinian people will continue to suffer at the hands of a brutal and illegal occupation.
International assistance is most appropriate at the political level. It has become increasingly evident that international aid alone cannot resolve the conflict. In order to facilitate long-term development and recovery, political will and political action are required. All potential avenues that accord with humanitarian and human rights law must be pursued in order to ensure the State of Israel’s compliance with international law. We call on the taxpayers of the international community to exert pressure on their governments, to lobby on behalf of the rights of the Palestinian people, and to ensure that their money is no longer wasted by governments willing to fund a school but not willing to take action in response to that school’s destruction, or to ensure that the cement necessarily for its reconstruction is permitted to enter Gaza.
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR)
Al-Dameer Association for Human Rights
BADIL Resource Centre for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights
Gaza Community Mental Health Program (GCMHP)
Gisha: Legal Center for Freedom of Movement
Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD)
ITTIJAH - Union of Arab Community Based Organisations
Physicians for Human Rights - Israel (PHR)
Public Committee against Torture in Israel (PCATI)
Women’s Affairs Centre (WAC)