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Aid gets political for Red Cross

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  • ummyakoub
    Aid gets political for Red Cross By Cameron W. Barr Christian Science Monitor 26 November 2003 http://www.csmonitor.com/2003/1126/p01s02-wome.html HEBRON, WEST
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 7 2:19 PM
      Aid gets political for Red Cross

      By Cameron W. Barr

      Christian Science Monitor
      26 November 2003


      HEBRON, WEST BANK--Jamal al-Absi, hollow-cheeked and grey-haired,
      doesn't understand the logic.

      The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) this month cut
      off the bulk of his food supply, partly because it says it can no
      longer provide humanitarian assistance that facilitates Israel's
      occupation of the Palestinian territories.

      But Mr. Absi, whose job in a Tel Aviv bakery disappeared shortly
      after the Palestinians uprising or intifada began more than three
      years ago, wonders just what he is supposed to do about the
      occupation, especially if he cannot feed himself and his family.
      "With your hand can you stop a knife?" he asks.

      For outsiders concerned about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,
      helping the Palestinians has always brought with it a dilemma:
      Doesn't the aid absolve Israel of some of the costs of keeping
      millions of Palestinians under occupation?

      Earlier this year, the ICRC, the Swiss-based charity mainly known
      for its efforts to promote respect for the laws of war, deci- ded it
      could no longer maintain a food- distribution program in the West
      Bank, which it initiated in mid-2002. "This program was not designed
      to substitute for the responsibility of the occupying power, which
      is Israel," says Vincent Bernard, ICRC spokesman in Jerusalem.

      Israel has long denied that its presence in the Palestinian
      territories - the West Bank and the Gaza Strip - constitutes
      occupation, arguing that no country was a sovereign power in those
      lands before 1967, when Israel seized them during a war with Arab
      countries. But in recent months Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has
      acknowledged that Israel keeps the people in the territories under

      The ICRC's step has caused aid workers and donor countries to
      reconsider their role. "A number of people within the assistance
      community, both the UN and donors, are looking at the costs of
      subsidizing the occupation," says David Shearer, a UN official who
      runs the Jerusalem branch of the UN Office for the Coordination of
      Humanitarian Affairs. "The ICRC decision raised the volume" of the
      discussion, he adds.

      The ICRC began distributing food and food vouchers in the West Bank
      after a massive Israeli military operation in April 2002 that
      followed a series of Palestinian attacks against Israelis. During
      the past 18 months the organization has spent $ 46 million on the
      program, which it says has helped some 300,000 Palestinians.

      But Mr. Bernard, the ICRC spokesman, says that his organization
      cannot continue what was conceived of as an emergency program
      indefinitely, and especially not when Israel could do more to
      alleviate Palestinian economic strife. "The Israelis have the
      responsibility to minimize the economic impact of their security
      measures," he says.

      Absi, the unemployed bakery worker, says the aid "has been very
      essential to our life." He and his wife and four children live in
      two small rooms in a rundown family compound in central Hebron.

      Last week he used his last ICRC food voucher to buy sugar, noodles,
      and other staples. A bag of rice from an Islamic charity sits on the
      floor near the room's wood burning stove.

      He says he will have to turn, once again, to members of his and his
      wife's family for support when the food runs out. "We have been
      through a lot of suffering; it's enough," he says.

      If Absi could travel out of the West Bank, he might be able to
      resume his work at a bakery in Tel Aviv.

      The problem is that Israel - to prevent attacks against its citizens
      - sharply curtails the movement of Palestinians, both within the
      West Bank and Gaza Strip and from those territories into Israel.

      A World Bank report issued earlier this year said that the
      Palestinian economy had shrunk by a third during the first two years
      of the current conflict, which began in the fall of 2000, and that
      some 60 percent of the Palestinian population now lives in poverty.

      "The proximate cause of the Palestinian economic collapse is
      closure," the Bank wrote, defining the term as "restrictions imposed
      by [Israel] on the movement of Palestinian goods and people."

      Israeli and Palestinian officials alike criticize the ICRC's move,
      saying it will increase extremism and thus may exacerbate the
      conflict. "If [aid agencies and international organizations] will
      resign from providing humanitarian support to the Palestinians,"
      says Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, "it will not advance
      the chances of peace. Maybe it will make Palestinians more bitter
      and some of them more vicious and some of them more extreme and that
      will not enhance the chances of a meaningful peace dialogue between
      us and them."

      "I know the Israeli government wants an occupation and they don't
      want to pay for it," says Saeb Erekat, a Palestinian Authority
      Cabinet minister.

      But he adds that any broad refusal to aid the Palestinians will
      "destroy the peace process."

      "So please," he adds, addressing himself to the ICRC and other
      organizations, "continue your help to the Palestinian people."

      While aid workers may be discussing the appropriateness of providing
      aid, there is no sign that other organizations are contemplating a
      pullout or closing down programs.

      The UN is appealing to donors for $ 305 million in funding to
      provide humanitarian aid in 2004; the total amount of annual
      international assistance to the Palestinians is about $ 1 billion.



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