For aid to be effective, donors need to insist Israel changes its policies towards occupied Palestinian Territories

Published: 13 December 2007

Millions of dollars of aid is being lost due to Israeli policies towards the occupied Palestinian territories and must be challenged by donor governments meeting in Paris to pledge funds for the Palestinian Authority this Monday, according to aid agency Oxfam International.

Jeremy Hobbs, head of Oxfam International, said: “More aid will not be effective until donor governments insist on a rapid change in Israel’s movement restrictions in the occupied Palestinian territories and the ending of the blockade of the Gaza Strip. Many governments around the world are generous donors to the Palestinians. Their aid is vital to help build the Palestinian economy and a viable state. But donor governments are not sufficiently critical of Israeli policies, which wreck the projects they fund. They are investing precious aid funds, but without holding Israel accountable this aid will be more and more ineffective.

“It is not enough simply to plough more money into Palestine – foreign governments and the Palestinian Authority must increase the pressure on the Israeli government to lift the blockade of Gaza and make it possible for people in the West Bank to go about their business. This is essential if the Annapolis peace process is to work."

Governments meeting in Paris need to demand that Israel changes its policies if the aid is to help build a viable Palestinian economy. In addition, they must push the Palestinian Authority to play its part in ending the isolation of Gaza, including doing its utmost to prevent attacks on Israel.

Examples of aid efforts damaged by the Israeli blockade and movement restrictions include:

  • The World Food Program has spent nearly $1m on extra transport costs for vital food aid since June 2007.

  • The UN’s Relief and Work’s Agency (UNRWA) has spent and extra $250,000 on transport costs in June alone.  

  • Up to 40 per cent of European Commission aid is now being spent on handling costs.

  • Over $200m worth of World Bank, UNRWA and United Nations Development Program projects have been frozen.

  • The UNRWA’s $93m worth of construction projects has stalled. These should have built nearly 3,500 homes and refugee shelters benefiting 27,000 people. Also suspended are the building of three schools and three health centers.

  • French aid worth $12 million of construction materials to help build a sewage treatment plant that would alleviate pressure on the Beit Lahia sewage lake has also stalled. The Beit Lahia sewage lake is in danger of bursting it banks and putting thousands of Palestinians at risk of being swamped with sewage.

Maher al Najjar, deputy manager at the Coastal Municipality Water Utility in Gaza, said: “Nine wells are not working because of the lack of spare parts or fuel, so 250,000 people are not receiving water at all or are only just getting enough to drink. When there isn’t enough power raw sewage goes directly into the sea. Will we have to wait for a catastrophe before the Israeli army lets the spare parts enter?”

Some 80 per cent of Palestinians are dependent upon aid, making them amongst the most aid-dependent people in the world. If current conditions continue, aid earmarked for Palestinians at the Paris conference will fail to help build a vibrant economy or the future state envisioned in the Palestinian Reform and Development Plan submitted to the Paris conference.

Besides the impact on foreign aid projects, movement restrictions have cost Palestinians $8.4 billion in lost income over five years according to the World Bank. This includes GDP losses of 2-3% each year due to the Wall in the West Bank.

Tight Israeli restrictions on exports have devastated livelihoods for farmers in Gaza. More than 4 million flowers and 150 tons of strawberries destined for export and produced with help of a Dutch government funded project had to be destroyed because of the Israeli closure regime.  A recent, limited export relaxation through Kerem Shalom is not sufficient.

Suhaila Abu Fol, 50, from Jebalia refugee camp in Gaza, said: “My sons supported the family but lost their jobs when their factories closed down in June. Today we live off aid from the UN, as there isn’t even one shekel in the house. It is really hard when one of my children comes to me and asks for money as I don’t have anything to give them.”

Israel’s legitimate security concerns have not been met by the blockade of Gaza. Restrictions on humanitarian assistance that amount to collective punishment of 1.5 million Gazans have failed to stop Palestinian armed groups from firing rockets at Israel. Oxfam calls on donors to ensure that restrictions on aid are not being used as a weapon against Palestinian civilians.

Read the related Oxfam International report: Breaking the impasse: ending the humanitarian stranglehold on Palestine

Contact Information

For more information, or to set up interviews, please contact:

Michael Robin Bailey, Program Coordinator, Oxfam, Jerusalem, tel: +972 (0)57 223 3014, mrbailey@oxfam.org.uk
Sarah-Eve Hammond, Media and Communications Officer, Oxfam, Jerusalem, tel: +972 (0) 57 553 8638, shammond@oxfam.org.uk
Ian Bray, Press Officer, Oxfam, Oxford, tel: +44 (0) 1865 47 2289, ibray@oxfam.org.uk
Jennifer Abrahamson, Humanitarian Media Officer, Oxfam International, New York, tel: + 1 212 687 2150 Jennifer.Abrahamson@oxfaminternational.org