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Israeli restrictions on aid to Palestinians cost agencies $4.5 million a year

Just imagine all the things that could be achieved with €4.5 million in aid a year: schools, hospitals, development projects, reforms, services and investments. Every year, however, all that money disappears into the abyss of a bureaucracy that is at best negligent, at worst culpable, in its loss. Technically, it happens in Palestine, but in reality, the fault lies with Israel which blocks the funds, effectively neutralising them. That fact was revealed in the 13-page Restricting Aid - The Challenges of Delivering Assistance in The Occupied Palestinian Territory report published by the Association of International Development Agencies (AIDA), which coordinates 84 INGOs and not-for-profit organisations operating in the OPT.

The report highlights how the Israel government maintains a complex system of movement and access restrictions to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Check-points, road blocks, "the Wall", seam zones and a sea, air and land blockade on Gaza create a prison not only for the Palestinian population but also for the NGOs attempting to mitigate the impact on civilians of a military occupation that began in 1967. So, how do the Israelis do it? First and foremost by making the movement of aid workers both incredibly complex and bureaucratic. Permits, work visas and authorisation for frozen projects are all also regularly denied, thus hugely increasing the costs involved. To give just one example, almost all of the NGOs are forced to create parallel management structures in the West Bank and Gaza, work around this Kafkaesque bureaucracy, thus duplicating costs and draining funds from projects. Aside from hampering movements of people, there are also restrictions on the movement of goods, materials, products, equipment and tools, all of which end up mired in a labyrinth of permits which never materialise, without the Israeli government being held responsible for reparations for the latter by the international community. Nonetheless, the report also very clearly and categorically criticises the divisions between the Left Bank and Gaza since Hamas took control on the Strip and split Palestine in two. All of this results in a severe waste of time and funds which would otherwise be channelled into supporting the Palestinian civilian population.

The report, however, doesn't mention the buildings and infrastructure destroyed in over the years by Israeli military operations (including 2009's Cast Lead, for example). All the result of international cooperation and for which no reparations will ever be paid. AIDA is now demanding urgent international pressure be brought to bear on the Israeli government to allow NGOs to continue to support the Palestinian civilians in their plight. The importance and urgency of such action is made startlingly clear by one fact: 80% of Palestinians depend on humanitarian aid for survival as they await the end of the occupation. If the occupation were to end, they would once again be able to begin to provide for themselves. And no one wants that to happen more than they.

Christian Elia

Translated by Mary Hegarty