Report: Aid Workers in Gaza Strip Stymied by Israel

Survey by Israeli anti-occupation NGO Gisha finds aid workers prevented from getting to West Bank or overseas to seek help for besieged population.

A Palestinian boy at the Erez crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip, March 30, 2010.
Reuters

Dozens of social service organizations in the Gaza Strip say restrictions Israel places on their freedom of movement make it difficult for them to assist people in the Strip.

The legal aid center Gisha, which focuses on freedom of movement issues, published a comprehensive report on the matter a few days ago, based on meetings with the members of 32 social service organizations in Gaza. According to the report, the organizations have difficulty sending their staff for continuing education and courses and sending representatives to conferences in the West Bank or abroad.

The members of the organizations said that because Israel bans them from leaving the Strip and restricts the entry of foreigners, it is difficult to raise the funds that are essential for the groups’ continued operations.

Hussam al-Nunu, the head of Gaza’s community health program, said that he and many of his colleagues are turned down for unexplained reasons when they ask to leave the Gaza Strip. “In recent years I was able to leave once or twice to the West Bank or abroad, but over the past few months I have been turned down and recently I received a summons to appear for a security discussion.”

Fatah Sabah, a reporter for the London-based daily Al-Hayat and chairman of the Palestine Institute for Communication and Development, has not been out of the Gaza Strip since 2013. “I am invited to many conferences and meetings both in the West Bank and abroad, but I receive only rejections,” he said, referring to permission to leave the Strip.

Ismail Daud, a music teacher in the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music in Gaza, last left the Strip in 2013, when he accompanied his students to a music camp in the West Bank. He is now waiting for a response to his request to leave the Strip to complete his doctorate in Tunisia.

The Gisha report also notes that the existence of two governments, Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza, make it very difficult to change laws. For example, organizations seeking to enshrine in law medical insurance for the disabled were sent back and forth between the two governments. The report also found that foreign donors do not want to contribute to social service initiatives in the Gaza Strip so as not to benefit the Hamas government.

“Movement between Gaza and the West Bank, subject to security checks, is the only chance to rehabilitate the Palestinian economy, society and politics and is the key to a more stable future for the entire area,” Gisha said.

Israel’s Coordination and Liaison Administration for Gaza said in response that it “maintains communication with the international community and local organizations that assist the population in the Strip. Requests for passage are examined specifically, in keeping with the circumstances and according to the policy and the security services. We note that the policy of movement between the Gaza Strip and Israel and the West Bank is decided at the political level since Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in a violent revolt in 2007.”