Palestinian Territories: MSF Refuses to be a "Social Palliative" of EU & US Policies

Jerusalem, April 13, 2006 – Following the success of Hamas in the January legislative elections, Canada and the United States, followed by the European Union, decided to suspend their financial aid to the Palestinian Authority. Nonetheless, a promise was made to continue to help the population meet their basic needs by proposing to reallocate part of these funds to the United Nations and other international relief bodies so that they can offset the human and social consequences of this sanction. Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) considers this proposal unacceptable.

MSF is concerned about the socio-economic future of a population already sorely tested by years of conflict and occupation. There is a real danger that the hardships will worsen, particularly in the Gaza Strip, where nearly half of the 1.4 million residents are already living below the poverty line. The shelling by the Israeli army is intense (100 to 300 strikes a day since last Friday), causing serious civilian casualties. Furthermore, the frequent closing of Karni, the main transit point for supplies, has resulted in shortages of some basic commodities.

Although it is up to governments to decide whether to suspend aid, humanitarian actors cannot be "social palliatives" of retaliatory measures that impact the entire population. Furthermore, humanitarian aid actors do not have the competence, the means, or the responsibility to act as a substitute for the Palestinian Authority, to ensure provision of social services, to run ministries or public systems, or to pay civil servants. It is not the role of humanitarian aid agencies to ensure that the basic needs of the civilian populations living in the Occupied Territories are covered. This responsibility, in accordance with the Fourth Geneva Convention, is that of the occupying power, namely the State of Israel.

This "instrumentalization" and confusion of roles and responsibilities jeopardizes the independence of NGOs and can, in fact, put them in danger in an already very unstable context. The deterioration of the security conditions, as well as recent kidnappings of international personnel, has already forced us to evacuate our teams several times from our programs in Nablus, Hebron, and Gaza.

Fearing a severe worsening of the living conditions of the population, MSF has decided to review and adapt its operations in the Palestinian Territories. MSF reaffirms, to all governments, its financial and operational independence. The organization expects that the Palestinian Authority and other actors, whether political or military, guarantee the security of its staff members, both Palestinian and international, in the field.

Since 1989, MSF has been working in the Palestinian Territories to respond to the violent consequences of the conflict. Since 2000, our focus has been on providing psychological care, supplemented by medical care and social support, to families suffering from acute trauma and lack of access to healthcare. Today, our teams are working in Nablus, Hebron, and Gaza.