Gaza aid worker diary: part six

Submitted by jcravens42 on January 3, 2009 - 3:12pm.

Hatem Shurrab is an aid worker in Gaza with the British-based charity Islamic Relief Worldwide. In the sixth instalment of his diary, he says the humanitarian situation in Gaza is becoming increasingly desperate.

Submitted by christophercinco on January 4, 2009 - 11:04am.

Gaza presents a particular problem for many aid agencies. If a school is a site for a particular humanitarian relief effort and it has some loose connection to Hamas, the NGO can be at risk of violating the Patriot Act and risk a severe reaction from the US Government. In this way, many US NGOs are severely hampered as they try to respond to this horrible situation. Furthermore, the pro-Israel lobby in the US has made it so that any NGO speaking out agains the human rights violations of Israel can become a target of a huge backlash. Our NGO for one would never dare to make such statements even though we witness them on a daily basis.

Furthermore, it is interesting to note that the US tax code allows for charitable donations to become deductible, but only if the charity is a US-based or Israeli-based charity. If this doesn't show how highjacked the US government is by this carte blanche approach to Israel.......

Submitted by christophercinco on January 4, 2009 - 11:08am.

One of the most unfortunate after-effects of 9/11 is that the US public is so anti-Palestinian that there is little reaction or outrage in this matter. If you read through letters to the editor or comments on blogs, the US public seems to have no problem with labeling all Palestinians--children included--as terrorists and sees no problem with "collateral damage" in this situation. Most NGOs also note very little donations for the victims of this human rights abuse when compared to donations they receive for other crises such as those in Darfur.

Combined with the pro-Israel lobby and pro-Israel media in the US, it seems quite difficult for US NGOs to really address this matter in the same way they would for other crises such as Darfur.

It will be the courageous US NGO that speaks out against this horrific situation.

Submitted by jcravens42 on January 4, 2009 - 12:23pm.

I did not start this thread to start a political discussion and an attack on the politics and perceptions of the USA. I started this discussion to talk about the humanitarian crisis and how aid workers are responding. Let's stay on topic and not start making generalizations about the politics of entire cultures and countries.

<><><><>
Jayne Cravens
www.coyotecommunications.com/development/
Bonn, Germany

Submitted by myraidgoups on January 4, 2009 - 12:46pm.

I usually totally agree with what Jayne is saying, but this time I do have to disagree.

Those of us who work in the humanitarian sector will probably agree with me that politics is an integral part of our work; every time we speak out about things we see, we are politically active. The results of the Patriot Act (and its equivalents in other countries -- the USA does not have a monopoly on these issues) and of US public opinion on our work are, as far as I can see, valid points for discussion on this forum. US politics and public opinion is more important to us than those in many other countries because so much of our funding originates there -- and that is something we should keep in mind too: whatever we think of the US and its politics: it still is the largest donor for aid work in the world.

Cheers,
Michael
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LinkedIn profile: http://www.linkedin.com/in/michaelkeizer

Submitted by jcravens42 on January 4, 2009 - 1:20pm.

I have no problem with debates, and frequently encourage them. However, statements like this: "the US public is so anti-Palestinian that there is little reaction or outrage in this matter. If you read through letters to the editor or comments on blogs, the US public seems to have no problem with labeling all Palestinians--children included--as terrorists and sees no problem with "collateral damage" in this situation" are, IMO, unhelpful and off-base. As an American, I see a very different picture -- a much larger diversity of opinions and debates in a variety of publications and public fora.

It's never appropriate to say "Everyone in your country thinks...." (insert whatever here). Because it's rarely true.

By all means, talk about political actions that have prevented aid from reaching Gaza.

<><><><>
Jayne Cravens
www.coyotecommunications.com/development/
Bonn, Germany

Submitted by myraidgoups on January 5, 2009 - 4:40pm.

Obviously, I totally agree with you that sweeping statements like "Everyone in your country thinks...." are utter nonsense, but I do not read any such remark in this thread. When one speaks of 'public opinion' (or 'the public'), of course most people are aware that this is a generalisation, and that not everyone thinks like this. It is just shorthand for 'a majority of opinions expressed in the media', which is a rather unwieldy clause whatever way you look at it. If that were not the case, one could never talk about 'public opinion in country X' or 'the public in country X', but would continually have to talk about 'a sizeable majority of opinions expressed in mainstream media of country X, not including the approximately 20% minority of such expressed opinions which are at divergence with this this majority', or some such monstrosity of a clause.

And as 'public opinion' (shorthand again) in the USA does have a sizeable impact on what we do, whether we like it or not, that makes it a legitimate issue for discussion. Whether one agrees with a statement like that is something else, but that can be part of that discussion. (In fact, like you I don't agree, as I too see much more diversity and don't think a majority of the American people or even of publicised opinions are as uncritically biased as suggested.)

Cheers,
Michael

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LinkedIn profile: http://www.linkedin.com/in/michaelkeizer

Submitted by jcravens42 on January 5, 2009 - 9:45am.

How to find out what aid agencies are working in Gaza:

UN Office of the Special Coordinator in the Occupied Territories

Association of International Development Agencies (A coordination forum of international non-governmental and non-profit organizations operating in the occupied Palestinian territory)

Directory of Non-Governmental Organizations in the Gaza Strip 1998 (more than 10 years old, but many are still there)

updates from various organizations about Gaza situation (compiled by ReliefWeb)

Submitted by jcravens42 on January 5, 2009 - 9:47am.

"Oxfam supported health worker killed and ambulance destroyed in Israeli shelling in Gaza. Israeli offensive puts families' and aid workers' lives at risk, Oxfam warns."
Story at ReliefWeb

Submitted by christophercinco on January 6, 2009 - 11:08am.

Sorry for not saying that public opinion does not include every single American. However, I think it is quite known that the majority of the US public opinion tends to be anti-Palestinian in such situations. This is perhaps due to our media's presentation of the situation.

However, there is a critical need to discuss things. NGOs not only deliver humanitarian aid but they also advocate for policies and inform their donor consituents about certain situations. NGOs also advocate to UN bodies and other international authorities to try to halt violence, etc.

In this case, NGOs in the US are particularly stymied. On the one hand, US public opinion does not offer alot of sympathy to civilian populations. (I say this from having read the letters to the editors and blogs on several US newspapers). Additionally, the pro-Israel lobby in the US is so strong that if an NGO were to come out and start speaking of human rights violations, unnecessary force being used on civilian populations, etc, there would be a huge backlash. I have not seen any large US-based NGOs making such critical statements.

If the mandated of large NGOs is not only to deliver humanitarian assistance, but also to offer protection, advocacy, and address the root causes of the humanitarian crisis, then I believe that the group is failing. This calls into question when and how the NGOs engage with their governments and their consituents at home. It deserves thought by the aid workers who work for them.

Submitted by jcravens42 on January 6, 2009 - 1:16pm.

"On the one hand, US public opinion does not offer alot of sympathy to civilian populations. (I say this from having read the letters to the editors and blogs on several US newspapers)."

So should I say that all Palestinians deny the holocaust and hate Jewish people, based on having read letters to the editors and blogs on several Arab web sites? OFCOURSE NOT. I would never have the audacity to insult an entire population in that way, because I have enough sense to know that letters to the editor and blog posts are hardly enough to evaluate the viewpoints of an entire population -- or even a MAJORITY of the population.

Would anyone like to talk about who is doing what to help the people of Gaza, what aid workers are doing there, what they are trying to do, etc.? Or do you want to continue an anti-American, anti-Israel rant -- which doesn't help Palestinians *at all*? Your choice.

<><><><>
Jayne Cravens
www.coyotecommunications.com/development/
Bonn, Germany

Submitted by christophercinco on January 6, 2009 - 3:23pm.

Not having a scientific opinion study polling all Americans on their opinions, I am forced to withdraw my comments and apologize. I do know however, from empirical data, that our NGO receives much less donations for Palestinian victims of violence than other nationalities. Of course, there may be many reasons for this, but I assume (yes, assume) that it has to do with the way that the media in the US portrays the matter.

I am also not on an anti-American, anti-Israeli rant but I do knw that the US it is quite dangerous for organizations to take a stand against human rights abuses committed by the Israeli government. Precisely because there is a huge backlash. That is a fact and not a rant.

My point, again lost in the contraversial nature of the topic, is that US NGO are often stymied in their efforts or ability to advocate on behalf of innocent Palestinian civilian populations who suffer human rights abuses because of the politics and public opinion in the US. That is all I was trying to say. I apologize if I did not so eloquently or according to scientific, sociological data in hand.

Submitted by NEWBOB on January 6, 2009 - 9:40pm.

Michael and Christopher are making valid points. I thought the role of the moderator was to promote discussion not shoot down differing opinions.

Phrases used by Jayne such as "I have enough sense to know..." and "'....your choice" are dismissive of Christopher. I would expect a more respectful tone from the moderator towards members of the forum.

Submitted by Mark Butler on January 7, 2009 - 11:21am.

Guys, thanks for the honest discussion. This is and always will be a huge topic, given what we've seen in the media and predominantly by what we don't see. I therefore would encourage this current discussion. Whilst we are seeking to understand what people are doing in the region, I think that the fact that there are some major impediments to achieving the goals of bringing support to the region, whether Israeli or Palesinian, we need to have the space to discuss. As a Brit, there is an understanding (and perhaps embarrassment of the decisions made by the government at the time) that I have of the "creation" of this situation in the first place. Fortunately the discussion hasn't come that way yet. But what if it does? Should we avoid it? Or should we start there and then move forward? I prefer the latter and believe that this is a space that can permit this within the bounds of decency. What may have started off as a bit of a vent I see as an important part of the discussion. What can be done about it?

Submitted by christophercinco on January 7, 2009 - 3:01pm.

Mark,

Unfortunately, as I have been trying to say here, is that American NGOs have been rather silent about the issue. Some have appealed for funding, some have a petition to Condaleeza Rice about allowing humanitarian aid in (Mercy Corps), but by and large, I believe--this is my own personal opinion from media and not from a Gallup poll--that the post 9/11 mindset in the US has bought into Israeli propoganda that they are fighting terrorists and they are trying to minimize civilian "collateral damage." I personally have had their attacks fall on me and I personally have friends who are in no way connected to any groups suffer deaths in their families and destruction of their homes due to Israeli warfare.

The UN and other bodies have repeatedly cited human rights abuses on the part of the Israeli government. Yet, in the US, the pro_Israel lobby is so strong that US NGOs have been stymied in their efforts to call attention to the real cause of the crisis and the real support that the US and other governments give to the cause of this crisis.

I am saddened that US NGOs have been remarkably silent about this cause. I am also wondering if that if NGOs, with extensive experience on the ground, are not able to voice opposition to this human rights abuse, then who will?

Submitted by myraidgoups on January 8, 2009 - 4:06pm.

Hmmm...

MSF USA: Temporary Halt to Gaza Bombing a Paltry Response as Extreme Violence Victimizes Civilians
Save The Children USA: Brief Cease-fire Brings Little Relief to Families in Gaza
The IRC: Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza

Etcetera.

Cheers,
Michael

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LinkedIn profile: http://www.linkedin.com/in/michaelkeizer

Submitted by NEWBOB on January 8, 2009 - 7:54pm.

Did you read the IRC article?

Submitted by myraidgoups on January 9, 2009 - 2:24pm.

I am sure you are going to point out to me that I missed some glaring issue in it... ;-)

Cheers,
Michael
-------------
LinkedIn profile: http://www.linkedin.com/in/michaelkeizer

Submitted by BMane on January 9, 2009 - 10:15am.

UN: One-third of Gaza dead, injured are children

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090109/ap_on_re_mi_ea/un_un_gaza_humanitarian_toll

The advocacy efforts of international aid groups seem to have finally stepped up, as has strong statements by the Vatican and the UN.

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