Gaza is not a natural disaster. It is man-made, the result of deliberate political choices. Chris Gunnes
This is the final article in a series, which has analysed how the destructive aspects of reconstruction attempts in Gaza, are part and parcel of much deeper, structural problems in international aid and emblematic of the overall approach of international actors to the Palestinian struggle for justice and liberation.
Ignoring the underlying structural political inequalities is generally one of the fundamental flaws in development aid. In the case of Palestine, the international community spends billions of dollars on state building, institution building and economic development in the hope, as Wildeman and Tartir argue, that Palestinians’ economic wellbeing will make them more likely to accept painful compromises during negotiations. Best example are the aforementioned Special Economic Zones, which are supposed to boost the economy but ultimately cannot do so because their success depends on the cooperation of the occupier who is not interested in flourishing Palestinian businesses. This approach favours economic olutions for political problems.
Without addressing the occupation as one of the reason behind most economic, social and developmental problems of Palestinians, every attempt to impact Palestinian lives for the better is doomed from the onset. To address Palestinian grievances is to address the injustice inflicted on them by Israel. Ignoring the political aspect will again and again lead to situations in which Israel destroys what has been build with aid money. Sara Roy aptly summarizes this situation where,
“the most important factor in Palestine’s economic decline is not reduced aid levels but movement and access restrictions and the suspension of revenue transfers. In […] the continued absence of a political settlement […], international aid can only help Palestinians survive and nothing else.”
The occupation is obviously not the only challenge for Palestinians, but this issue prevents the solution of any other problem. This holds true for the OPT in general but even more so for Gaza where the biggest problem is the Israeli occupation and siege, condemning the small land strip to destitution.
But the international community treats Gaza as if it was struck by natural disaster and spends large sums of money (though still not enough) on rebuilding houses, delivering medical supplies, and food. At the same time Israel’s culpability and responsibility is politely ignored. Gaza is no humanitarian crisis. Framing Gaza’s persisting oppression as mainly a humanitarian problem, strips Palestinians of their political rights and turns them into “beggars who have no political identity and therefore can have no political claims,” states Sara Roy. Failure to hold Israel accountable for its actions has dire consequences: firstly, international aid, especially when it aspires to go beyond helping Gazans to survive, cannot achieve its goals while the occupation remains in place; secondly, it renders the international assistance to Gaza a substitute for Israeli accountability.
[A]id is being used to sustain a failed peace process as well as the Israeli occupation itself. Wildeman and Tartir
These quotes epitomize the arguments I have made in this series of articles, in which I have delineated the attitudes and approaches leading to a situation where the UN has become part of the occupation of Palestine. This situation is the direct result of shutting out Hamas and Gazans, of promoting policies leaving Palestinians more dependent on the goodwill of their occupier, of treating Palestine as apolitical humanitarian catastrophe, and of not holding Israel accountable. Consequently, international assistance can only help Palestinians to survive. Rather than actually improving the situation, aid divides Palestinians, renders them more dependent, depoliticizes the conflict and exempts Israel from all responsibility.
Worldwide acceptance of this despicable process of continued destruction of Palestinian lives and homes is decreasing rapidly. Several Latin American countries recognized Palestine as a state and parliaments in EU member states passed resolutions calling for the recognition of an independent sovereign Palestinian state. The Boycott, Divest and Sanctions Movement (BDS) is gaining ground, especially in the field of academia. This is exactly the site of agency from which change and pressure on Israel can and will be expected.
This begs the question of what can be done on the part of international actors. International actors – states, international organisations, and international civil society organisations – need to stop undermining Palestinian unity at every step of the way. This also makes sense in light of the fact that no agreement on the future of Palestine can be made without including Hamas. The political nature underlying developmental, social, and economic challenges – meaning the occupation – in Palestine needs to be addressed by international actors and not ignored: instead of working with the occupier, the occupation itself needs to be challenged. Finally, it is paramount for international actors to hold Israel accountable for its actions.