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Impediments to Humanitarian Assistance

During armed conflict, all parties, as well as third states have the obligation to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid for those in need. Specifically the occupying power has the obligation to provide for the protected population and when it is unable or unwilling it must facilitate humanitarian action. In the case of the occupied Palestinian territory there are serious reasons to state that such obligations are not being respected.

The impediments to humanitarian assistance in the oPt

In May 2010, the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (UNOCHA) released a detailed report setting out the numerous impediments confronting and obstructing the effective delivery of humanitarian aid for Palestinians. This report can be found here: Impeding Assistance: Challenges to Meeting the Humanitarian Needs of Palestinians.

Key findings

In Gaza:

  • Severe impediments to humanitarian operations;
  • Sweeping import restrictions imposed by Israel since June 2007 have either prevented the implementation of planned humanitarian projects or resulted in significant delays;
  • Additionally, the ‘no contact’ policy of some donors, prohibiting contact with the Hamas authorities, continues to affect some humanitarian organizations, while Hamas’s requests for compliance with its administrative procedures from UN agencies and NGOs have intensified.

In the West Bank:

  • Humanitarian organizations face ongoing restrictions on movement and access;
  • Policies include a permit regime required for staff from the West Bank to enter East Jerusalem, and continued access difficulties stemming from the deployment of hundreds of closure obstacles, among others;
  • In particular, agencies mandated with service provision are limited in doing so in Area C, due to the restrictive planning regime applied by Israel and restrictions to obtaining building permits and difficulties accessing certain areas.

The Law

In situations where the occupied population is inadequately supplied with relief goods/stuffs, the occupying power has the duty to agree to humanitarian assistance being delivered to this population and, respectively, grant access to humanitarian actors offering such assistance as per Article 59 (1) GCIV. In addition to permitting “free passage” of humanitarian assistance, according to Article 59 (3) GCIV Israel, as the occupying power, has the complementary obligation to guarantee protection of humanitarian assistance. Most importantly to this context, humanitarian assistance must not be refused on arbitrary or unlawful grounds.