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Relief Agencies Ask for Military Rules to Be Eased

EAST JERUSALEM, West Bank – Heightened Israeli military restrictions on the movement of people within the West Bank are impeding humanitarian efforts for Palestinians, according to Mennonite Central Committee and other relief and development agencies.

A statement released July 4 by 32 members of the Association of International Development Agencies, or AIDA, calls on the Israeli government and military to “guarantee unrestricted access for all staff members and humanitarian goods and services.” MCC is a member of AIDA.

“A humanitarian crisis is brewing in the occupied territories,” said Alain Epp Weaver, co-director of MCC programs in the West Bank and Gaza.

Curfews and barriers to movement are denying Palestinians access to education, health care and employment, he said, and the increased military restrictions to humanitarian aid mean many people are now being denied access to basic necessities.

MCC personnel have been turned back at checkpoints, Epp Weaver said. He pointed to a recent incident where food aid convoys were delayed for hours by Israeli soldiers at checkpoints, despite having provided required inventory and identification papers in advance.

The AIDA statement urges “the international community to intervene with the Israeli government to ensure that humanitarian access is unrestricted as guaranteed under international law.”

It points to internationally recognized standards that guarantee “unimpeded access to civilian populations,” according to the statement.

Israeli military authorities are flouting the international standards by hindering, not facilitating access, Epp Weaver said.

The Israeli military recently notified donor governments that all residents of the West Bank would soon require permits not only for travel to Jerusalem or Israel but also from town to town within the West Bank. Also planned is a “back-to-back” shipping system within the West Bank which would require trucks to offload on one side of an Israeli military checkpoint and reload onto another truck on the other side of the checkpoint, Epp Weaver said.

“If someone wished to ship goods from Hebron to Jenin [about 69 miles], five separate trucks would be required,” Epp Weaver said.

Rick Janzen, co-director of MCC’s Middle East department, said MCC’s involvement has changed in the region.

When MCC began working in the region in 1948, it was to provide relief for Palestinian refugees displaced by war.

Over time, as the Palestinian community moved to self-sufficiency, MCC became involved in development, advocacy and community building. Now, Janzen fears there will soon be a return to emergency aid.

“Is there a family that’s been untouched by violent injury, death, lack of income or opportunity for education?” Janzen said, adding that there is increasing despair and hopelessness among people affected by the occupation. “Hanging over all of this is the pretty general fear that this is not going to improve dramatically very soon,” Janzen said.

Israeli military restrictions also have increased operational costs for organizations like MCC and opened aid workers to security risks.

“We are forced to take back-roads when access through the main roads is prevented by the Israeli military,” Epp Weaver said.

Reprinted with permission from the Mennonite Weekly Review.