Photo credit: Michael.Loadenthal (via flickr)

Accountability during the “war on livelihoods” in the West Bank

20 December 2011

Shining the spotlight on humanitarian accountability again is healthy given this month’s New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States with its focus on transparency and ownership of aid, and Busan’s effective development cooperation agenda.

The recent HPN debate on accountability left me reflecting on how much focus should be on accountability to – and as defined by – beneficiaries given the concerns about possible over-riding pressures for output-driven results-based aid in the UK, or in other countries. DfID’s humanitarian policy seems to try to balance accountability to taxpayers and to beneficiaries. It also contains a very clear commitment to strengthening civilian protection.


Protection was not mentioned during the debate, yet adequate protection responses strengthen states’ accountability in international law to their populations or populations on territory they occupy. Addressing this type of accountability by addressing violations in International Human Rights Law and International Humanitarian Law was an aspect that Palestinian populations in the South Hebron Hills knew needed strengthening as part of their non-violent approach. EAPPI[1] responded to this and so I worked with a team to set up a permanent programme to ensure that human rights observers monitor and report on human rights violations. Daily accountability for them is about protection outcomes related to getting access to water and fodder, and also increasing safety and dignity. It is about removing the concrete and stone barriers built by the Israeli military on tracks to Palestinian tented villages blocking villagers’ access by tractor to water and feed their sheep. It is about holding the Israeli authorities accountable, as the occupying authority, for ensuring that Israeli military and police protect the Bedouins and Falahin while harvesting their olives, preparing to plough their land, and when sending  their children safely to school, by actively stopping settler violence and harassment. Yet demolitions conducted by the Israeli military in violation of international law are on the increase, and 90% of complaints of settler violence were closed by the Israeli police without indictment in 2005-2010.


For villages across the South Hebron Hills denouncing failures to protect under international law is core to accountability and on-site protection needs to be expanded. This is a point I raised to the UN’s coordinator for humanitarian and development activities, Maxwell Gaylard, in a meeting with local civil society in the weeks leading up to the Palestinian bid for statehood. UN OCHA, UN OHCHR and UNICEF and others in the West Bank and Gaza are working hard to incorporate a comprehensive protection approach within different clusters, supporting projects for legal redress, but they know more support is necessary.


Over and over again Palestinians with which EAPPI teams live and work ask for more human rights reporting and more community-based protective presence, including more advocacy from agencies that may have focused until now on material supplies. It is not easy given the Knesset’s attempts at restraining its own civil society.


However, this is what will be necessary in the South Hebron Hills to meet need identified in the assessment we conducted with villagers across 24 tented communities. Alarmed at the lack of accountability of the occupying authority, and a sense that other governments are not holding the occupier to account, in the face of mounting protection concerns during what UN OHCHR terms a ”war on livelihoods”, several leaders of the local Palestinian non-violent movement said, “We need four teams of you during harvest and ploughing… at least”.



[1]Human rights observers with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) provide protective presence to vulnerable communities, monitor and report human rights abuses, advocate for the respect of international law and UN Resolutions, and support Palestinians and Israelis working together for peace. EAPPI was established by the World Council of churches in 2002 in response to a call by the heads of Churches in Jerusalem.

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