The humanitarian situation and response in the OPT
by Humanitarian Practice Network December 2004

The Oslo Accords, sealed in September 1993 with the famous handshake between the late Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin on a lawn in front of the White House, were intended to bring an end to decades of confrontation and conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, and to lead eventually to the establishment of a Palestinian state. But the conflict continues, inflicting an appalling cost on the populations of both sides, and an economic, social and humanitarian crisis prevails in the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT). Violence has claimed about 1,000 Israeli and 3,500 Palestinian lives in the four years since the start of the second intifada, the overwhelming majority of them civilian. The economy of the OPT is disintegrating, and over half the population now lives below the poverty line of $2 per person per day. Well over a million people are food-insecure. Access to healthcare and other essential services is severely restricted. Emergency assistance now accounts for more than 80% of donor funding for the OPT.

In this context, humanitarian organisations are confronted with serious challenges and dilemmas, some of them familiar, others particular to this politically highly charged situation. What is the nature of the crisis? Is there a need for a humanitarian response, or are other approaches (peace- and nation-building, social and economic development and human rights activism, for instance) more appropriate? Should humanitarian aid be used to meet people’s needs when a governing authority and an Occupying Power are in place, whose responsibilities include ensuring protection and assistance? If there is a humanitarian imperative for agencies to act, is it possible for them to provide a principled response that is impartial and neutral, and perceived to be so by all parties? Is it indeed possible to provide any effective level of protection and assistance?

The special feature of this issue of Humanitarian Exchange focuses on the humanitarian situation and response in the OPT. Articles from a wide variety of contributors examine the possibilities of, and limits to, humanitarian response in a place where even the name is a source of dispute (we have opted to use ‘occupied Palestinian territory’, the nomenclature of the UN Security Council).

This issue also presents articles on a range of other subjects of concern to policy-makers and practitioners in the humanitarian sector. They include the problem of private military and security companies, the merits of cash versus relief goods, and the continuing debate on cost-recovery in healthcare in emergencies. We hope you find it interesting and useful and, as always, we welcome your feedback.