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Israel and West Bank: ICRC extends emergency relief

17-06-2003 News Release 03/42

Geneva (ICRC) – The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has decided to extend its main relief programmes for the Palestinian population of the West Bank to the end of 2003, at a cost of over 8.6 million US dollars.

Under the previous budget, emergency support for Palestinians affected by the Israeli closure policy was scheduled to end in June. However, the ongoing violence and the stringent security measures maintained by the Israeli authorities have left many Palestinian households in dire need.

The organization's rural relief and urban voucher programmes were started in the spring of 2002 after renewed Israeli military operations exacerbated hardship in the West Bank, with the movement of many Palestinian families being severely restricted and their income thus drastically reduced. Under the rural relief programme, families receive food and other basic items while the urban voucher programme provides town-dwellers with coupons which they can exchange for goods in designated stores. A recent independent study shows that both ICRC programmes have achieved their target of helping some 300,000 people.

Restrictions on freedom of movement, the destruction of land and other property, and blocked access to health care and other basic services have continued and in some instances become more severe. ICRC aid must nevertheless be viewed as an extraordinary and temporary measure: it is designed to help the most vulnerable members of the population face this worsening crisis and is no substitute for long-term economic stability. The study cited above showed that up to 60% of families in urban areas and 70% in the countryside fall below the World Bank poverty line. The ICRC is also concerned about the ongoing erosion over time of the coping mechanisms of Palestinians living in areas closed for long periods: debt is increasing, assets are being sold off, and nutrition is deteriorating. These trends point to a shift in the nature of the problem from a short-term crisis to a much deeper and longer-term economic breakdown.

The concerns of the Israeli authorities for the safety of their civilian population are widely understood. However, the measures they have imposed in the occupied Palestinian territories over the past two years run contrary to the basic rights of the population of those territories. Lack of access to income and basic goods and services has caused the economy to largely collapse, a situation which cannot be rectified by humanitarian aid, no matter what its scale.

Under the Fourth Geneva Convention, an occupying power must ensure that the basic needs of the civilian population are met. The provision of humanitarian aid in no way relieves Israel of its obligations toward the population of the territories it occupies. The ICRC therefore once again urges the Israeli authorities to meet their legitimate security needs in a manner that complies with international humanitarian law, by minimizing the adverse effects of their security measures on the civilian population in order to allow Palestinians to live as normal a life as possible.

In view of the recent escalation of violence, the ICRC reiterates its urgent call for civilians to be spared and insists that all those concerned respect and ensure respect for the rules of international humanitarian law.

 Further information:  

 Tamara Al Rifai, ICRC Geneva, tel. ++41 22 730 27 56 or ++41 79 244 64 14  

 Vincent Bernard, ICRC Jerusalem, tel. ++972 2 582 88 45 / 582 84 41