Debunking harmful narratives about our work in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory

Debunking harmful narratives about our work in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory

With the escalation of violence in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, there has been a proliferation of dehumanizing language and of false and misleading information about the ICRC and our work in the current conflict. In the face of these real-world consequences, for both people and humanitarian actors, we want to clearly address the main harmful narratives against the ICRC and our staff.
Article 20 December 2023 Israel and the occupied territories

Updated 30/01/2024
Disinformation and misinformation campaigns put those who need help, and those trying to help them, at direct risk. We urge all actors of influence not to resort to or endorse such practices, and to promote an information environment where the dignity and safety of people, humanitarian action and international humanitarian law are respected.

Is the ICRC 'complicit' because it doesn't publicly condemn the warring parties?

Not at all. The ICRC, as part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, is a neutral humanitarian organization. We do not engage in politics. Our concern is purely humanitarian – we seek to save lives and to reduce or prevent the suffering of people caught up in conflict.

In order to operate in conflict zones, the ICRC establishes trust through its confidential dialogue with all parties to the conflict with the objective of alleviating the suffering of those affected by it.

This allows us to conduct a vital part of our work: to remind the warring parties of their obligations under international humanitarian law – something that we also do publicly – and to raise, directly and candidly, our concerns about the conduct of hostilities. The content of those confidential conversations is something we do not discuss publicly.

By publicly calling out one warring side or another, or disclosing the content of our confidential conversations, we would risk losing the trust of the sides and the direct access and vital space to speak with all parties to the conflict about the need to protect civilians during hostilities. It might also jeopardize our ability to bring life-saving assistance to people in need.

To some it may seem as if we are not outspoken enough. But based on decades of experience, we believe that advocating discreetly and constantly with those we are trying to influence is the most effective approach.

We are fully aware that our neutrality and principles are not always well understood, especially in situations where there are strong emotions involved. However, our neutrality and impartiality are critical to our ability to operate in any context. We continue our efforts to inform people, including parties to the conflict, about what the ICRC can and cannot do based on our mandate and principles.

For more information on why "we are silent", watch this short video.

Is the ICRC involved in espionage?

Never. The ICRC firmly denies all allegations of espionage. We are committed to upholding humanitarian principles and ethics in all our operations. These false claims put at risk the safety of our staff and hinder humanitarian aid from reaching those in need.

The ICRC's confidential dialogue with all warring parties allows us to conduct a vital part of our work: reminding the parties of their obligations under international humanitarian law and raising our concerns about the conduct of hostilities. This confidential dialogue has sparked unfounded conspiracy theories alleging involvement in espionage or military activities. These are entirely untrue.

This dialogue with warring parties allows us to advocate discreetly and constantly for the protection of civilians during hostilities. It is life-saving work and should not be misunderstood for anything else.

Was the ICRC involved in the evacuation of hospitals in Gaza?

The ICRC received several requests to evacuate hospitals in the north of Gaza. However, the extremely difficult security situation – together with roads blocked and unreliable communications - meant we could not safely access the area so were not involved in any evacuations

The footage circulating of deceased new-born babies is devastating and represents an unspeakable tragedy. It is unacceptable that civilians, including babies and children, pay such a terrible price in this conflict.

The ICRC has consistently stressed the need for safe humanitarian access throughout Gaza, including the north. The ICRC stands ready to fulfil its role as a neutral intermediary during conflicts and is fully committed to providing support to evacuate the sick and wounded. We repeat our call for the necessary conditions to be met in order to do that. Only the parties to the conflict can provide this. Without that agreement in place, evacuations can put more lives in danger including civilians.

The parties to the conflict must fulfil their responsibilities to protect the wounded and sick, and the medical personnel who care for them.

Is the ICRC trying to cover up the fact that hospitals in Gaza are being used unlawfully?

Not at all. International humanitarian law states that all parties to the conflict must fully respect and protect the medical infrastructure.

Anywhere in the world, where the ICRC observes a violation of international humanitarian law, we address it directly with the parties in a confidential manner. We don't have staff present in Al Shifa, and the last time we managed to visit the hospital was on November 07 2023 to deliver urgent medical supplies and escort six ambulances to the Rafah Crossing.

Read more: The protection of hospitals during armed conflicts

Is the ICRC leaving Gaza?

ICRC teams are in Gaza and will continue to be there. We have no intention of leaving. In fact, we are increasing the capacity of our teams there. The ICRC has over 130 staff members in Gaza, who have been working relentlessly since the escalation of the armed conflict to provide much-needed relief.

Additionally, we are rotating in new experts – comprising medical, surgical and weapon contamination experts, among others – to increase the ICRC's capacity to continue supporting hospitals and deliver life-saving trauma surgery, to assist people desperate for clean drinking water and to contribute to any future family reunions with released hostages.

Decisions on the ICRC personnel and supplies brought into Gaza are based purely on humanitarian needs. Access is made possible through our regular and constant dialogue with the relevant authorities, which we carry out as a neutral, impartial and independent organization.

The arriving teams and the crucial humanitarian assistance they are bringing in provides some relief, but it is not enough. We urge parties to the conflict to enable rapid and unimpeded humanitarian access in line with international humanitarian law. A sustained supply of humanitarian assistance and personnel is desperately needed across Gaza.

Why is the ICRC not visiting Palestinian detainees?

The ICRC has not been able to visit any Palestinian detainees held in Israeli places of detention since 7 October.

We are actively engaging with the relevant authorities on this critical matter in our usual bilateral and confidential dialogue. We stand ready to resume our regular detention visits as soon as possible, to continue monitoring the treatment of detainees and the conditions of detention in all relevant facilities. This remains a priority for the ICRC in Israel and the occupied territories.

The ICRC has a long history of visiting detainees around the world. Our commitment to detainees and their families remains unchanged.

Is the ICRC refusing to pass on life-saving medicines to hostages in Gaza?

From the onset of the events of 7 October 2023, we have been tirelessly calling for the unconditional release of the hostages as a priority, while also pressing for access to them and the ability to provide medical care.

On a regular basis, we meet with the families of the hostages who understandably want to ensure that their loved ones are able to continue their medical treatments. We tell them we very much want to deliver the medicines and share family news if we could secure access to the hostages.

In the absence of such access, the ICRC has engaged with the parties to find other ways to get the hostages the medicines they need.

The agreement reached by the parties in January 2024 to deliver medicines to the hostages does not involve the ICRC playing any part in its implementation, including the delivery of medication.

The ICRC welcomes the agreement to deliver medications to the hostages and to medical facilities for the residents of Gaza as a positive humanitarian step.

Why were there non-ICRC flags on the buses during the release of Palestinian detainees in Ramallah?

We did not give permission for people carrying Hamas flags to get on top of our buses in Ramallah, nor did we have the capacity to prevent people from doing so.

Worldwide, the ICRC regularly facilitates transfers of detainees and hostages, acting as a trusted third party. This means we help implement a release agreement that the parties concerned have agreed to. Once that agreement is in place, our role is to make sure that people are released in a safe and dignified manner and to bring them safely to a previously agreed location by both parties.

In these types of release operations, the safety and security of everyone involved, including our own staff, is always paramount for the operation to be successful. We remind all parties, including the relatives of those being reunited, to respect our neutral role when conducting this work.

What is the ICRC's view on antisemitism? What was the role of the ICRC during the Holocaust?

We reject antisemitism in all its forms.

After extensive historical research and introspection, the ICRC publicly expressed its deepest sympathy and regret for failing to help and speak out on behalf of the millions of people exterminated in the death camps, especially the Jews persecuted and murdered by the Nazi regime.

The organization called it "the greatest failure in the history of the ICRC" and acknowledged its weaknesses and mistakes in dealing with Nazi persecution and genocide, shown by its lack of determination to stand up for the victims of Nazi persecution. This organizational failure will be remembered by the ICRC, as will the courageous acts of individual ICRC delegates at that time.

For the ICRC, the most appropriate way to honour the victims and survivors of the Holocaust is to fight for a world in which the human dignity of every man, woman and child is respected without reservation.

For more background, see our documentation on the holocaust and the ICRC.

How does the ICRC prevent aid from being diverted?

Ensuring that assistance reaches the people who need it the most is the top priority for the ICRC. We have robust oversight and risk mitigation measures in place to ensure that aid reaches the intended affected populations.

ICRC activities are not designed to support the actions and objectives of parties to an armed conflict, whether they are states or non-state armed groups. We are therefore extremely diligent when it comes to mitigating possible aid diversion, as it could negatively affect our acceptance and trust, hinder future access and raise security concerns for our colleagues on the ground.

The ICRC works very hard to prevent aid from being diverted and over the years, it has developed internal policies and due-diligence measures to mitigate the risk of aid diversion. This includes supplier and contractor screening, careful needs assessments, direct implementation and oversight of activities, and the auditing of distribution processes.

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