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The Occupied and Autonomous Territories: Advocating Humanitarian Values

31-01-2004 Field Newsletter by François Bellon

Article from the ICRC delegation newsletter, January 2004. François Bellon is head of ICRC delegation in Tel Aviv.


 The ICRC first humanitarian interventions in this area took place in 1947. The ICRC has been continuously present in Israel and the Occupied and Autonomous Territories since 1967.  

Today, both Israelis and Palestinians are still living in fear and insecurity. In mid-August 2003, following a period of relative calm and hopes that the peace process would move on, the region was unfortunately thrown right back into a new cycle of violence. The ICRC continues to monitor respect for international humanitarian law (IHL) in the field and makes representations with the relevant authorities whenever necessary. Because of our deeply felt concern about the deterioration of the situation, we issued a public appeal urging all those involved in violence to respect humanitarian law and stop unlawful acts such as deliberate attacks against civilians. The Geneva Conventions prohibit deliberate attacks on civilians as well as all acts intended to spread terror among the civilian population.

Dissemination of humanitarian values and law is crucial to prevent further violations and suffering 

Dissemination of humanitarian values and law is crucial to prevent further violations and suffering. All those involved in the current violence should be familiar with humanitarian law and facilitate the work of impartial humanitarian actors. The ICRC has now regular contact with Israeli armed and security forces at all levels to explain its role as well as the basic rules of IHL. Palestinian schools have begun teaching humanitarian values as part of a joint project involving the Ministry of Education, the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) and the ICRC.

Strengthening the capacity of the PRCS and the Magen David Adom in Israel (MDA) to perform their life-saving activities remains a priority for the ICRC. In June 2003, the ICRC signed a cooperation agreement with the MDA to support its tireless efforts to save lives and alleviate human suffering. Meanwhile, the PRCS emergency medical services were fully renewed.

Owing to the ongoing military operations, curfews, and closures, many Palestinians find it difficult to make ends meet. In 2002, the ICRC decided to carry out, for the first time since 1967, large emergency assistance programmes for the most vulnerable Palestinians living in the West B ank. However, providing relief assistance to the population under occupation is not a long-term solution. In June 2003, the ICRC announced that these programmes would stop before the end of the year. Of course, the ICRC maintains its presence and will continue to provide relief in case of emergency, for instance, to Palestinians whose houses have been destroyed. Nevertheless, this cannot replace the responsibility of the occupying power, the State of Israel, to do everything possible to allow civilians under occupation to live as normal and safe a life as possible. To fulfil its obligations under humanitarian law, Israel should minimize the impact, in humanitarian terms, of security measures and ensure basic rights for the civilian population, such as free movement and access to medical care, work and education.