In a conversation with Al-Monitor, human rights activists have claimed that Israel’s defense minister, Avigdor Liberman, is trying to overthrow the regime of Hamas in Gaza by putting obstacles in the way of aid organizations working in the enclave besieged by Israel since 2007. According to representatives of these organizations, Liberman is taking advantage of the recent arrest of two aid workers, from World Vision and the United Nations Development Program, who are accused of embezzling funds provided by international organizations for the welfare of Gaza residents and redirecting them to Hamas’ military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, for building tunnels and military infrastructure.
In an August 22 joint press release, Israeli human rights organizations warned that impeding their activity would cause a humanitarian disaster in Gaza. They claim to serve some 70% of Gaza’s population, which suffers from poverty, destroyed infrastructure and contaminated water. The assessment of organization workers in Gaza and human rights activists in Israel that Liberman hopes that by obstructing their work, the Hamas government will fall by itself. However, as Al-Monitor notes, reality has proven that, in terms of options, Hamas is actually the default in Gaza. Israel could have probably overthrown Hamas over the course of the years, but the diplomatic and security establishments feared that toppling its government would create chaos in Gaza and worsen the security situation. While Liberman has often publicly expressed his strong desire to bring down Hamas in Gaza, he has never explained what the alternative would be or how he envisions the situation after he realizes his ambition.
On the backdrop of current attempts by Israel’s far-right government to vilify the work of human rights organizations in the assistance they give to Palestinians living under the occupation and specifically the people of Gaza, in its inhumane and recklessly short-sighted bid to topple Hamas, following is the text of the joint press release issued by 16 Israeli NGOs on August 22.
Approximately 1.8 million people live in the Gaza Strip. After almost a decade of siege and repeated rounds of bombardments, the economic situation is on the verge of collapse. The unemployment rate is one of the highest in the world, civilian infrastructure is in ruins, water supply is contaminated, and poverty is widespread.
International aid organizations have addressed this reality for years, displaying tireless commitment in extremely difficult conditions. Given that Israel imposes conditions of poverty and isolation on residents of the Gaza Strip, the activities of humanitarian organizations are vital. Approximately 70 percent of Gaza residents are dependent on humanitarian aid.
The Israeli authorities recently indicted two employees of international aid organizations active in the Gaza Strip. On the basis of these indictments, Israeli authorities have made sweeping, far-reaching, and irresponsible allegations claiming that humanitarian operations in the Gaza Strip as a whole are connected to Hamas and serve the organization.
Any use of funds intended for humanitarian aid to support violence is illegal and is an extremely grave matter. Even if the defendants are found guilty – at present they should benefit from the presumption of innocence – this will not detract from the importance, integrity, and dedication of international humanitarian organizations assisting residents of the Gaza Strip.
We, the undersigned Israeli human rights organizations, attach great importance to the work of international aid organizations active in assisting residents of Gaza, so many of whom live in extremely dire conditions. We urge the Israeli government to refrain from impeding the activities of these organizations, and to avoid vilifying the vital work of the aid community.
The above statement was prepared and signed by the following NGOs active in Israel:
- Adalah – The Legal Center for the Rights of the Arab Minority in Israel
- Akevot Institute for Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Research
- Amnesty International – Israel section
- Association for Civil Rights in Israel
- Bimkom – Planners for Planning Rights
- Breaking the Silence
- Coalition of Women for Peace
- HaMoked – Center for the Defence of the Individual
- Human Rights Defenders Fund
- Khakal (The Field) – A Covenant of Human Rights Defenders (in formation)
- Physicians for Human Rights – Israel
- Rabbis for Human Rights
- The Public Committee Against Torture
- Yesh Din – Volunteers for Human Rights