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When humanitarian aid demeans political rights for Palestinians

April 7, 2020 at 3:11 pm

321 of the quarantined Palestinian people, returned their homes after completing their 14-day quarantine process as part of the precautions of new type of coronavirus (COVID-19) at the al-Savfe Elementary School, are welcomed by their relatives following their quarantine process in Khan Yunis, Gaza on April 05, 2020. [shraf Amra – Anadolu Agency]

As Gaza tries to impede the spread of coronavirus, humanitarian aid, albeit necessary, is yet another reminder of how the international community continues to deny Palestinians their political rights and, as a result, the opportunity for autonomous decision-making.

In March, Qatar announced it will provide $150 million to help Palestinians thrive during the pandemic. To prevent further possible spread of the virus at distribution centres, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) delivered food supplies to Palestinians in their homes in Gaza.

The measures are a painful reminder of the illegal Israeli blockade imposed upon Gaza, which remains normalised by the international community despite the occasional calls to lift the siege. Furthermore, the constant bombing of Gaza, brought to attention only when Israel decides to embark on a long, wide scale aggression, is another reason why Palestinians remain so dependent upon humanitarian aid for their survival. Israel and the international community have inscribed a script that leaves no room for Palestinian demands above humanitarian aid.

Despite the potentially catastrophic scenario which the virus outbreak can cause, there is little difference in the rhetoric regarding, and supply of, humanitarian aid. The concept of impoverished, deprived Palestinians availing themselves of humanitarian aid prevails. Meanwhile, the overt collaboration between Israel and the international community in maintaining the colonial project at the expense of Palestinian lives is not referenced.

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Humanitarian aid is necessary for Palestinians. However, for the international community, it is also the most widely-used political tool. A commentary published by the European Council on Foreign Relations calling for the EU to assist Gaza in preparing for a possible outbreak, speaks of “deeply dysfunctional dynamics” between Hamas, Fatah and Israel. The constant seeking of euphemisms to avoid a clear mention of Israeli colonialism, the Palestinian Authority’s collaboration with Israel and the ostracising of Hamas as a political entity is what facilitates and sustains humanitarian aid discourse and dissemination in place of delivering political rights.

If the international community was serious in its intentions to allow Palestinian autonomy, it would assert the failure of its “sustainable”-driven agenda. The humanitarian situation in Palestine is unsustainable, regardless of the international community’s contributions, because of Israel’s presence and actions. It is Israel that has confined Palestinians in Gaza, destroyed their infrastructure and now forces them to live the threat and occurrence of a pandemic with meagre supplies and a healthcare system that is always on the verge of collapse due to the illegal blockade and restrictions on movement.

But the international community has a new catchphrase in the “coronavirus pandemic”, which it will use primarily to draw attention to its humanitarian aid diplomacy. What happens to Palestinians in Gaza if an outbreak happens will not garner any more attention than the massacres of “Operation Protective Edge” and the other aggressions deemed newsworthy. At a time of global panic, the scrutiny is on whether Western countries will survive a temporary scenario they were unprepared for. Since 1948, Palestinians have lived preparing for an interminable worst, and the international community has only committed itself to providing food packages in the place of political rights.

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.