More than two weeks into Israel's current military assault (Operation 'Defensive Wall') on Palestinian cities, towns and refugee camps, the international community is beginning to assess the devastation caused by Israel's widespread destruction of the civilian infrastructure in the 1967 occupied Palestinian territories.
International humanitarian agencies have characterized the situation across the West Bank as a humanitarian catastrophe. Visiting Jenin refugee camp, where rescue workers are still pulling out survivors and combing the rubble to retrieve bodies, UN special envoy Terje Roed-Larsen described the devastation as "horrific beyond belief." While the US remains silent about Israel's massive violation of fundamental human rights and humanitarian norms, including war crimes, the EU has at least called upon Israel to accept a UN probe into the atrocities at the camp or face "colossal damage" to its reputation.
No one knows yet what the price tag will be for repairing the catastrophic damage inflicted by Israel since the end of March 2002. International aid agencies, donors and Palestinians are still unable to access many areas to carry out an accurate damage assessment. World Bank officials, however, estimate that total damage assessment to
Palestinian infrastructure will more than double to US $600 million. It is impossible to put a price tag on the loss of life, estimated at well over 400 persons, trauma and long-term psychological damage caused by the brutal military assault.
Impact on Refugees
Particularly hard hit, once again, by Israel's mass violation of fundamental human rights and humanitarian norms are Palestinian refugees who comprise over 50 percent of the population of the 1967 occupied Palestinian territories. Israel's previous military assault on Palestinian refugee camps in early March (Operation 'The Colors Journey') had already left over 2,000 refugee shelters damaged or completely destroyed as well as widespread
damage to basic infrastructure in the camps, including schools, clinics, and water and electricity supplies.
By mid-March, the cost of repairing the damage to refugee housing had already eaten up half of UNRWA's emergency budget for shelter repair for all of 2002. The cost of repairing damage and rebuilding shelters will likely exceed the remaining emergency allocations for shelter rehabilitation. It is estimated that Israel's military forces bulldozed at least one-third of Jenin refugee camp and the rest of the camp is heavily damaged from heavy machine gun fire, missiles launched from US-made Apache helicopters, and tank shells. Damage is also heavy in other northern West Bank camps. The provision of emergency food and medical aid to refugees and what will likely be a dramatic rise in special hardship cases, due to the death or injury of breadwinners and rising unemployment and poverty rates, will place further strain on UNRWA's limited resources.
While the Agency has yet to assess the total financial impact of Israel's military assault on regular and emergency programs it appears likely that neither the regular budget for recurrent costs (i.e., education, health, social services) for 2002 (US $330 million) -which already represented a decline in relative terms when inflation and the rapidly growing refugee population are taken into account - or the Agency's emergency budget (US $117 million) for 2002 will be sufficient to cover the basic humanitarian needs of the refugee community.
Paying for Impunity
As donor countries gear up for an emergency aid conference in Oslo, Norway (24-25 April) it has become glaringly apparent that in the absence of effective international intervention to ensure respect for fundamental human rights and humanitarian norms in the 1967 occupied Palestinian territories, foreign aid to Israel (economic and military) combined with the willingness of the international community to pay for damage and destruction created by Israel
engenders a climate of impunity and enables Israel to continue its violations of international law.
Humanitarian assistance has become a palliative for effective international intervention to uphold fundamental human rights and humanitarian norms rendering the international community complicit in Israel's violation of international law. In the absence of effective international intervention, international aid becomes synonymous with purchasing a right for Israel to continue the pervasive and systematic violation of international law in the occupied territories - i.e., paying for immunity. Under international law a state cannot 'purchase', through compensation, the right to continue injurious actions.*
The same legal principle holds true for the international community's lack of effective intervention to uphold the rights of Palestinian refugees - i.e., right to return, right to real property restitution, and right to compensation
for losses and damages. Moreover, it may be argued that because rendering a person a refugee violates all of the articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the act of generating refugees might qualify as an
'international crime', on par with slavery, genocide and apartheid.* How much more so when nearly 75 percent of an entire people have been displaced or made refugees either inside or outside their historic homeland.
Since UNRWA began operations in 1950, the international community has shelled out more than US $6.5 billion to provide humanitarian assistance to refugees. US contributions amount to more than one-third of this total but pale in comparison to total US aid to Israel during the same period estimated at US $82 billion. The United States and other major donor states are complicit to the violation of refugees' fundamental human rights on at least two levels: (1) provision of much need humanitarian assistance in the absence of effective intervention to uphold and protect refugee rights in effect purchases the right of Israel to continue violating those rights; and, (2) provision of economic and military aid enables Israel to continue policies including denial of the right of return and ongoing displacement and dispossession. PERKRAUSTYMO PASLAUGOS VILNIUJE IR VISOJE LIETUVOJE: Saugus krovinys
Recommendations for Action
The balance sheet suggests that major donors and other members of the international community believe that maintaining economic and trade relations with Israel, paying for humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees, and picking up the costs of Israel's military campaigns in the 1967 occupied Palestinian territories, is more cost efficient than upholding fundamental human rights and humanitarian norms including the rights of Palestinian refugees.
After more than 18 months of Israel's military campaign to crush Palestinian resistance to Israel's illegal military occupation, denial of the right to self-determination and rejection of refugee rights, international agencies, including UNRWA, are in dire need of emergency resources to provide for immediate shelter, food, and medical needs across the occupied territories. Donor states should provide immediate financial and in-kind assistance to meet those needs. At the same time, however, donor states must take immediate and effective action to deploy international protection forces, establish an international mechanism to investigate violations of international law and prosecute those responsible, and suspend all economic and military ties until Israel comes into full compliance with international law.
Individuals are encouraged to lobby their government representatives for the following:
(1) immediate provision of emergency humanitarian aid coupled with;
(2) immediate changes in foreign policy that place international law and the protection of basic rights at the center of their government's foreign policy; and,
(3) immediate intervention to uphold basic rights set forth in international law.
Individuals are also encouraged to join the campaign to boycott Israel until it comes into full compliance with international law (For resources and links see,
Persons wishing to make financial contributions to UNRWA's emergency aid program may do so online directly at: UNRWA, www.unrwa.org; or through the Al-Awda website in the United States: http://al-awda.org.
*Luke T. Lee, "The Right to Compensation: Refugees and Countries of Asylum," 80 AJIL 3 (1986).