Gaza Aid Prevented by U.S.
By Pål Hellesnes, Translated By Lars Erik Schou
Edited by Patricia Simoni
31st March 2009
The United States (U.S.) Patriot Act is preventing Save The Children Norway from rebuilding schools in Gaza. The organization is in despair.
"We are allowed to distribute emergency rations, such as food and water, but systematic relief efforts and rebuilding is blocked", according to Bjørn Lindgren, Save The Children's regional director for Europe and the Middle East, in a Klassekampen interview. "It is a terrible policy that keeps us from helping children."
After Israel's war on Gaza in January, much of the infrastructure is in ruins. Schools, hospitals, roads, and different public offices were bombed. Three hundred thousand people have no water, and UNICEF estimates that 8,000 children are badly malnourished.
But Save The Children and other aid organizations are being prevented from rebuilding by U.S. legislation. According to the Patriot Act, support to build schools or clinics in Gaza is "supporting terrorism".
The core of the problem is that Hamas is on the American list of terrorist organizations. According to U.S. anti-terrorist legislation, it is a criminal act to conduct transactions with individuals and organizations associated with terrorism or with those who support these organizations. Hamas controls of the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health in Gaza. Teachers, doctors and others who are working with these ministries are, thus, seen to be associated with Hamas.
A note from Save The Children USA points out that the law makes it illegal to deliver medical equipment to hospitals run by the Ministry of Health, to teach or pay teachers employed by schools run by the Ministry of Education, or to give materials or support to rebuild public buildings, including sidewalks.
Save The Children Norway is part of the International Save The Children Alliance. Their work is being directly prevented by American legislation. Save The Children has been active in aid work on the Gaza strip since 1973.
Lindgren is in despair over the stoppage of their good work. "The Save The Children Alliance has protested in the strongest possible way. This policy has led to a unification within our movement to stand firmer on humanitarian principles", he says.
"We do not take into account what regime is in power where we work; we are there to help children. Save The Children was started after World War I, and put a lot of effort into helping German children as well, 'the children of the enemy'. It is this principle that is on the line."
Save The Children sent a request to the U.S. special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, in which they asked OFAC, the office administering economic sanctions in the US, to make an exception for Gaza, so that NGOs can give relief aid and services to families and children struggling to survive in the aftermath of the conflict. So far they have spoken to deaf ears.
Among the hospitals affected by the American legislation is Shifa, where Norwegian doctors, Mads Gilbert and Erik Fosse, worked during the war. Shifa Hospital is run by the Palestinian Ministry of Health, controlled by Hamas.
"It is a completely unacceptable extension of the collective punishment of the Palestinian civilian population that is impacting all segments of the ruined civil society in Gaza", Mads Gilbert said to Klassekampen.
The U.S. Consul General to the Palestinian Areas threatens individual criminal prosecution if aid workers cooperate with Palestinian teachers employed in public schools, because Hamas is in charge of education. Shifa Hospital was denied supplies, because the Ministry of Health was led by Hamas.
"Regardless of what we think about politics, the humanitarian effort in Gaza must be free so that health care facilities and schools can be rebuilt", Gilbert says.
Save The Children has raised the issue with the Norwegian government, as recently as the International Relief Conference. Gilbert is hoping the government can stand up to the U.S. on this issue.
"Where is the voice of the Norwegian government? Where is the voice of Jonas Gahr Støre?", he asks.