Cease fire, not aid

Some countries are cutting financial support to the very local organizations that are best positioned to respond to Gaza’s humanitarian crisis.

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SOURCEWaging Nonviolence
Image Credit: MAHMUD HAMS/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Almost a month has passed since the Hamas militant group launched a deadly attack on Israel, killing 1,400 people and taking over 230 innocent civilian hostages. In retaliation Israel declared war on Gaza, implemented a siege, cut the civilian population off from basic necessities — such as food, water, fuel and electricity — and launched ongoing ground and air offensives.

The U.N. estimates that over half of Gaza’s inhabitants have become homeless. The death toll has surpassed 10,000; at least 4,000 of those are children. That is more conflict-related child deaths than the annual number of children killed in all of the world’s conflict zones since 2019 according to Save the Children.  

To call this a humanitarian catastrophe is an understatement. 

While humanitarian aid remains committed, and in some cases increased by donor countries, several European governments are re-thinking their financial aid to human rights and civil society organizations in the region.

On Oct. 10, Sweden and Denmark announced they would suspend financial support indefinitely to organizations in Palestinian territories, citing a need to conduct thorough reviews to ensure no funds are given to organizations that do not unequivocally condemn militant groups. The European Commission also announced that it is reviewing its development assistance to Palestinian organizations. On Oct. 25, Switzerland was the latest country to suspend its financial support to six Palestinian and five Israeli human rights organizations, while it carries out an in-depth analysis of whether the organizations’ communications are in compliance with the Department of Foreign Affairs’ Code of Conduct and anti-discrimination principles. Prior to the current war, these well-respected organizations were long-standing, funded partners of these same donors and organizations like the Nobel Women’s Initiative, where I work.

National and local civil society organizations play a crucial role peacebuilding and supporting democracy in the region. Donors recognize this. There has been a welcome trend in Western donor communities to bypass international organizations, and instead fund local organizations directly — precisely because they are best positioned to identify and respond to the most pressing needs of civilians, including marginalized groups.

Increasing aid to humanitarian organizations, while cutting it to local civil society goes directly against the trend. For example, the EU announced an additional $26 million in humanitarian aid for Gaza, delivered via UNICEF and other international organizations. Germany announced an additional $53 million to Palestinian territories through the World Food Programme, UNICEF and UNWRA.  

During conflict a functioning civil society is critical — human rights violations escalate, as does misinformation, and those who are most vulnerable suffer the harshest consequences. Human rights and civil society organizations, regardless of their mandate, pivot to provide psychosocial support, shelter and services for victims of violence, and facilitate access to limited humanitarian aid. Equally important, local civil society organizations, also witness and document violations of human rights and international law, thus ensuring that, eventually, justice and accountability can be sought, and a truthful historical record created.

Few organizations in Palestine are willing to publicly raise concerns about the suspension of their funding for fear of jeopardizing relationships and losing even more support, now or in the future. But the implications of such cuts are devastating. In Gaza and the West Bank, transferring and receiving funds in the best of times is challenging, yet these organizations rely on this funding to plan their activities, staffing and programming. Sudden cuts to already committed funds, especially in times of crisis, can result in paralysis, loss of staff, a further reduction in services and potentially increased loss of lives.  

As this crisis persists with no end in sight, the work of civil society is life-saving. These organizations have local expertise living the humanitarian catastrophe, seeing first-hand what is needed and responding to it under unbearable conditions. For years, international donors and agencies have championed localization. This is the time to put their money where their mouth is. They should be putting their efforts into negotiating a cease fire, not ceasing aid.

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