Joseph Cornelius Donnelly, Caritas Internationalis’ representative in Jerusalem
Access is one word which makes an extraordinary difference for everyone’s life in Gaza.
It also impacts on those outside Gaza seeking to provide emergency assistance to the 1.5 million Palestinian people packed into that densely populated sliver of land that is the Gaza Strip.
“Access” sprang from the international headlines in the first weeks of this month. Without access there is little the local or international community can do to breath basic life back into an oppressed community. Simple things such as access can and will save lives.
Israeli authorities must clear the way, must respond and coordinate with international humanitarian actors. This is all the more urgent during a siege or state of war, as described by Geneva Conventions.
Aceess is the dominant operational issue and it brings myriad management and logistical challenges amidst an uncertain, unpredictable and changing environment which is charged with political implications from every action or non-action.
Those working in bureaucratic structures have a pivotal role to play. Some help facilitate with sincerity. Others slow the process down.
No local Caritas staff based at the Jerusalem office have access to Gaza. This prerequisite condition has been in place a long time.
International NGOs have been blocked from Gaza since the last quarter of 2008. Numerous INGO executives have not been able to visit Gaza without exceptional assistance and favors granted by respectful Israeli representatives who have adequate access themselves to high-levels of authorization.
Local and international NGOs spend valuable time, planning and processing strategic links for the next steps in order to reach those in need and to organize supplies, medicines, blankets, building materials and urgent cash assistance. This is how Jerusalem-based staff initiate meetings with Gaza staff and local partners throughout the Gaza Strip.
Caritas Jerusalem, like every other voluntary organization, addresses the access urgency all day, every day. Lack of access reverberates in every direction – from donors to supporters, journalists to scholars, from staff to people in need, from hospitals to truck drivers, from the EU to the UN, from people of all faiths to organizations from countries around the world.
Access was the highest priority last week when the UN Secretary General and his Emergency Coordinator were in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories advocating amidst the ceasefire.
They demanded all hostilities remained ceased so that there was humanitarian access to every crossing, permitting professional assessments immediately while efforts to restore life and safety swelled.
No one, except those suffering themselves in any conflict, can automatically know precisely what to do. Humanitarian systems are in place the world over. They make a difference, but they are useless, and even dangerous, if not activated with a sense of human urgency.
Few people seem to understand the complexities while bantering over procedures which can translate into political will.
While the media outlets can talk, highlight, even exaggerate, none of this really helps if the commitment to a broad-based responsible access is not honored.
In Gaza many of those able to assist had access not from Israeli borders, or Jordanian borders, but rather from Egypt in the south. It works, but it has conditions and complexities.
Determination to get into Gaza remains Caritas’ highest priority to make a helpful human difference in the lives of the Palestinian communities throughout Gaza. Such determination is matched by daily rounds of frustration, even exasperation when an “almost” access evaporates – for a driver, a truck, an expert, a humanitarian worker.
International solidarity restores hope, confidence and the necessary will to persevere. But clamoring attentions can also distract best purposes when listening is incomplete and when dialogue is rushed.
In the end, access actually transforms the crisis “moment” we share from near and far. Together there will always remain the shared need and shared responsibility to pursue every level of access – regarding materials, persons, reports, images and commitments.
There is absolutely no other way to authentically respond in the tragic midst of a crisis where people are searching for peace and security with equal rights and justice for everyone.