Gaza Crisis: Open letter to Julie Bishop

Photo: Iyad al Baba/Oxfam

On 20 August 2014, twelve of Australia’s biggest international humanitarian and development agencies wrote to Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, calling on the Australian Government to urgently push for a permanent ceasefire in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel, and unhindered access for humanitarian assistance for civilians in Gaza.

Dear Minister

RE: Durable solutions to the crisis in Gaza

As Australian non-government organisations, we write to request the Australian Government’s ongoing support to humanitarian, reconstruction and recovery efforts in Gaza, and to intensified diplomacy to reach a just and lasting agreement that ensures peace, security and prosperity for both Israelis and Palestinians. This letter follows our previous correspondence with your office on 30 July expressing deep concern over the impact of the current conflict in Gaza on Palestinian civilians, and specifically women and children, an issue which has been raised by Australia’s Ambassador for Women and Girls.

We welcome the Australian Government’s recent announcements of $15 million in urgent humanitarian assistance to Gaza, as well as your statements calling for a permanent ceasefire, expressing deep concern at the loss of civilian life, and supporting a full investigation into possible violations of international humanitarian law.

The ongoing violence in Gaza and southern Israel has deepened already immense needs caused by a cycle of conflicts and the crippling seven year blockade of Gaza. Housing, water and sanitation, and electricity infrastructure, already operating well below capacity before the crisis, have been further devastated – with half of Gaza’s population left with extremely limited or no access to running water, and over 100,000 people made homeless. Hundreds of thousands of people in Gaza remain displaced and are in need of immediate assistance.

Our organisations express our deep regret that the temporary ceasefire in Gaza has been broken. The unsustainable status quo of repeated military escalations and poverty in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) needs to end.

Now, more than ever, increased international efforts are needed to push for a durable political agreement that addresses structural impediments to a viable two-state solution, and sets out a path to economic growth, sustainable development and lasting peace in the OPT. We therefore urge the Australian Government take urgent action to:

a) Press all sides to refrain from violence and hold them accountable to their obligations to protect Palestinian and Israeli civilians from military operations and rocket attacks, in accordance with international law. We urge Australia to call for an international commitment to curb the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, which have by far been the leading cause of deaths and injuries to civilians during this conflict.

b) Push for improved access to Gaza, including through the UN Security Council, for the delivery of humanitarian and reconstruction materials. Continued delays at border crossings are complicating delivery of humanitarian aid and prioritisation of cargo. There is an urgent need to ease restrictions on the movement of goods and people, and to secure guarantees on the immediate entry of adequate aid and reconstruction materials, in order to ensure a humanitarian response to scale, and timely reconstruction efforts.

c) Provide Australia’s fair-share of funding to Gaza’s reconstruction. Total damage to basic infrastructure in Gaza to date has been estimated by the Palestinian deputy Prime Minister at US$6 billion. Australia should make preparations to support Gaza’s reconstruction plan once a more permanent ceasefire has been reached and provide its fair share of funding to this effort, based on Australia’s Gross National Income relative to other high-income donor countries. However, it should also make clear to all parties that the unsustainable cycle of destruction and rebuilding cannot continue. Donors must call on all parties to guarantee that funds will be used appropriately and infrastructure will not continue to be destroyed in repeated conflicts.

d) Lift the blockade of Gaza as a critical first step towards a durable peace in Israel and the OPT. Demanding an end to the blockade of Gaza, the physical manifestation of the policy of separation between the West Bank and Gaza, is vital to a viable two-state solution. Workable alternative approaches which address Israel’s security concerns, but do not continue to exacerbate poverty and restricting economic growth among the Palestinian civilian population, must be adopted as a priority.

e) Ensure the full and equal involvement of Palestinian and Israeli women in the resolution of the conflict. Australia’s humanitarian assistance should also have a strong gender focus, including providing urgent access to reproductive health services, and services addressing gender-based violence and psychosocial needs for women and girls affected by the conflict. This is in line with Australia’s strong and welcome support for United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325.

A viable two-state solution requires the re-integration of Palestinian politics and economy. To this end Australia should support efforts to rapidly move to Palestinian elections and hold the post-election democratic government as a whole – not individual parties – accountable to the current Quartet principles of renunciation of violence, acceptance of previous agreements signed by the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, and recognition of the State of Israel.

Now is the time to break the cycle of insecurity and violence in Israel and the OPT, and for the international community to demand a new approach. We look to the Australian Government to take a strong stance to find a durable and peaceful solution to this ongoing crisis.

Yours sincerely,
The undersigned organisations

Act for Peace
ActionAid Australia
Anglican Overseas Aid
Australia Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN)
Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA
Islamic Relief
Oxfam Australia
Save the Children
World Vision Australia

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