West Bank Travel Restrictions Take Their Toll on International Aid Budgets
The European and American taxpayers supporting the work of international aid and development organizations in the occupied territories are having to pay at least $4.5 million additional expenses a year to overcome Israeli restrictions on free movement, according to a new report released today by the Association of International Development Agencies (AIDA).
The report, which covers over 50 European and American agencies working on the ground in both Gaza and the West Bank, was commissioned in an attempt to estimate just how financially damaging to the organizations the Israeli movement limitations were.
A survey conducted among the organizations in January and February found that a third of the organizations have added a full-time position to deal exclusively with the Israeli authorities which issue travel permits within the West Bank, to and from the Gaza Strip and to Jerusalem.
Ninety-two percent of AIDA members who need permits for West Bank staff to enter Gaza say that they are often denied or put on hold; 79% said they faced difficulties in securing entry permits to East Jerusalem.
Over 73 percent of the organizations say their international teams face difficulties in securing travel permits to Gaza, and almost 25 percent said their request to enter Gaza was declined or held up for a considerable period of time. Very often the permit would arrive after the original reason for the trip was no longer relevant.
A third of all the organizations and nearly half of the organizations with annual budgets exceeding one million dollars reported they are forced to support a parallel office doing the same work in different locations only dozens of miles from each other, as a way to overcome limitations on movement. A similar percentage of the organizations found themselves forced to hire foreign employees, at a higher cost, instead of hiring more suitable Palestinian workers.
The time wasted waiting for permits or standing in line at checkpoints, the extra jobs, the video conference calls and all other means of coping with limits on movement cost at least $4.5 million a year.
AIDA is an umbrella organization of 84 development and aid NGOs, which together employ some 2,000 Palestinians and 320 foreign nationals. AIDA said two-thirds of these organizations wielded budgets of more than a million dollars a year. Most are registered with the Israeli Social Affairs Ministry, some with the Interior Ministry, and many are also registered with the Palestinian Authority.
Most of the organizations within AIDA work with the most disempowered parts of the Palestinian population. In Gaza, these are mostly farmers’ families living in the several hundred meters wide “buffer zone” along the border with Israel, or fishermen’s families who’ve had their fishing field significantly reduced by the Israeli Navy. In the West Bank it’s mainly herdsmen and other communities in Area C, in the areas affected by the separation barrier and in East Jerusalem.
The Coordinator of Government Activities in the territories said the report has not yet been forwarded for its review, while a government source said many of the organizations within AIDA were not recognized by the Social Affairs Ministry, and that the report failed to make detailed complaints of specific cases.