The relationship between international organizations operating in the Gaza Strip and the Hamas government has been marked by tension and distrust. This is especially true, since these organizations have taken the same positions as the West — including the U.S. and Israel — to sever ties with the Hamas government and with any of its affiliated institutions, while at the same time seeking to implement their work in the Gaza Strip.
Political stance par excellence
The blockade on Gaza, the Israeli war and its subsequent crises served as a golden opportunity for international organizations, whether seeking to work in disaster and conflict zones or seeking solidarity with the Palestinian people. Following the Israeli Operation Cast Lead in December 2008, dozens of international organizations and institutions that have not previously worked in Gaza poured into the strip, totaling around 88 international institutions, including Islamic organizations coming from the Gulf, Turkey and Malaysia, alongside Western institutions from Europe and America, besides those that had already been working in the strip.
These international institutions, especially those from the West, have boycotted the Hamas government, which reflects a political stance par excellence. Based on their charters, however, these organizations ought not to take part in any political work.
The Hamas government, however, has imposed itself on the international organizations, forcing them to deal with it, causing severely strained relations with Western institutions.
Position and demands of the Hamas government
In its relationship with the international institutions that opted to boycott the government, the Hamas-led authorities found themselves at a crossroads. The authorities had been keen for these organizations to continue their work, which implied a form of recognition. The Hamas government was also keen to take advantage of the services provided by the organizations, which could help alleviate the impact of the Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip.
In a nutshell, the Hamas-led authorities have been calling upon international institutions to meet the following demands:
1. To register in the public institutions department affiliated with the interior minister.
2. To provide financial and administrative reports.
3. To obtain visas for their employees before they enter the strip, either for work or visitation purposes.
The Hamas government bases its position on the fact that it is a democratically elected power and the governing authority in the Gaza Strip. Therefore, organizing the work of international institutions and providing them with protection are matters falling within the government’s sphere of competence.
From this standpoint, the Hamas government is surprised by the fact that international organizations have refused to coordinate with it, after having cooperated with the Israeli occupation forces despite the fact that the international law opposes the Israeli occupation. The Hamas-led authorities further consolidate their position by stating that all other Western and Eastern governments require institutions working on their territory to be legally registered.
The Hamas government considers these organizations’ refusal to deal with it an insult and feels that it demonstrates a lack of respect toward it as an entity. This rejection on the part of international organizations is seen as unacceptable supremacy and unethical exploitation of the Palestinians’ suffering resulting from the blockade and war.
The position of international institutions
International institutions are well aware of the risks their cooperation with the Hamas government entails. Such risks translate into the interruption of funding and exposing their employees to legal accountability by their respective governments.
Thus, these international institutions are in a major predicament. On the one hand, they are in dire need of the funds from Western governments to continue their services and maintain their presence, but on the other they also have to reconcile the political context in which they work with the needs of society at large.
International institutions explained their refusal to cooperate with the Hamas government in spite of the significant contributions they offer to the Palestinian people, suffering from major humanitarian crises because of the blockade that has been imposed since June 2007. Under this pressure, different reactions have been provoked among the organizations. While some institutions took the decision to end work in the Gaza Strip and withdraw for fear of reprisal in the event of violating international requirements, others sought to stand on middle ground, resorting to independent auditors to communicate on their behalf with the Hamas government.
With the passage of time and given their co-dependent relationship, the tension between the Hamas government and the international organizations has been diffused, after the latter agreed to register with the authorities and submit regular financial reports regarding their work in the strip.
Nevertheless, many international organizations, especially Western ones, continue to reject any cooperation with institutions affiliated with the Hamas government or movement. They also continue to refuse to provide services to individuals who are believed to be loyal to Hamas and other organizations designated as terrorist groups.
Position of the Palestinian community
Notwithstanding the importance of the international institutions’ work in the Palestinian territories, their activities raised a few questions. Some Palestinians believe that carrying out infrastructure projects during the Israeli occupation has alleviated the responsibility of Israel, which used to impose high taxes. Thus, they believe that Israel ought to return these funds to the Palestinian society through infrastructure projects, as stipulated in the Geneva Convention, which obliges the occupying power to provide care for citizens living under its authority.
Some Palestinians may understand the reasons behind international organizations’ refusals to work with the Hamas government due to political requirements. Nevertheless, they fail to comprehend the discrimination on the part of these institutions between two poor people of different political affiliations. Others believe that the refusal of international organizations to be legally monitored has paved the way for financial and administrative corruption.
Many factions of Palestinian society are outraged by the behavior of many international institutions and their employees, both foreigners and locals, who treat target groups with a sense of superiority and conceit. This behavior is in direct conflict with the principles of humanitarian work. This is not to mention the employees’ high salaries and living standards, which set them apart from the majority of the Palestinian community. Moreover, people who wish to visit these organizations are subjected to strict security measures and oftentimes degrading searches, a behavior strongly reminiscent of security institutions rather than charity organizations.
Some Palestinians question the procedures applied by the Hamas government, as they can be selective and are sometimes not applied to international, Arab and Islamic institutions, or those associated with the Hamas government. Dozens of solidarity delegations visiting Gaza are not required to abide by these procedures, bringing in kind assistance, whose quantity and methods of distribution remain undisclosed.
Palestinian society values the importance of the role of these institutions in alleviating human suffering, as the situation would have been catastrophic without their contribution. Palestinians, however, fail to understand the reasons that prevent these institutions from cooperating and collaborating with the Hamas government in a way to further support their work in aiding those in need, without discrimination.