Yes, we are not neu­tral — we sup­port peace

Ox­fam’s head an­swers charges of bias against Is­rael

The Jewish Chronicle - - Comment&analysis - BAR­BARA STOCK­ING

IN RE­CENT months, a dis­tress­ing rift ap­pears to have emerged be­tween the Jewish com­mu­nity’s per­cep­tion of Ox­fam’s mis­sion in Is­rael-Pales­tine and the re­al­ity of that mis­sion. This has be­come ev­i­dent to me in the course of meet­ings with lead­ing mem­bers of the Jewish com­mu­nity in the UK, from con­cerns ex­pressed by Jewish Ox­fam staff over how our work in the Mid­dle East is char­ac­terised, and most re­cently, from read­ing Dan Kosky’s piece in the JC on Septem­ber 11, which grossly mis­rep­re­sented Ox­fam’s man­date in Is­rael and Pales­tine.

The world over, Ox­fam strives to help civil­ians suf­fer­ing as a re­sult of nat­u­ral dis­as­ters, cli­mate change, con­flict, in­jus­tice and poverty. Our hands-on work in Is­rael and Pales­tine has in­cluded sup­port­ing olive farm­ers in the West Bank who strug­gle to make a liv­ing. In the past, we have sup­ported mi­cro-fi­nance projects for marginalised Ethiopian im­mi­grants.

In Sderot, we work with Is­raeli groups that ed­u­cate res­i­dents about their own ba­sic rights, as well as those of their neigh­bours in Gaza. And we con­tinue to pro­vide Gazans with aid such as food and clean wa­ter, which many fam­i­lies rely on as a re­sult of liv­ing un­der block­ade for more than two years now. While Ox­fam is im­par­tial, we do not claim to be po­lit­i­cally neu­tral. We sup­port a two-state so­lu­tion that would bring peace and pros­per­ity to both Pales­tini­ans and Is­raelis. But de­vel­op­ment is a deeply po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­ity and is not just about pro­vid­ing aid. It is about those that hold power over oth­ers ex­er­cis­ing that power with fair­ness and re­spon­si­bil­ity. Our pol­i­tics is there­fore about help­ing those civil­ians who are most in need, what­ever their race, creed, re­li­gion, eth­nic­ity or na­tion­al­ity.

We ad­vo­cate poli­cies that en­able or­di­nary peo­ple who are suf­fer­ing the most on a daily ba­sis — and in this case the ma­jor­ity of those peo­ple are Pales­tinian civil­ians — to pur­sue bet­ter lives. In Is­rael, we work side-by-side with a num­ber of hu­man-rights or­gan­i­sa­tions to­wards that goal, Is­raeli groups cur­rently fac­ing a wor­ry­ing clam­p­down from their own gov­ern­ment.

Through our work in the West Bank, we have seen the im­pact of the set­tle­ments on the daily lives of in­di­vid­u­als — the dis­abled woman who had to leave her wheel­chair be­hind and be car­ried by her son through a check­point; age­ing fathers who can­not rely on the help of their sons to har­vest their olive trees be­cause the sons were de­nied per­mits to cross the se­cu­rity bar­rier; or­chards de­stroyed. And as re­cent head­lines have sug­gested, it does seem to us that the set­tle­ments are dam­ag­ing prospects for peace and pros­per­ity for both peo­ples.

I re­cently met a Gazan staff mem­ber of Ox­fam who had just been al­lowed out, one of the lucky few, to study in the UK on schol­ar­ship. He is a young fa­ther of two chil­dren left trau­ma­tised by Op­er­a­tion Cast Lead and he lost friends dur­ing the bom­bard­ment. There are thou­sands of peace-loving peo­ple in Gaza like him. Many have lost their liveli­hood and most have been de­nied their ba­sic hu­man dig­nity. This is not only wrong from a purely moral stand­point.

The res­i­dents of Gaza have found ways to cope with ad­ver­sity. But in the long run the block­ade will con­tinue to harm Pales­tinian — and Is­raeli — civil­ians .

So Dan Kosky was cor­rect to say Ox­fam is not neu­tral. We do not sup­port vi­o­lence against civil­ians be they Is­raeli or Pales­tinian — or Dar­furi, Con­golese or Colom­bian. We rally against poli­cies that pre­vent peo­ple from pur­su­ing pro­duc­tive lives. We ad­mon­ish an­tisemitism — which led to the great­est crime against civil­ians in hu­man his­tory — wher­ever it still ex­ists in the world. And we sup­port a peace­ful so­lu­tion that will ben­e­fit all cit­i­zens of Is­rael and Pales­tine .

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