Joe Donnelly
Permanent Delegate to the United Nations
Caritas Jerusalem
January 26, 2009

One word which makes extraordinary difference for everyone's life in Gaza, as well as everyone outside Gaza seeking to provide normal, as well as heightened, emergency assistance to the 1.5 million Palestinian people surviving that extraordinarily densely populated sliver of land on the Mediterranean coast, adjacent to Israel at the Eretz border crossing.

That's the story. That's the basic fact. That's why international headlines had been reading, some screaming in the first weeks of this month. Without "ACCESS," there is little the local or international community can do to breathe basic life back into an oppressed community. Simple things can and will save lives. Sadly -not so simple.

These are the straightforward challenges and facts from the ground. Government authorities within several sections/ministries of Israel must clear the way, must respond and coordinate with international humanitarian actors along with the UN and International Red Cross - especially during a siege or stare of war, as described by Geneva Conventions. Again, facts of the matter, but not so simple.

ACCESS is the dominant operational issue with myriad management and logistical challenges amidst an uncertain, unpredictable and changing environment, charged with political implications from every action or non-action. While rules and regulations have procedures and mechanisms to manage access/requests, individual human beings working with bureaucratic structures have pivotal roles to play. Some help facilitate with sincerity. Some are slow-down-the-process people for all kinds of styles, reasons, attitudes.

No local Jerusalem staff have access to Gaza, not Israeli or Palestinian staff. This prerequisite condition has been in place a long time, inside and outside big crises. International NGO reps have been blocked from Gaza since the last Quarter of 2008.

Numerous INGO executives/boards 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. Permission being the parallel reality to access/requests is a constant urgent word in humanitarian vocabulary. "Are you on the list?" "Do you have a permission?" "When is it good for?"

Times change - and we change with them, whether we like it or not. Whatever urgent humanitarian instincts or programs are developed, they seem to pass through the "eye of the needle" which is difficult in the best of times never mind during a state of war. This is how it goes. This is how both local and international NGOs spend valuable time, planning, processing, strategic links for next steps - to reach those in need, to organize supplies, medicines, blankets, building materials and urgent cash assistance. This is how Jerusalem-based staff initiate dialogue/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 - in all kinds of official, informal, hopeful ways through every resource and system. Naturally, there's not much time or practical purpose to keep talking about it, except to weekly/monthly confirm the state of impediments as they are, or are not. Indeed, it's amazing precisely how difficult it gets to be. Lack of access reverberates in every direction - from donors/supporters, journalists/scholars, from staff to people in need, from hospitals to truck drivers, from EU to the UN, from people of all faiths to organizations from countries around the world. Thus - it's a huge matter, rarely resolved comprehensively, but constantly in process. Pressing every objective indicator there evolves mixed messages which often result in subjective dispositions - Why me? Why us? Why them? Why her? Why not us?

During the last week when UN Secretary General and his Emergency Coordinator were in Israel, shuttling between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, as well in the Occupied Palestinian Territories in Gaza, Ramallah and East Jerusalem, ACCESS was their highest priority as they advocated amidst the cease fire. They demanded all hostilities remain ceased so that humanitarian access opened 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 are useless, and even dangerous, if not activated with a sense of human urgency. Few seems to understand, even sometimes to accept, 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 broad-based responsible ACCESS is not honored.

In Gaza many 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. Every useful ACCESS can challenge another. Every story has another story as to how, where, why, who and always with what supplies, which experts and what permissions. And - for how long is that ACCESS guaranteed?

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. Clamoring attentions can also distract best purposes when listening is incomplete, when dialogue is rushed, when priorities compete. We all see these dynamics too.

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 - in materials, persons, reports, images and commitments. There is absolutely no other way to authentically respond in the tragic midst of a crisis in dignity, searching for peace, security with equal rights and justice for all people.

Israel-Palestine Timeline

Israel-Palestine Timeline: The human cost of the conflict records photos and information for each person who has been killed in the ongoing violence.

History of the Israel Lobby

Alison Weir's book Against Our Better Judgement: How the U.S. was used to create Israel brings together meticulously sourced evidence to outline the largely unknown history of U.S.-Israel relations.

Buy it on Amazon, and visit the book website for reviews, more ordering options, and upcoming author events.

Information largely missing from U.S. news reports. Read the Blog

The History of Terrorism
Videos & Multimedia

British TV Documentary – Dispatches: The Killing Zone

VIDEO: Palestinians Document Settler Violence

VIDEO: West Bank attack filmed

Video – Gaza: A humanitarian implosion

Video: Old Palestinian Man Describes Being Shot

Video – The Easiest Targets: The Israeli Policy of Strip Searching Women and Children

Audio Interview – Psychology of Suicide Bombings

Video – Soldiers Explode a Portion of a Palestinian Home, Killing the Mother

Video – Soldiers Force a Palestinian to Play Violin at Roadblock

Related Articles

Palestinian human rights NGOs condemn Beit Hanoun Massacre; call for international investigation

Shooting and Hitting

An Old Refrain that Stabs at the Heart

One Year After the Shooting of Brian Avery

Someone Even Managed to Defecate Into the Photocopier

More Articles on Invasions

Israel 'using food and medicines as weapons'

Nobel Peace Laureate: Hope as Palestinians Use Nonviolence in their Struggle for Human Rights and Freedom

Israeli Strip Searches: A Partial List

68 women gave birth on checkpoints, 34 infants and 4 women died

Americans Tortured in Israeli Jails

More on Collective Punishment/Terrorism

Additional Resources

Documentary – Jenin Jenin

Amnesty International – Shielded From Scrutiny: IDF Violations in Jenin and Nablus

Report – The Jenin Inquiry

The Gaza Strip: A humanitarian implosion

Back to a Routine of Torture – Torture and Ill-treatment of Palestinian Detainees during Arrest, Detention and Interrogation – September 2001 - April 2003

Amnesty International – Israeli Settlers Wage Campaign of Intimidation

Booklet – ‘No Exit’

Amnesty International – Under the Rubble


Public Committee Against Torture in Israel

Stay Informed

Sign up for our mailing list and receive an email whenever we post a new article on our news site, Israel-Palestine News.

If Americans Knew distributes and posts to our website copyrighted material, sometimes without the permission of the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of the Israel/Palestine conflict. We believe this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law since it is being distributed without profit for purely educational purposes. For more information go to: If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

This website is printer-friendly. Please Print this article and share it with your friends and family.