Long-term support essential for Palestine Red Crescent in grim humanitarian situationInterview with Younis Al-Khatib, President of the Palestine Red Crescent Society

Published: 12 February 2007 0:00 CET

The Palestinian territories are witnessing their worst humanitarian crisis in years, with the situation exacerbated by mounting internal tensions between Palestinian groups. In this context, the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) is, more than ever, an essential provider of emergency and social services to alleviate widespread human suffering. Its volunteers and staff continue to provide excellent services, in spite of the extraordinarily difficult conditions they are working under.

In order to help avoid the collapse of essential PRCS services, threatened by the financial crisis caused by the international embargo on the Palestinian Authority, the International Federation has revised its 2007 appeal to support the Palestine Red Crescent, to just over 19 million Swiss francs. The aim is to cover the main costs, that is, salaries and essential running costs. Certain PRCS programmes already have some support from other National Societies, and the ICRC is bringing vital support to the emergency medical services (ambulance service).

Representatives from the International Federation, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and donor National Societies recently met in Geneva for an information session on the situation in the Palestinian territories and on the revised appeal.

Younis Al-Khatib, president of the Palestine Red Crescent, stressed the need for long term support, not just for emergency needs.

MFB: What is the principal aim of the 2007 appeal ?

As a result of the embargo, in early 2006, the Palestine Red Crescent was no longer receiving any financing from the authorities. So this appeal is meant to help the Red Crescent continue to provide essential services, in the territories and in the Palestinian refugee camps outside Palestine - in Egypt, Lebanon and Syria.

We must continue to deliver emergency medical services throughout the country – this is a mandate given to the Palestine Red Crescent by the authorities. Our main services, however, are medical and social. For example, we provide primary health care in rural areas, and we meet the needs of the most vulnerable people, mainly disabled and injured. Our priority is to maintain operational our six hospitals in Palestine and nine outside Palestine.

Governments are increasing their budgets for Palestine, but it is more difficult to get budgets for needs outside Palestine. We must address the needs in Lebanon, Syria and Egypt. If our services collapse, governments will need to pay three or four times more to address these needs. It is cheaper to help the inhabitants of the Palestinian camps address their needs, through the Red Crescent.

MFB: How successful was the 2006 appeal – what was achieved ?

The coverage of the 2006 appeal was 84%. In terms of impact, this allowed the Red Crescent to meet its objectives inside Palestine and outside. We were able to maintain our core services – our Emergency Medical Services, which has more than 100 vehicles, as well as 35 health centres, 15 hospitals, plus our rehabilitation, youth and volunteer programmes. We were able to provide services to approximately one million people, direct beneficiaries, through different programmes.

MFB: To what extent has the situation deteriorated, in humanitarian terms ?

There are two issues, one is the general humanitarian situation and the other is the current internal Palestinian strife, which is a new angle to the crisis. Long-term measures such as checkpoints and roadblocks are still hampering the movement of medical staff, medicines and patients on their way to treatment. Ambulances cannot move freely to reach medical structures.

The Palestine Red Crescent has documented over 50 deliveries of babies at checkpoints – Israeli soldiers have prevented pregnant mothers from passing through checkpoints and therefore Red Crescent staff have to deliver the babies. The building of the separation wall has created a humanitarian crisis for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who are living in “closed areas”, like ghettos or Bantustans. More and more communities are being besieged, enclosed by this wall. This is creating tremendous pressures on the population.

In addition to these measures, to military incursions into cities and bombardments on Gaza, what we are witnessing today is an intra-Palestinian conflict. The impact on the population is important, since the fighting is among civilians and even among families. This adds to the stress of severe socio-economic conditions. In Gaza, about 70% of the population is living under the poverty line – this is unprecedented.

The mental impact of the violence and the pressure of occupation on the civilian population is important – the lack of control over their environment, the lack of jobs, the lack of income, are creating very unhealthy social relations within the family and the community in general. This is reflected in more crimes, more thefts just to survive, and an increase in family violence generally. People have lost hope – and this situation can only have disorders as a result. People living in prison can only manifest themselves in violence.

MFB: Do the needs of the population exceed the services PRCS can provide ?


In this crisis, the needs exceed the services. People have lost their income and they expect free services. The Red Crescent is providing, for example, “baby kits” for needy families, which include baby food, diapers, milk formula, and other basic needs that the family cannot afford to buy. Due to the current financial crisis, our core costs need to be secured first, it is difficult to expand in these circumstances. For example, the Red Crescent is running more mobile clinics than before – four in the West Bank and Gaza – and we are also trying to serve communities isolated by the separation wall.

MFB: How are the PRCS staff and volunteers coping ? What is most difficult for them ?


Our volunteers are part of the community, so they are suffering with their families and they are facing what the community is facing. So for them, the burden is twice as heavy – at home and at work. They are stretched to the limit. In one sense, our staff is luckier than government employees because we have secured basic funding for their salaries. The Palestine Red Crescent is providing psychosocial support in general and to our volunteers as well – it is essential.

Our volunteer base is increasing – this year, we have 8,000 volunteers in the West Bank and Gaza. There are several reasons. One is that university students are obliged to volunteer some of their time while they are studying, but there is also a long-time tradition of volunteerism among the Palestinian population.

MFB: You say you have developed new ways of working to address the situation of increased internal violence and tension – what are they ?


The internal violence is an additional burden on the services of the Palestine Red Crescent. The rules of engagement are different between street fighting and an army incursion, so our people must follow security and safety regulations more strictly, especially when they are working in the area in which they live. Being neutral means keeping the same distance from everybody. We are extra careful to preserve the image of the Red Crescent as neutral and to make sure no-one misuses emblem and that there is no misuse of ambulances or equipment.

MFB: Is money enough ?


Humanitarian assistance is not the solution for this situation, there has to be a political solution. There has to be a peace process to give hope to the people - that is the way forward.
Addressing needs here and there to ease the suffering does not stop the violence. It is important we address the long-term needs of the Palestine Red Crescent. This is a long-term disaster. We don’t need temporary solutions, we need a long-term support strategy.