Yes, we are not neutral - we support peace

Oxfam's head answers charges of bias against Israel

By Barbara Stocking, October 8, 2009

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.

Barbara Stocking is the executive director of Oxfam GB

Last updated: 6:04pm, December 10 2009


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