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For some years now the craftsmen of peace have been working to bring about Arab-Israeli reconciliation. Diplomats would no doubt say that steps have been taken in the right direction. Nobody knows what the future holds in store, but there will surely be many more obstacles on the road to a lasting harmony in the region. Still, hope must prevail.

Although people are now geared up for peace, this has not always been the case. Apart from the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty of 1979, the situation was deadlocked for 26 long years which were marked by a succession of deadly regional conflicts. Since 1967, the people in the occupied territories have known a desperate status quo that engendered both resignation and revolt, most notably in the form of the intifada. So, for years any prospect of peaceful relations between Israelis and Palestinians seemed impossible.

Amid these tensions, the ICRC has patiently worked to restore some measure of confidence between occupiers and occupied by trying to ensure compliance with the Fourth Geneva Convention. As long as people’s dignity is threatened, all hope of peace is in vain. If, on the other hand, the rules of international humanitarian law in the event of occupation are applied, they attest to the occupier’s resolve to respect the occupied population. Among other things, these laws forbid the destruction of property and the expulsion of the inhabitants of the occupied territories. They also specify that detainees must be treated humanely and be allowed to receive visits from their families.

For almost 30 years, the ICRC has worked to enhance respect for these international norms and has systematically reported violations of them. It has kept constant and close contact with the leadership of both sides. It is convinced that these painstaking efforts have helped preserve a glimmer of hope and have paved the way for peace initiatives.

The signing of the Oslo Declaration two years ago marked a turning point in the region, and the Movement now has to adapt to this new political reality. With support from the Federation, the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) is working towards greater unity and efficiency and, for their part, participating National Societies are helping the PRCS to develop rehabilitation programmes, especially in the medical field.

The Movement’s current experience in Israel, the occupied and the autonomous territories can be seen as a test of our ability to work together effectively and creatively. If we succeed, we will have demonstrated concretely the precious complementarity of the Movement’s components and, in so doing, we will have proven our capacity to bring people closer together in the name of our principle of humanity.

Paul Grossrieder
Deputy Director of Operations,
International Committee of the Red Cross

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