On November 14, 2023, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued an important guidance document to ensure the provision of humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people in Gaza, while also maintaining strict controls to prevent funds from reaching Hamas. OFAC clarified that “U.S. sanctions do not stand in the way of legitimate humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people.” This delicate balance is critical to support those in need without compromising the fight against terrorism. The guidance highlights the following:
- Transactions with Blocked Persons: U.S. persons are generally prohibited from dealing with entities sanctioned under the Global Terrorism Sanctions Regulations (GTSR) or the Foreign Terrorist Organization Sanctions Regulations (FTOSR), which include groups like Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). However, neither Gaza nor the West Bank are subject to jurisdiction-based sanctions or an embargo by OFAC.
- NGO Activities: The “NGO general licenses” permit transactions typically prohibited by the GTSR and FTOSR, when such transactions are ordinarily incident and necessary to certain non-commercial, humanitarian activities by non-governmental organizations (NGOs). U.S. financial institutions may process transactions for humanitarian assistance, provided they have no knowledge or reason to believe such transactions are not authorized under the “NGO general licenses.”
- Agricultural and Medical Aid: The U.S. does not enforce jurisdiction-based sanctions on Gaza or the West Bank, thus the provision of food, other agricultural commodities, medicine, and medical devices to Gaza or the West Bank is generally not prohibited under certain provisions of GTSR and FTOSR.
- U.S. Government Official Business: Pursuant to GTSR and FTOSR, the “USG general licenses” authorize all transactions related to the conduct of official U.S. government business by employees, grantees, or contractors.
- International Organizations (IO): Pursuant to GTSR and FTOSR, the “IO general licenses” authorize all transactions that may otherwise be prohibited that are for the conduct of the official business of certain international organizations and for such conduct by employees, contractors, or grantees thereof. The guidance provides the list of IOs authorized by the IO general licenses.
This guidance affirms that OFAC sanctions are not intended to impede legitimate humanitarian activities and that there are specific authorizations in place to allow for such work to continue, within a framework designed to prevent the diversion of funds to sanctioned entities or individuals.
Entities engaging in humanitarian efforts in the region should conduct these activities in strict adherence to OFAC regulations, ensuring compliance to avoid potential exposure to sanctions.