Damning new report on EU’s inaction over Israel

Damning new report on EU’s inaction over Israel

Date     May 25, 2013 – 6:44PM

Ruth Pollard

The European Union had failed to hold the Israeli government to account over its continuing human rights violations against Palestinians, including the demolition of houses, water systems and critical infrastructure, a damning new report has found.

In a harsh assessment, a coalition of more than 80 aid and development organisations represented by the Association of International Development Agencies (AIDA) found that despite its tough talk, the EU had not effectively addressed the Israeli policies that create ‘‘unbearable conditions’’ for many Palestinians living in the West Bank.

A year ago, all 27 EU member countries committed to challenging the expansion of Israeli settlements and the increasing pace of the demolition of Palestinian property in an area of the West Bank known as ‘‘Area C’’.

Since then, the situation on the ground has only deteriorated, says Charles Silva, the chairman of AIDA and the country director of Action Against Hunger.

Covering more than 60 per cent of the West Bank, Area C falls under full Israeli municipal and military control and is home to around 150,000 Palestinians, as well as approximately 325,000 Israelis who live in settlements that are considered illegal under international law.

In the last year, Israeli authorities destroyed 535 Palestinian-owned structures (including homes, emergency tents, essential infrastructure, water cisterns, and roads), displacing 784 people, more than half of them children, the report found.

In stark contrast, 613 housing have been built in Israeli settlements and tenders have been approved for at least 1,967 new settlement units — a four-fold increase since 2011, the report found.

Even the EU’s investment in the development of village plans to increase the pace of development in the area — seen as vital to improving the lives of Palestinians who live without the most basic of infrastructure such as running water and electricity — had been stymied by Israel, the AIDA report found.

Not one of the 32 European-funded village plans had been fully approved.

The harsh policies were designed to ‘‘force the displacement’’ of Palestinians living in the area, Mr Silva told Fairfax Media.

‘‘What concerns us the most is demolitions of homes, shelters and sensitive infrastructure like water and sanitation, as well as the forced transfer of populations,’’ he said.

‘‘We have seen what happens when communities are forcibly transferred … they are removed and a few years later there is a settlement built there.’’

Israel’s settlement construction was high on the agenda during a visit to Jerusalem and Ramallah from the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, this week, along with his British counterpart, Foreign Secretary William Hague.

‘‘Our position on settlements and outposts … is that we are opposed to it. We believe that it is not … constructive in the context of our efforts to move forward,’’ Mr Kerry said on Friday after his fourth visit to the Holy Land to try to reinvigorate peace talks.

After visiting Khan Al-Ahmar, a Bedouin community in the sensitive ‘‘E1’’ area where Israel plans to construct a new settlement that would effectively isolate East Jerusalem from the West Bank, Mr Hague said ‘‘the situation on the ground continues to deteriorate’’.

‘‘The expansion of settlements, which are illegal under international law, continues to be a grave concern,’’ he said.

Indeed when the village Mr Hague visited needed to construct a school, parents, children and international donors were forced to build classrooms from car tires and mud in order to get around Israel’s harsh building restrictions, the AIDA report noted.

Even then, Israel issued demolition orders against Khan Al-Ahmar’s school — a familiar experience for villages in Area C, where there is a critical shortage of schools and young children are forced to walk long distances to attend class, facing settler and Israeli military violence, the report found.

After the release of the May 2012 EU Foreign Affairs Council Conclusions, there were hopes that ‘‘positive advances in EU policy could change an increasingly untenable situation’’, the report found.

Instead around 30 European-funded structures have been demolished and dozens more — such as tents, water cisterns and animal pens — are under threat of demolition.

‘‘The EU can take political action to ensure that structures do not get demolished,’’ Mr Silva said. ‘‘We have seen that when donors take decisive diplomatic action they can stop demolitions from happening … and that Israel takes notice of unified and robust opposition..’’

Israel believes it has the right to build in the West Bank, which it calls Judea and Samaria, and does not accept that the settlements are illegal.

The human toll of these demolitions is enormous, disrupting children’s education, separating family members, and causing the declining economic, physical and mental health, Mr Silva said.

Fairfax Media understands there is at least one Australian-funded structure that is under threat of demolition — a tent that provides shelter for a regular medical clinic in the village of Susiya in the south Hebron Hills.

The Australian government’s overseas aid program, AusAID, did not respond to questions before publication deadline.

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