EU denounces Israel’s destruction of aid projects in West Bank

Since 2011, no fewer than 60 EU-funded structures have been demolished in the West Bank.

Mamoun Wazwaz APA images

BRUSSELS (IPS) - All 27 foreign ministers of the European Union this week criticized Israeli demolitions in the occupied West Bank. Since the beginning of 2011, no fewer than 60 EU-funded projects have been demolished while 110 others are currently at risk. Several analysts claim the Israeli authorities are specifically targeting EU-funded projects.

The demolitions have taken place in Area C, which comprises about 60 percent of the West Bank and is under full Israeli military and civilian control. The EU’s focus on this area is a consequence of reports that show an increase in Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes and infrastructure, including projects paid for with European taxpayer money.

The EU’s foreign ministers called on Israel this week to remove restrictions on Palestinian construction and economic development projects in Area C. They also denounced Israeli settler violence against Palestinians and asked the Israeli government to prosecute such actions.

Against the background of the foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels, anti-poverty groups in the West Bank compiled new data on demolitions of EU projects. According to data gathered by the Displacement Working Group, a coordinating body of international humanitarian and development organizations in Palestine, at least 62 structures funded by France, Netherlands, the UK, Poland, Ireland, Spain, Sweden and the European Commission have been demolished by Israel since the beginning of 2011. Water cisterns, animal shelters and people’s homes, among others, are on the list of demolished structures.

Demolition orders

The Displacement Working Group also reports at least 110 structures funded by Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Britain, Ireland, Sweden and the Commission are currently under risk as they have received demolition or stop-work orders from Israeli authorities. The projects at risk include renewable energy projects, water cisterns, animal shelters and water and sanitation structures.

According to another recent report compiled by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, more than a quarter of all Palestinian structures demolished in 2011 were funded by international donors including European governments and the European Union.

In response to a recent query by a British member of European Parliament, Chris Davies, the European Commission estimated that the cost of EU-funded projects damaged or demolished by the Israeli army from the beginning of 2001 until October 2011 adds up to €49.2 million ($65.6 million), of which more than €29 million ($37 million) came from the EU collectively (the remainder came from its individual governments). Although most of this damage took place during the second intifada and Israel’s three-week attack on Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009, the Commission’s list is far from complete and leaves out the most recent data.

On 13 February this year, the Israeli army demolished an ancient water cistern which had been restored by the Polish organization Humanitarian Action with funding from the Polish foreign ministry. As is mostly the case, the Israeli army argued there was no permit to build the structure. The Israeli Civil Administration, which oversees the occupation of the West Bank, and the army maintain the “right” to demolish any structure that was built without such a permit.

Shacks used for schools

But human rights organizations on the ground say it is almost impossible to obtain a permit. According to recent UN data, less than one percent of Area C has been planned for Palestinian development by the Israeli Civil Administration, and 94 percent of Palestinian permit applications to construct infrastructure have been rejected in recent years.

As a consequence of this policy, 10,000 Palestinian children in Area C including East Jerusalem were obliged to attend classes in tents, caravans or tin shacks at the start of the 2011 school year because of a lack of permits to build or renovate classrooms.

“The lack of permits is only one of the different pretexts to demolish,” Ayman Rabi from the Palestinian Hydrology Group, a Palestinian organization working on water and sanitation, said. “The Israeli authorities also tell us regularly the area we are building in is a security area. In the end the demolitions do not have any legal basis.”

Several analysts presume the Israeli authorities are specifically targeting European projects. After the incident with the German-funded solar and wind energy projects, the German press described Israel’s behavior as a riposte to the EU for criticizing Israel’s discriminatory policy toward the Palestinians in Area C.

“Projects in the exact same area funded by the Americans are not touched,” Rabi said, “while generally speaking, all EU projects are demolished.”

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