Since the publication of Losing Ground, Christian Aid’s investigation into the extent and causes of Palestinian poverty, in January 2003, the humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories has deteriorated sharply. Poverty levels and unemployment are now reaching crisis proportions creating a humanitarian crisis, the levels of which Christian Aid has not seen in fifty years of work in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Poverty in the Occupied Palestinian Territories
The Palestinian Authority, the United Nations and NGOs are a major source of employment in the territories; the wages they pay and the aid they provide are preventing complete economic collapse. While statistics provide a snapshot of the situation, they do not convey today’s level of social deterioration -the rise in domestic violence, school dropout rates, and mental illness, which illustrate how desperate life has become for ordinary Palestinian people.
In 1999 20.1 per cent, a fifth of Palestinians, lived below the UN poverty line (US$2 per day per person). In 2000, before the second intifada began, it had climbed to 30.7 per cent1. Today, 60 per cent of all Palestinians - a figure that rises to 80 per cent in parts of the Gaza Strip - live below the poverty line. Unemployment stands at 53 per cent of the total workforce although in Gaza it exceeds 70 per cent. 3
The poor are also getting poorer. In 1998, the average daily per capita consumption among the poor of the Occupied Palestinian Territories was the equivalent of £0.94. In 2003 that figure has slipped to £0.85 2. Malnutrition levels now rival those of Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Any government has a duty to protect its citizens; Israel is no exception. But Israel’s policy of closure, curfew and checkpoints is failing to provide long-term security for its own people and has at the same time created a humanitarian disaster in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Unable to move freely, Palestinians cannot easily get to their work, visit family or access medical care or education. Transport of goods to market and outside and between the Occupied Palestinian Territories is greatly restricted. Homes have been destroyed along with public buildings and infrastructure. However, it is the damage to long-term prospects for investment and development alongside an erosion in education and a decline in health that give most concern for the future.
This year, our local partner organisations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel have seen their work seriously undermined - much of it supported by EU and British aid funds - in the face of Israel Defence Force incursions. Ambulances belonging to Palestinian medical organisations have been destroyed, offices ransacked and staff used as human shields.
Greenhouses built by the Palestinian agricultural organisations intended to improve farmer’s production, have been bulldozed. ‘We have never been so penned in, by soldiers, by checkpoints, by curfew,’ Jihad Ma’ashal, director of the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees told Christian Aid. Christian Aid and its Israeli and Palestinian partners believe a solution to this crisis cannot wait.
Christian Aid continues to believe that an end to Palestinian poverty cannot be found without an end of the Israeli occupation and the implementation of international law. Christian Aid calls for and supports reform to the Palestinian Authority and for it to abide by international law. Any reforms to the Palestinian Authority should prioritise poverty eradication.
The West Bank wall
Along much of the West Bank, Israeli authorities are constructing a massive structure - a wall which it sees as providing security to Israeli citizens. In some places, it is eight metres tall, made from concrete and interspersed with watchtowers. In other places in the West Bank, it is an electric fence, a trench and rolls of razor wire with a ‘buffer zone’ of 60 metres. When completed, the wall will be 360 km long and will isolate east Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank.
The wall rarely follows the Green Line (the accepted demarcation line between the West Bank from Israel), but runs between villages and their agricultural land, seriously affecting Palestinian economic activity and development.
Christian Aid questions why the wall is being built inside the West Bank if its purpose is security for Israel. Whatever the objectives of the wall are, the reality for Palestinians is that everyday life is becoming ever more difficult as they are increasingly isolated from their natural resources such as water.
The town of Qalqilya is literally surrounded by the wall apart from an Israeli checkpoint that controls movement between the town and the rest of the West Bank. Christian Aid partner B’Tselem, a leading Israeli human rights organisation, calculates that 210,000 people will be affected adversely by the wall.
The construction of the wall surrounding the West Bank is a dangerous development and one that contradicts the need for dialogue within the peace process. It can be interpreted as pre-empting a new border between Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, undermining both international law and future negotiations. At an estimated cost of £1 million a mile, it seems unlikely that the wall is being built as a temporary measure.
A roadmap to peace?
The UK government appears to have accepted the premise that the humanitarian crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territories requires a political solution, a position that Christian Aid has long advocated. The key to tackling Palestinian poverty remains the willingness of the Quartet powers (United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia) to sponsor a peace process that can deliver peace with security, dignity and prosperity and which is bound by international law. The performance-based roadmap to peace in the Middle East is the Quartet’s plan for creating a viable Palestinian state by 2005.
The recent ceasefire by Palestinian militant groups is welcome; violence can never be the answer in the search for peace and justice. Similarly, Israel’s initial steps to dismantle a small number of settlements is helpful, although it should be noted that the majority of these ‘illegal outposts’ were actually uninhabited and that settler groups have established new ones in their place. There are no known plans to evacuate or dismantle any of the larger established settlements.
Since the launch of the Quartet’s roadmap, the region has been beset by some of the worst levels of violence since the start of the intifada. Israel has stepped up its campaign of targeted assassinations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, illegal under international law, resulting in the deaths of many innocent civilians. Militant Palestinian groups have responded with suicide bombs and other attacks on innocent Israelis.
If the roadmap is to have any chance of survival - let alone success - then the Quartet must impress upon both parties the importance of restraint. Opportunities for peace must not be derailed by those who do not agree with the aims of peace, namely, a viable, sovereign and democratic state of Palestine living in security alongside a secure state of Israel.
The present dire humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories cannot be ignored in the peace process, as noted on recent visits by two British bishops (Michael Langrish & Neville Chamberlain) and two MPs (Oona King & Jenny Tonge). Jenny Tonge remarked, ‘Many homes and businesses in Gaza have been reduced to rubble by Israeli bulldozers after sometimes as little as 10 minutes warning to the occupants - I have never seen so much rubble and filth and razor wire.’
Until Palestinians can sense some tangible improvement to their lives and Israelis understand that the security measures currently employed are not necessarily solving their long-term security concerns, then it will be hard to convince the two populations that the roadmap is a serious and credible quest for peace.
Concerns for the international community
It is essential that Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory be must be viewed within the parameters of and subject to international humanitarian law and UN resolutions. Israel, and more recently the US, has spoken of ‘disputed’ - as opposed to ‘occupied’ - territories.
This raises the possibility of ambiguity over exactly which territory is under discussion and also the applicability of international law. In fact, there is little ambiguity: UN resolutions 242 and 1397 as supported by the international community refer to those territories as the lands occupied by Israel in 1967. Absolute clarity is a prerequisite for any meaningful peace process and for Palestinians to tackle poverty.
It is also important to prevent opportunities for extremists, on either side, to derail the process. This could be achieved by diminishing the number of incremental steps that could be used to slow or halt progress of the peace process for their own purposes. This is not to negate the importance of confidence building measures, but is a recognition of the need to bridge the gap between causes of the conflict, the goal of the peace process and results aimed for.
The roadmap is a welcome recognition of the need for a viable Palestinian state. However, the Quartet has yet to define what constitutes viability for a Palestinian state. At present, Palestinians are subject to restrictions that affect almost every aspect of their daily lives.
For example, fishermen in Gaza are restricted to close-shore fishing with a maximum distance of 3km at the apex of a triangle from the coast resulting in a greatly reduced fishing industry. Similarly, the wall in the West Bank is destroying agricultural livelihoods as its construction carves off yet more agricultural land from towns and villages.
Viability must take into consideration the economic development of the Palestinian territories. Palestinians have traditionally made a living from agriculture and fishing. Land confiscation by Israeli settlements and the wall are diminishing these livelihoods at an alarming rate. Palestinians cannot be seen only as a cheap labour pool for Israeli agriculture and industry. Potential investors require both stability and reliability of infrastructure.
Viability must include territory that is contiguous and must not be replaced by the notion of transportational contiguity, which would see isolated Palestinian areas linked by road systems. Currently it is the apparatus of the Israeli military occupation, including closures, curfews and the permit system, that is preventing viability.
How can the UK government make a difference?
The roadmap presents an opportunity to deal comprehensively with the conflict without prejudice. Within this context, what actions can the UK government take to promote its success?
Christian Aid welcomes Tony Blair’s assertion in Parliament, 26 March 2003, that: ‘We are absolutely determined to move the peace process forward. This will be a central part of British foreign policy.’ While acknowledging ‘a great deal of cynicism and scepticism in the Muslim and Arab world’ about peace plans, he pledged, ‘It will be taken forward. It will be done.’ Below are Christian Aid’s recommendations for how it should be taken forward.
Recommendations to the UK government
1. The roadmap must be guided and bound by international law in order to protect its aim of two viable states living side by side in security free from violence and poverty. International law and its impartial application are the best guarantee for justice, peace and security for all people of the region.
The UK Government, as a signatory to the Geneva Conventions and member of the EU and therefore the Quartet, is duty bound to enforce international law and use its influence to ensure compliance on both sides as well as ensure that Israel as the occupying power is held to account for its actions.
2. The UK government must ensure that implementation of bilateral agreements such as the EU - Israel Association Agreement, which provides for preferential trade status, comply with international law. Currently, Israel is still exporting produce from illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to British and European markets. As a signatory to this agreement the UK government should ensure compliance with all articles within it including those relating to human rights.
3. Monitoring mechanisms, such as an international presence in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, must be put in place to ensure compliance with the roadmap and to create space between the two parties.
4. The Quartet must ensure that construction of the wall is stopped. It is widely interpreted, including by many Christian Aid partners, as creating a de facto border between Israel and a future Palestinian state. The creation of such a border should be negotiated between the two sides based on equality and international law.
Additionally, the humanitarian consequences of fencing people into restricted areas and confiscating yet more Palestinian land are already being felt by ordinary Palestinians.
5. The UK government, and the remainder of the Quartet, must pledge the necessary aid to the Occupied Palestinian Territories for immediate relief and longer-term rebuilding of destroyed Palestinian infrastructure. The Quartet must ensure that Israel allows humanitarian access to the Occupied Palestinian Territories in order to carry out vital relief and development work.
6. Each member of the Quartet must have equal authority and not be subservient to the US. The UK government should clarify the EU’s role in the Quartet. Under the Oslo accords, the EU’s role was seen as attempting to buy the peace through providing aid to the Palestinian Authority, while the US led the political agenda.
It is essential that the international community learn from the failed Oslo peace process and ensure parity and justice prevail throughout the negotiations and implementation.
1 The World Bank March 5, 2003 ‘Two Years of Intifada, Closures and Palestianian Economic Crisis’
William Bell (Advocacy Officer: Palestinians and Israel) - telephone: +44 (0)20 7523 2039, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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