Imprisoned behind barbed wire: “Without European decisiveness no perspective on peace in the Middle East”

Prominent Dutch women: “Israeli military occupation of Palestinian territories threatens Israel’s own security”

The Wall near Qalqilya in 2003 (Photo: AEF, 2003)

While Israeli and Palestinian negotiators discuss the road map to peace and while Palestinian groups maintain a ceasefire, a delegation of nine prominent Dutch women visited Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories (July 6 - 12, 2003). The delegation was shocked to observe that while presently attempts are made to have the road map implemented, Israel is bringing about an opposite reality on the ground.

Israel is building an eight meter-high wall on the West Bank. The wall will be many hundreds of kilometres long. The building of the wall has already been completed in the north. In doing so, Israel has annexed fertile Palestinian agricultural land. If the building of the wall is completed, the Palestinians will have lost almost half of the West Bank and Gaza (the two areas which comprise 22% of the total of Israeli/Palestinian territory). The 40.000 inhabitants of Qalqilia are kept imprisoned by the wall in their own city. The effects of the wall are dramatic for the local economies. Access to adjoining agricultural lands and neigbouring Palestinian villages is blocked.

In addition, Israel has made the movement of Palestinians between villages and towns almost impossible. Each village has been closed off from highways by blockades, mounds of sand and military checkpoints. The West Bank is becoming increasingly divided into dozens of isolated enclaves. Due to these restrictions, Palestinians suffer severe difficulty in going to work, school or hospital, or visit their families, and are made to wait for hours in front of several checkpoints. The economy has been paralyzed and employment has risen to over 50%. The delegation concluded that under the cloak of its own security Israel is creating isolation and a undermining of Palestinian society.

During the visit to the Gaza Strip the delegation witnessed that Israel had levelled complete streets. In Rafah, Khan Younis and Beit Hanoun many hundreds of houses have been destroyed. Israel regularly blows up houses as collective punishment. These serious breaches of international humanitarian law will not be halted unless and until the international community takes its responsibility. The systematic nature of the serious breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention by the occupying power are especially illustrated by the continuing land expropriations for the benefit of the construction of new Israeli settlements and the expansion of existing ones. The image that arises is that of a process of complete transformation of land and population. Palestinian cities and villages are imprisoned between settlements and a network of roads which can only be used by Israeli settlers and the army.

The delegation considers it important to emphasize that the conflict exacts victims on both sides and traumatizes large groups of citizens. However, there is no symmetry. Israel controls all aspects of daily life in the occupied Palestinian territories. Palestinians conduct a struggle for equality, right to income, education and health care, and control over their own life. According to the delegation, the way Israel behaves as an occupier is the main obstacle for mutual security, development and mutual trust.

The dramatic deterioration of the socio-economic situation since the outbreak of the Second Intifada in September 2000 has had a negative effect on the Palestinian society as a whole. Its effects on Palestinian women have been graver still. They are facing unemployment, loss of income, an increase in domestic violence, and the traumas of their children. The delegation was impressed by the well-organised Palestinian women’s movement, represented by its strong leaders. A main topic of conversation was the totally subordinate role that these women are allowed to play within the peace process.

The delegation was also in intensive contact with Israeli women, peace and human rights groups. All of them emphasised that the occupation is the source of many human rights violations in the Palestinian Territories. On top of that, the occupation has had its negative impact on the Israeli society, which during the last years has become increasingly polarised and militarised. The suffering of the other is denied and is looked away from. Instead, investments are made in the further intensification of the occupation, such as the construction of the wall, settlements and roads for the settlers in the occupied territories. These groups also put in doubt the democratic character of the state of Israel. Civil rights only find protection when these citizens are Jewish. According to Israeli human rights organisations, Palestinians in prisons are being maltreated and are subjected to torture during interrogations. Several leaders and militants have been liquidated without any trial. This system always works to the disadvantage of the Palestinians. The Israeli system of justice serves ‘alleged” Israeli interests, rather than the universal rights. As one of the representatives of the Israeli women’s movement stated: “we will continue to work until the Palestinians have the same rights as we have”.

Both Palestinian and Israeli interlocutors emphasised that without significant European support for the respect of international law and human rights, the circle of violence cannot be broken. The European Union has failed to use the means it has at its possession to enforce respect for international law and human rights. The Association Agreement between the EU and Israel is an excellent example. This treaty enables sanction measures to be taken. The delegation is of the opinion that Europe should no longer stand aside and merely limit its role to expressing political support for the peace process, but rather should safeguard the international legal order.

Only a just peace may eventually offer security to everyone. This implies the implementation of all relevant UN resolutions, among which are 194, 242, 338 and 1397. As long as their implementation is halted, the conflict is not only prolonged and worsened, but the international agreements and existing rules are undermined as well. The international community, Europe, and also The Netherlands, should play a more pro-active role. If they fail to do so, they can rightly be accused of being guilty by negligence.

The delegation members are resolved to share, upon return in The Netherlands, their experiences with their respective constituencies and beyond, and to gather support for measures to help promote respect for the rights of all citizens in this area. In addition, the delegation will look for strategic opportunities to support Palestinian and Israeli women in their need to gain an effective say on their own future.

In the framework of the project United Civilians for Peace, an alliance of the Dutch peace and development organisations Coradid, ICCO, Interchurch Peace Council, Global Ministries, Novib (Oxfam Netherlands) and Pax Christi, a delegation of nine prominent Dutch women visited Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The delegation aimed at getting insight into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with a special focus on the role of women, and to use these observations to draw conclusions situation, and to inform its constituencies on that basis. For this purpose, the delegation paid several field visits to different areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which have been affected by the conflict, and spoke with Israeli and Palestinian politicians, women, civil society organisations and experts.

Members of the United Civilians for Peace delegation:

  • Tineke Lodders-Elfferich, delegation leader, chair of the board of ICCO – Interchurch Organisation for Development Cooperation, board member of the Association for Christian Academic Education, and – untill June 10 2003 – member of the Senate for the Christian Democrat Party (CDA).
  • Sylvia Borren, chair of United Civilians for Peace and general director of Novib – Oxfam Netherlands.
  • Lily van den Bergh, documantary film maker and secretary of the international network Women in Black, part of the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace.
  • Özden Kutluer-Yalim, board member of TIYE International, the umbrella of national organisations of black, migrant and refugee women.
  • Tiny van Hoeyen-Timmers is a member of the city council in Haarlem for the conservative-liberal party (VVD).
  • Jacobine Geel, theologist and television host of the NCRV broadcasting cooperation’s ‘Heilig Vuur’ (news show).
  • Anja Meulenbelt, writer and member of the Senate for the Socialist Party. She is the chair of the Kifaia Foundation, an aid organisation for the handicapped in the Gaza Strip.
  • Ria Papac Koedoot, board member of the Dutch Council of Women.
  • Inge Stemmler, chair of the international committee of the Women’s Alliance

    Related Links:
  • United Civilians for Peace
  • Prominent Dutch women visit Israel and occupied Palestine, Arjan El Fassed, 16 July 2003