EU Politicians angry over Israeli demolition of EU infrastructure
10/17/2020, Chicago // KISSPR //
On Wednesday morning, Israeli forces demolished yet another Palestinian structure in the occupied West Bank. Funded by the EU, the demolished primary school in the pastoral community of Ras El-Tin east of Ramallah used to serve 50 students first grade to sixth grade, according to Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor. “Instead, those students will now have to walk about 5 km on foot to reach the nearest school in Al Mughayyir village,” Anas Al-Jerjawi Euro-Med Monitor’s MENA Regional Manager told [newspaper name].
In late September, Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland and Norway delivered a joint stake-out on the Middle East at the United Nations in which the European states reaffirmed their deep concern about Israel’s settlement activities and demolitions of Palestinian structures. The statement noted that “the period from March to August 2020 saw the highest average destruction rate in four years.”
In an unpublished policy memo sent directly by Euro-Med Monitor to European officials, including members of the European Parliament, the organization noted an even more alarming reality of “an escalated and accelerate Israeli destruction of EU-funded projects, compounded by a sharp decline in the number of EU-funded structures in Area C and East Jerusalem.”
Euro-Med monitor said it documented in 2019 a record high of 204 Palestinian structures that Israel demolished in East Jerusalem alone, representing a spike compared to previous years. Israel further demolished or seized 127 structures funded by international donors (mainly the EU and its member states) in East Jerusalem and Area C, twice as much as in 2018.
“Despite the coronavirus pandemic and the accompanying economic crisis, Netanyahu’s government has significantly stepped up the demolition of Palestinian structures further,” the memo noted, “For instance, the number of house demolitions in East Jerusalem between January and August 2020 was 89, compared to 104 for all of 2019 and 72 in 2018. This is putting Israel’s government on track for a record year in the number of razings of Palestinian structures in East Jerusalem.”
Al-Jerjawi explained that “Israel has demolished 555 structures in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which led to the forcible eviction of 747 people, including 382 children.”
The memo noted that, simultaneously in 2019 “the number of internationally (mainly European) financed Palestinian projects shrank to only 12 compared to 75 in 2015.” The memo warned that this is “akin to penalizing Palestinians for the Israeli government’s destruction of European funded structures rather than standing up to Netanyahu’s government.”
The memo further noted that the EU and its member states have been adamant to hide the magnitude of damage their funded projects have been incurring in the oPt, and called on MEPs to investigate and publicly report on the issue.
The memo fueled outrage amongst several MEPs, who were alarmed by the increasing rate of demolitions amidst the pandemic. For instance, MEP Margrete Auken, the vice-chair of the EP’s Delegation for relations with Palestine, fully acknowledged the Memo’s findings, expressed support for its recommendations, and vowed to question the European Commission over the issue. Other MEPs emphasized the need to stand up to this increasingly dangerous issue.
It’s worth noting that Euro-Med Monitor complained last month to the UN Human Rights Council that Israel’s government has been subjecting its staff and chairman, Dr. Ramy Abdu, to harsh punitive measures, including restrictions on movement and operations and smear campaigns.
Euro-Med Monitor also raised at the council that in recent years, Israel has escalated its pushback against NGOs in the oPt that are critical of its practices and policies, including deporting the Israel-Palestine director of Human Rights Watch, Omar Shakir, in 2019 and banning Amnesty International’s Campaigner, Laith Abu Zeyad, from accompanying his dying mother to a hospital in East Jerusalem in 2019.
“The EU’s policy has been to maintain the viability of the two-state solutions rather than actively push for it. This included supporting the presence of Palestinians in East Jerusalem and Area C in the West Bank,” Dr. Ramy Abdu told [newspaper name] “Although, the EU maintains a strong position on the occupied Palestinian territories – particularly in regards to settlement activities and demolition of Palestinian structures – what remains absent in Brussels and the capitals of EU member states is the will to bridge the gap between rhetoric and action to prevent, challenge or deter the Israeli assault on Palestinian presence in vulnerable areas.”
The damage Israel inflicted on Palestinian structures funded by the EU and its member states in the occupied territories between 2001-2015 was reportedly approximated in 2016 to be around €65million.
The Pretext of Lacking Permits
Although, some EU member states have occasionally demanded compensation from Israel, such as in 2017, when eight European countries demanded $35,000 compensation from Israel for confiscating and demolishing structures they had built in Area C, however, the memo said there hasn’t been clear consistent EU pressure on Israel to halt such demolitions.
Moreover, in June 2020, Israel’s new Foreign Minister, Mr. Gabi Ashkenazi, stated in his reply to a parliamentary question submitted by MK Moshe Arbel of the right wing party Shas, that Israel rejects out of hand the prospect of compensating the EU for structures or equipment that Israel has demolished or confiscated. Mr. Ashkenazi further asserted that he considers any present or planned European activity in Area C that “doesn’t honor Israeli construction-permit procedures European intervention in an attempt to define a border,” which he said would face “consequences stemming from the violations.” In July 2020, Israeli MK Amit Halevi of the right-wing Likud party reportedly called Palestinian construction in Area C “an exponential virus,” while his party colleague MK Avi Dichter described it as “territorial terror.”
“Israel’s government knows too well that it does not permit construction and development for Palestinians in Area C, not even a linking up to the water and electricity grids,” the Euro-Med monitor’s memo noted “Israel’s government have deliberately made such permits nearly impossible for Palestinians or internationals to obtain, with only as few as 2.3% of applications for building permits in Area C approved by Israeli authorities between 2009 and 2012.”
The memo further pointed out instance in which Israel demolished and confiscated EU funded projects that were actually installed in coordination with Israel’s civil administration in the first place. “In September 2014, and under the pretext of lacking permit, the Israeli army cut down the posts and power cables of a Belgian electrification project in the small village of Khirbet Al Tawil, east of Nablus.” the memo noted, “The electrification project had been completed in 2004, in coordination with Israeli authorities, to improve the living conditions of the village’s 200 rural and disadvantaged inhabitants. A total of 100 posts and other lighting supports were destroyed in the incursion, and 3.5 km of electric cables were cut.”
What the EU should do
“This alarming situation of Israeli rising demolitions and declining EU project funding cannot and should not be tolerated,” Dr. Abdu told [newspaper name], “As long as the underlying status quo that enables Netanyahu’s government to carry out such assaults on EU-funded projects remains unaddressed and unconfronted, fears will grow amongst all donors to the oPt that whatever they build or rebuild will be destroyed again in no time.”
The memo recommended to the European Commission and European governments to undertake drastic measures that address the roots of the problem, including investigating and publicly reporting on all destruction of or damage to structures built with their funding; using meetings with Israeli authorities to articulate a clear and consistent European position on demolitions and destruction of EU-funded projects; demanding compensation from Israel if any further projects funded by the EU or its member states are destroyed; and continuing to invest in Palestinian development but substantively penalize the Israeli government rather than Palestinians.
The memo concluded that the EU should leverage the fact that it’s Israel’s largest trading partner and leverage close EU-Israel collaborations “to deter violations against EU-funded structures in the oPt.”
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