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EU denounces Israelĺs destruction of aid projects in West Bank

Daan Bauwens

6-hebron-demolition.jpg

Since 2011, no fewer than 60 EU-funded structures have been demolished in the West Bank.(Mamoun Wazwaz / APA images)

May 17, 2012


EU Feels Force of Israeli Demolitions


BRUSSELS (IPS) - All 27 foreign ministers of the European Union have strongly spoken out against Israeli demolitions in Area C of the West Bank. Since the beginning of 2011 not less 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.

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

The EUĺs Foreign Affairs Council called on Israel Tuesday to remove restrictions on Palestinian construction and economic development projects in Area C. It also denounced settler violence against Palestinians and asked the Israeli government to prosecute such actions. Against the background of the EU meeting, development and humanitarian agencies 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 NGOs in the occupied Palestinian territory, since the beginning of 2011 at least 62 structures funded by France, Netherlands, the UK, Poland, Ireland, Spain, Sweden and the European Commission have been demolished by Israel. Water cisterns, animal shelters and people's homes, among others, are on the list of demolished structures.

The Displacement Working Group also reports at least 110 structures funded by Belgium, France, Germany, Netherlands, Poland, Spain, UK, Ireland, Sweden and the Commission 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 in the occupied Palestinian territory, over 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 inquiry by British Member of European Parliament Chris Davies, the European Commission estimated that the cost of EU and member state funded projects damaged or demolished by the Israeli army from the beginning of 2001 until October 2011 adds up to more than 49 million euros, of which more than 29 million euros came directly from the EU. Although most of this damage took place during the Second Intifadah and the 2008 Gaza War, the Commissionĺs list is far from complete and leaves out the most recent data.

On Feb. 13 of this year the Israeli army demolished an ancient water cistern which had been restored by the Polish NGO 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 and army maintain the right to demolish any structure that was built without such a permit.

But human rights organisations 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 and 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 different pretences to demolish," Ayman Rabi from the Palestinian Hydrology Group, the largest Palestinian NGO working on water and sanitation, tells IPS. "The Israeli authorities also tell us regularly the area we are building in is a security area. In the end the demolishing does not have any legal basis."

In the end of 2011, five solar and wind energy projects financed by the German Foreign Ministry received stop-work orders in the Massafer Yatta area in the South Hebron Hills. These villages are prevented from being connected to the Israeli electricity grid. Israeli authorities promised not to destroy the project but instead, on Jan. 11, 2012, destroyed the home and animal shelters of one of the Palestinian families the panels were being built for, crushing several of their goats.

On Apr. 23 this year, Israeli authorities demolished two water cisterns near Hebron built with funding from the French government. The aim of the French project was to improve water management and develop farmland.

"Most of the people in these areas are shepherds, whose animals need to graze," Ayman Rabi tells IPS. "If there is no water they are forced to leave the areas they're living in. This is exactly the aim: forcing people to leave to be able to confiscate the land and expand the settlements."

According to last December's EU heads of missions report on Area C, prior to 1967 between 200,000 and 320,000 Palestinians used to live in the area. Currently the number of Palestinians has dropped to 56,000 due to Israeli demolitions and restrictions. At the same time the Israeli settler population has grown from 1,200 in 1972 to 310,000 in 2010.

At the same time, several analysts presume the Israeli authorities in the occupied areas are specifically targeting European projects. After the incident with the German-funded solar and wind energy projects, the German press described Israel's behaviour as a riposte to the EU which published a report critical of Israel's discriminatory policy toward the Palestinians in Area C in January 2012.

"Projects in the exact same area funded by the Americans are not touched," Ayman Rabi tells IPS, "while generally speaking, all EU projects are demolished." (END)

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