Jerusalem remains a divided city

Jill Evans reports on the precarious and worsening conditions experienced by Palestinians living in the West Bank

Many, many constituents write to me asking why the European Union will criticise the Israeli government’s violations of international law in its occupation of Palestine, but when it comes to taking action, it’s a different story. In May, heads of state from all the EU countries expressed their strongest sentiments yet. But rather than putting more pressure on Israel they want to effectively reward them, by upgrading their trade agreement with the EU. At the end of the month, the European Parliament could give its approval to this.

I have long campaigned for a suspension of the EU’s trade agreement with Israel. My visit to the West Bank this month, as part of a delegation from the European Parliament, provided yet more evidence for why this should be done.

I was reminded at our first meeting that the Palestinian people are not free to travel from place to place. The director of the human rights organisation we meet cannot be present as he has been denied a permit to travel from one side of Jerusalem to the other. Jerusalem is a divided city, with both Israel and Palestine claiming it as their capital. But Israel is pursuing a policy of annexing the city.

Obstacles and barriers are a fact of everyday life. It is shocking that the actual right to live in Jerusalem was taken away from 4,500 Palestinians in 2008 when their residency was revoked. They don’t have the automatic right to live in the city even if they’ve been born and brought up there and their whole family live there.

From an incredible vantage point over the whole city, including the Mount of Olives and the Dome of the Rock, we learned how planning decisions are also being used by the Israeli authorities to try and move the Palestinians from their homes and from Jerusalem. More and more houses are being built on occupied land for settlers. These are people who move into the West Bank to live illegally but are fully supported by the Israeli government. They create new Israeli towns in the middle of Palestinian communities.

The difference between the two is striking. While the authorities refuse to collect the waste in the Palestinian communities, the settlements have clean, wide pavements with parks for their children to play in and modern recycling facilities. While the Palestinians pay their taxes in full, they are allocated a daily water allowance of only 70 litres per person per day, compared to the 300 litres consumed by Israelis. We in Wales consume around 150 litres a day, double what the Palestinians are allowed.

Segregation is rife too. Separate roads are built for settlers, which are forbidden to Palestinians. It means that children are often forced to take the longer, more dangerous route to school or that a person has to go through a checkpoint even to visit their neighbour. And the infamous wall towers over and divides communities.

Occupation obviously affects the Palestinian economy, as we learnt in a briefing session with the United Nations office for humanitarian relief. Around half of Palestinians live below the poverty line and the unemployment rate is 17 per cent. They don’t have the means to change this as they are being denied access to their natural resources and to facilities to export goods. The World Bank has stated that if the restrictions on movement in the West Bank were removed, the economy would have a chance to flourish.

After a difficult and depressing few days, I was grateful that the final visit was to a school in a refugee camp in Ramallah. Despite the hardship suffered by these children, who have known nothing other than life in the camp, they were full of happiness and energy. I desperately hope that the next generation is not lost to this long conflict.

With the international community’s attention elsewhere, peace initiatives in the region remain frozen. Perhaps as a result of this, Israel has accelerated its construction of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and tensions in Gaza remain high. The situation is precarious and worsening.

I will now be working with my colleagues in the European Parliament to try and bring pressure on Israel to respect international law. We have to use procurement rules, trade agreements and access to funding programmes to play our part in trying to get a peace agreement. That agreement, and even a Palestinian state itself, seems a distant hope. But we have to try.

Jill Evans MEP is President of Plaid Cymru.

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