Recently the European Commission published a list of the EU development projects that were destroyed in the last decade by the Israeli Army. The figures reveal that 82 projects with European involvement suffered damage or destruction as a result of Israeli attacks between 2001 and October 2011, with a total financial loss of €49.15 million.
These figures were published in response to a written parliamentary question by MEP Chris Davies from the ALDE group. They show that €29.37 million of funding for the projects was provided by the EU or its Member States. These well-meaning but ill-fated projects included schools, clinics and orphanages, a forensic laboratory for the counter-terrorism programme, Red Crescent ambulances, solid waste and waste water management facilities, the Ministry of Education building, a cultural centre and a peace project in Jenin. The list goes on.
Each item on this list is a development or emergency humanitarian response project, funded by Europe with the goal of improving life in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Each project was funded by public money, by ordinary taxpayers across Europe. Many of them pick up responsibilities – such as providing basic healthcare, education and infrastructure – which under international law the Israeli Government is obliged to provide but which it fails to do. For example, Article 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention says that an occupying power has the duty of ensuring and maintaining the medical and hospital establishments and public health and hygiene, while Article 53 says that an occupying power is prohibited from destroying private or public property.
It is outrageous that Israelis quite literally rubbishing the development and humanitarian assistance of Europe, one of its closest partners. The European taxpayer has provided, on average, €3 million each year to improve living conditions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. In the grand scheme of things perhaps it’s not a huge sum of money, but at a time when the economic crisis is being felt deeply by ordinary people across Europe, Israel’s destruction of these development projects demonstrates not only disregard for Palestinian living conditions but a real lack of respect for its European “partner.”
The human cost of infrastructure destruction
Along with the financial losses is the human cost. These development projects were each designed to improve living conditions and the rule of law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. With each euro’s worth that is destroyed, Palestinian life becomes a little bit poorer. A Swedish-funded €1.1 million electricity network in Gaza powered hospitals and schools, homes and businesses. It was destroyed in 2008 during the 22-day military assault on Gaza that Israel calls Operation Cast Lead, plunging half a million people into darkness and drastically worsening conditions in the already besieged Gaza Strip.
The International Gaza Airport, which cost €16.1 million, stands out as the largest financial loss from the figures provided. Located at Rafah, the airport could handle 700,000 passengers a year and provided jobs for its 450 staff and 15 pilots. In 2001, during the Second Intifadah, the €9.5 million contribution by Spain, Germany and Sweden was blown away by Israel, along with the rest of the airport.
Despite these figures, EU-funded projects have tended to receive a certain degree of protection. On the other hand, Palestinian infrastructure has always been at a high risk of destruction. This is particularly the case in Area C of the West Bank where Israel carries out a policy of systematically destroying and reducing Palestinian infrastructure. This was strongly criticized in a recent internal EU report. The figures published by the Commission run only until October 2011 but since that time we are hearing of an increasing amount of EU-funded projects under threat of demolition. This disturbing trend could see even more of European taxpayers’ money earmarked for Palestinian development going down the drain.
Compensation for destroyed European infrastructure
So why is the EU staying silent on this issue? Of course, dialogue behind closed doors is crucial, but these latest figures show that European projects have suffered terrible destruction for over a decade. Quiet diplomacy is clearly not working. The EU could legitimately ask for compensation fromIsraelfor each European project destroyed. In his parliamentary question Chris Davies asked the Commission if any compensation had been sought from Israel, and if any had been recovered. The Commission stated that no compensation had been received, although the EU Representative Office in East Jerusalemhas protested to the Israeli Ministry of Defence and asked for compensation for the ongoing projects which were destroyed.
The EU-Israel relationship is governed by an Association Agreement and an Action Plan, which states that “Israel and the EU are committed to achieve closer political co-operation and dialogue on the basis of their common values: the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, democracy, good governance and international humanitarian law.” It is time to see more of these common values from Israel.Israel must stop destroying civilian infrastructure in the OPT. The EU must stop allowing Israel to do so, and certainly in the case of European-funded infrastructure, we have a legitimate right to speak out.
If Israel is our friend, then the EU must be prepared to speak plainly and tell Israel that the situation is unacceptable. European projects, funded in good faith with taxpayers’ money cannot be wantonly destroyed by one of our closest partners.