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Where is Palestine?: A story of loss, inequality and failure (September 2021)

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New report warns unequal status quo in Israel and Palestine will lead to more violence

A new report from international development and humanitarian organisation Christian Aid has highlighted the deep inequalities which divide Palestinians and Israelis across Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory and threaten a further escalation of violence and loss of life if left unaddressed.

Four months ago violence erupted along the Gaza Strip leaving hundreds dead, thousands injured, hundreds of homes, schools and hospitals destroyed.

Report author, William Bell, Christian Aid's Head of Middle East Policy & Advocacy, said: "Palestinians face an even more grim future than many currently experience if governments and those with influence do not act now and embrace justice and accountability as an essential precursor to a lasting peace. Without justice and equality there will be no Palestine and without Palestine neither Palestinian nor Israeli can enjoy the security, dignity and prosperity that all need to thrive and survive."

Four months on, things have gone back to normal, but it is a normal which is unsustainable in the face of the inequalities and injustices that characterize daily life for millions of Palestinian people on the West Bank and Gaza. Without concerted action by the international community, including the UK government, to help tackle the underlying conditions that fuel the conflict, there will be a continued cycle of violence, polarization and poverty, argues Christian Aid.

The report, called Where is Palestine? A story of loss, inequality and failure, shows how more than two decades since Palestinian and Israeli leaders signed the first Oslo Accord, there is no peace, with daily life for Palestinians worsening on many measures.

Among the report's findings:

  • Between January 2008 and July 2021, 5,951 Palestinians have been killed, of whom 1,340 were children. In the same period 262 Israelis were killed, of whom 21 were children.
  • In August 2020, The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights reported that about 8,000 cancer patients in Gaza do not receive necessary treatment. The blockade means Gazan hospitals are lacking key equipment and permits to travel for treatment outside Gaza are notoriously difficult to obtain.\

Jobs and employment

  • In Gaza 80% of the population is aid dependent and almost half the population is unemployed.
  • The OPT has been a captive market for Israel since 1967. Even when trading with third countries, Palestinian traders are often forced to access foreign markets through Israeli intermediaries, incurring further costs. The degree of trade diversion is reflected in the fact that between 1972 and 2017 Israel absorbed 79% of total Palestinian exports and 81% of imports which demonstrates the isolation of the OPT from international markets\

House demolitions

  • Despite the Covid-19 pandemic more Palestinians' property in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) was demolished in the first 10 months of 2020 alone than in any full year since 2016. As a result of Israel's policies during this period alone 798 Palestinians lost their homes, including 404 children -- compared to 677 Palestinians in all of 2019, 397 in 2018 and 521 in 2017.
  • In addition, 301 Palestinian non-residential structures were destroyed in the first ten months of 2020. This includes critical facilities such as water cisterns and pipes and electricity grids, which are crucial to sanitation and health at any time, let alone during a pandemic.
  • A number of these were 'punitive' demolitions, a policy that requires no due process and which deliberately punishes the innocent. These demolitions are forbidden by international humanitarian law.
  • Other demolitions took place because Israel's planning system renders it almost impossible for Palestinians in the Occupied West Bank to obtain consent, or permits, for construction, thereby compelling Palestinians to live in increasingly constrained circumstances.\

Water

  • Water consumption reflects the deep inequality between Palestinians and Israeli settlers.
  • West Bank Palestinians have access to approximately 73 litres/capita/day (l/c/d), on average for domestic use and personal hygiene. This is substantially lower than the 100 l/c/d minimum recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).
  • In some areas of the West Bank located in Area C, where Israel has full military control, some communities survive on as little as 20 l/c/d.
  • Estimates indicate that Israeli settlers and residents in Israel consume about three times as much water per person per day (250 litres) as Palestinians do.

During the most recent outbreak of violence, Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland described the status quo as "unbearable" for ordinary Palestinians. He concluded: "I desperately want the current violence to end. But I cannot hope that things go back to normal. Because normal is what got us here -- and what keeps bringing us back, again and again."

Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, wrote in 2016 that: "the closure of Gaza has not prevented missiles from being fired at Israel despite three major military escalations since 2009. And it constitutes an incubator for the development of despair and cycles of violence that have made the lives of residents both Gaza and of southern Israel intolerable ...The Israeli government must immediately end its blockade of Gaza ... This Palestinian ghetto must be opened."

Report author, William Bell, Christian Aid's Head of Middle East Policy & Advocacy, said:

"Clearly there is a democratic deficit in Palestinian society. A vibrant and courageous civil society endeavours to hold both Palestinians and Israeli leaderships to account. But without accountability at an international level the peace necessary to provide security and opportunity for all will simply not happen.

"Palestinians face an even more grim future than many currently experience if governments and those with influence do not act now and embrace justice and accountability as an essential precursor to a lasting peace. Without justice and equality there will be no Palestine and without Palestine neither Palestinian nor Israeli can enjoy the security, dignity and prosperity that all need to thrive and survive."

Hagai El Ad, Director of Israeli NGO B'Tselem, said:

"Christian Aid's timely report should serve as a wake-up call for UK policy makers, for nothing is static in Israel's ongoing oppression and dispossession of Palestinians. Without accountability, without assertive international action, Israel will continue to enjoy blanket impunity while the world -- the UK included -- pretends that occasional "expressions of concern" will suffice. In fact, they never did, and they never will."

Moderators to the United Reformed Church General Assembly, Mr Peter Pay and Rev Clare Downing, said:

"We applaud Christian Aid for their report, Where is Palestine? A story of loss, inequality and failure. The document provides a compelling picture of the way in which the actions of successive Israeli governments have so detrimentally impacted the lives of Palestinians living under occupation.

"For too long, the international community has failed to hold the Israeli Government to account. We support Christian Aid therefore in their call to action to halt the de facto annexation of Palestine by Israel, in particular through their appeal for morally responsible investment and in ending trade with the illegal settlements.

"The United Reformed Church has passed a range of resolutions at its General Assembly earlier this month/in July 2021, which very much resonate with the steps Christian Aid recommend. We encourage our sisters and brothers in Christ to take similar action."

Rev Ruth Gee, Methodist Church's Assistant Secretary of Conference and Ecumenical Officer, said:

"This welcome and important report from Christian Aid provides a detailed account of the human and economic impacts of occupation. As the title suggests, the occupation has expanded such that it is increasingly difficult to picture a contiguous State of Palestine.

"The report provides us a further opportunity to understand the trials of the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza which have increased as Israel's control of the Palestinian territories has intensified.

"The Methodist Conference has determined that the Methodist Church should not support illegal settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank in its investment policy or purchasing. The report's recommendations are timely and should move us to further action in pursuit of justice for all in the region."

Oliver Robertson, Head of Witness and Worship for Quakers in Britain, said:

"A clear and clear-eyed account of the reality of the situation in Israel and OPT, looking always to justice and fairness, not political point-scoring. It speaks truth with love, concerned with the wellbeing of our fellow humans and seeking to overcome the barriers to peace."

To help end this cycle of violence and start to create conditions for peace, report concludes with these recommendations:

Ultimately it will be Palestinians and Israelis who take the decisions that will challenge the status quo and build a future in which equality, dignity and justice are the norm for all. For that to happen effectively, principled and impartial support is critical. Therefore, as a fresh start towards peace, Christian Aid calls on

The UK and Ireland governments to:

  1. Formally recognise that Israel has de facto annexed significant parts of the West Bank and that this process is ongoing. Israel's refusal to adhere to its obligations under international law or to respond to condemnation by the international community regarding, for example, settlement expansion, demonstrate that the State of Israel is treating the West Bank as its own. Governments should acknowledge this reality and confirm that it fundamentally undermines the viability of a future contiguous Palestinian state.

  2. End trade with illegal settlements. All Governments should prepare legislation against the importation of products from illegal settlements. A ban on trade with Israeli settlements is not a ban or boycott on trade with Israel; Christian Aid believes it is the role of governments to end trade with illegal entities and ensure businesses under their jurisdiction comply. UNSCR 2334 required all Member States to differentiate between Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Trading with them merely sustains their economic viability and helps maintain an illegal situation.

  3. Use diplomatic and political leverage to end the blockade of Gaza. The UK and Ireland should employ all available soft power and leverage to bring an end to the blockade and movement restrictions to and from Gaza by both Israel and Egypt. Life inside Gaza is not sustainable in any dignified sense of the word and the population's continued isolation and appalling humanitarian situation effectively acts as collective punishment.

  4. Support the investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) The ICC investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in the OPT is a means to achieve accountability against those on either side, responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law. No one should be exempt from the law. It is only when justice is done (and seen to be done) that positive relationships can be developed which are essential for long-term peace.

  5. Formally recognise Palestine as they have Israel. The lack of legal standing of Palestine puts it on the back foot compared with Israel which has enjoyed 'legal personality' as a recognised state since 1949. The UK, Ireland and their allies should join the 138 other states which recognise Palestine and welcome Palestinians to the family of nations, with all the responsibilities and legitimacy that comes with it.

  6. Support free and fair elections for Palestinians that meet international standards. Palestinians should have the opportunity to elect their representatives in elections as soon as possible. Accountability must extend to those who seek to represent Palestinians in government and in any negotiations regarding their future.\

The Churches to:

  1. Support the Investing for Peace Campaign. Churches should carefully review their investments and pension funds to ensure that (i) they do not invest directly or indirectly in firms that profit from occupation, including trade with Israeli settlements; (ii) that they are withdrawing investments from any company trading with illegal settlements.

  2. Hold both Palestinians and Israelis as equals. Christians worldwide must listen to the voices of their brothers and sisters in IOPT and respond in ways that are neither divisive nor discriminatory. The church has a duty of responsibility to demonstrate principled impartiality. It should not take sides, other than that of justice, or misuse theology to support any one group at the expense of another's humanity. The church should demonstrate love towards both Israelis and Palestinians, support initiatives for a just peace and use its prophetic voice to help transform conflict.