Memorandum submitted by War on Want
War on Want
1.War on Want is a registered charity with a mandate to relieve global poverty and promote human rights. War on Want has been committed to working on the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs) for three decades. We work in solidarity and partnership with organisations in the OPTs as well carrying out campaigning and educational work in the UK on the root causes of the poverty and human rights crisis facing the Palestinian people.
2. War on Want congratulates the IDC on its 2006-07 report on the OPTs. We also welcome the IDC's decision to follow up on its 2006-07 report so soon. This is a decision that reflects the serious deterioration in the humanitarian situation in the OPTs since the last report.
3. It is difficult to find appropriate words to describe the extent of the crisis faced by the Palestinian people. A year ago we described it as a humanitarian disaster. Today the situation has escalated and the crisis has worsened.
4. In its 2006-07 report the IDC made strong recommendations to the UK government. The failure of the government to carry out these recommendations has been magnified by the government's role in exacerbating the deteriorating situation. The UK's unfailing support for Israel, despite its continued occupation of the OPTs in violation of international law, amounts to a betrayal of the Palestinian people.
5. War on Want was pleased that the IDC's previous report on the OPTs called on the UK government to "urge the EU to use the Association Agreement with Israel as a lever for change and consider suspending the Agreement until there is further improvement in access arrangements." The government has failed to take up this recommendation, despite the deterioration in the situation facing the Palestinian people. In light of Israel's consistent human rights violations (which contravene Article 2 of the Agreement), we call on the IDC to reaffirm this message.
Collective punishment in Gaza
6. Israel has blockaded Gaza since June 2007. Over 80% of the 1.4 million Palestinians living in Gaza are now dependent on food aid from UN agencies. On 19 September 2007 the situation worsened when Israel declared Gaza to be "hostile territory", leading to the reduction of the supply of fuel and electricity to Gaza. Essential services, including water and sanitation, are now breaking down. Border closures are having dire effects on emergency medical cases, humanitarian supplies and trade.
7. It is clear that Israel's new definition of Gaza as a 'hostile territory' does not distract from the reality of the ongoing occupation of Gaza and the international community's legal obligations. In his latest report to the UN Human Rights Council in January 2008, John Dugard, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories, reaffirmed this point: "The fact that Gaza remains occupied territory means that Israel's actions towards Gaza must be measured against the standards of international humanitarian law."
8. On 8 February 2008 a joint statement by the Foreign Secretary David Miliband and the Secretary of State for International Development Douglas Alexander responded to Israel's reduction in electricity to Gaza: "We call on the Government of Israel to reverse its decision immediately, to avoid any further planned cuts, and to fulfil its obligations under international law." Yet such statements are wholly ineffective as long as the UK government continues its economic and political support of Israel.
9. Given the horrific nature of Israel's actions towards Gaza, the UK government must use all the foreign policy tools at its disposal to bring this brutal collective punishment to an end. This means going beyond mere words, and taking action to bring Israel back in line with its obligations under international law.
The infrastructure of occupation in the West Bank
10. Post Annapolis, the Israeli government has continued to build the infrastructure of occupation. The construction of the illegal Separation Wall, the expansion of settlements, restrictions on freedom of movement, house demolitions and military incursions continue to have a disastrous impact on the lives of Palestinians in the West Bank. According to UNOCHA in January 2008, there were 563 physical obstacles including checkpoints and roadblocks inside the West Bank, as well as flying checkpoints.
11. In his latest report to the UN Human Rights Council in January 2008, John Dugard, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories, compares the system of checkpoints to the pass laws of apartheid South Africa, and describes the settler roads in the West Bank as a system of "road apartheid" which was "unknown in apartheid South Africa".
12. The British government must act immediately to put concrete pressure on Israel to end the policy of house demolitions and to dismantle the illegal Separation Wall and settlements as an integral part of ending the occupation.
Promote Palestinian unity
13. In its last report, the IDC called on the UK government to talk to Hamas representatives in their "capacity as elected representatives" (paragraph 34). The UK government has ignored this recommendation, along with warnings that isolation of the elected representatives of the Palestinian people would worsen the situation. Unfortunately those warnings have been proved correct by events. The policy of the Quartet, including the UK government, in isolating Hamas has itself been responsible for creating disunity within the OPTs and leading to the dire emergency in Gaza. The Israelis and the Quartet have acted out a clear policy of divide and rule on the Palestinian leadership. If we are to see an end to the humanitarian disaster and a respect for Palestinian human rights, the UK government must promote Palestinian unity and engage with Hamas.
The Quartet's economic proposals for the OPTs
14. War on Want is acutely aware of the need to rebuild the economy of the OPTs. Restrictions on movement and closures have ensured that trade is all but impossible. For this reason War on Want welcomes the IDC's call on the EU to put measures in place to make the Association Agreement between the OPTs and the EU effective.
15. We are also deeply alarmed by moves by the Quartet which could normalise the economic dependency of Palestinians on the institutions of occupation. The special representative of the Quartet, Tony Blair, has announced four proposals as a package of economic regeneration for the West Bank. These proposals include the development of industrial zones and the construction of the controversial agro-industrial zone proposed for Jericho, in the Jordan Valley.
16. One of War on Want's partner organisations in Palestine, the Grassroots Palestinian Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign, along with local councils in the Jordan Valley, is opposed to the agro-industrial zone in the Jordan Valley on the basis that it will entrench a reliance on economic aspects of the occupation. The agro-industrial zone is a re-announcement of an existing Corridor for Peace and Prosperity project developed by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). The proposal is for a free trade zone, bringing together Israeli and Palestinian business. In its report The Quartet's Development Proposal for the Jordan Valley, the Grassroots Palestinian Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign demonstrated that the agro-industrial zone proposal included investment and support for Israeli businesses currently operating illegally in the West Bank as 'Israeli migrant firms'. Clearly, this would be an unacceptable development. Furthermore, rather than enabling Palestinian famers in the Jordan Valley to develop their own business and farms, the jobs created for Palestinians by this proposal would be as labourers in large-scale industrial zones.
17. The fertile land of the Jordan Valley makes up a third of the West Bank, running along the eastern side of the OPTs. The area was declared a military zone by Israel in 1967. Today, 98% of the land is under Israeli control. A War on Want delegation visited the Jordan Valley last year and witnessed first hand illegal Israeli settlements producing products sold on the UK market. The delegation, which included former Secretary of State for International Development Clare Short MP, spoke to Palestinians whose own farms and business have been stifled by the occupation and whose children are having to work in the Israeli settlements for poverty wages. These settlements produce agricultural products and other goods that are exported largely to the European market. It is vital that any economic proposal for the Jordan Valley is focused on changing this reality rather than entrenching it.
18. War on Want is also very disturbed by the UK government's own economic plan for the OPTs. A report by the Rt Hon Ed Balls MP and Jon Cunliffe was published in September 2007: Economic aspects of Peace in the Middle East The report, "based in part on the UK's experiences in Northern Ireland", outlines a five-point 'economic roadmap'of free market reforms for the OPTs but signally fails to mention ending the occupation as the key first step towards restoring any possibility of economic prosperity. Among other things, the economic roadmap demands as its first priority that the public wage bill in the OPTs be reduced - despite acknowledging that it was public sector expansion in Northern Ireland that provided key employment opportunities and "helped protect workers against the strong negative economic effects of the 'Troubles'." Public sector employment is one of the only sure sources of jobs at a time of crippling economic hardship in Palestine. The government's suggestion that the Palestinian Authority should embark on a programme of public sector retrenchment at this time is damaging in the extreme.
19. The Palestinians are not the victims of a natural disaster. The poverty the Palestinians are suffering is man-made. DFID has also formally stated that the occupation is the primary cause of the poverty in the OPTs: "Poverty in the occupied Palestinian Territories is a product of occupation and conflict."( DFID Palestine Programme Interim update, 2006.) Yet the UK government continues to refuse to take any action to end the occupation.
20. Whilst recognising that interim actions should be taken to ease the devastation in the Palestinian economy, we look to the IDC to warn the government that economic measures must not be promoted to distract attention from the root cause of Palestinian poverty. Nor must measures be promoted by the Quartet that will normalise Israeli settlements and the economic dependency of Palestinians on the institutions of occupation.
The EU-Israel Association Agreement
21. In our submission to the IDC's 2006-07 report on the OPTs, War on Want questioned the continued operation of the EU-Israel Association Agreement at a time when trade policy could provide a key mechanism for exerting pressure on Israel. Article 2 of the Association Agreement states clearly that the provisions of the Agreement are predicated upon respect for human rights and democratic principles, and that this constitutes an essential element of the Agreement itself.
22. In its last report, the IDC rightly called on the UK government to urge the EU to "use the Association Agreement with Israel as a lever for change and consider suspending the Agreement until there is further improvement in access arrangements." Yet the government has since repeated its refusal to consider suspending the EU-Israel Association Agreement. This means that we continue to reward Israel for its illegal aggression against the Palestinian people with trading preferences for its exports into the EU market.
23. It is important to note that in 2002 the European Parliament voted to suspend the EU-Israel Association Agreement in protest at the massive assault on Palestinians during Israeli operations in that year. Israel's ongoing assault on Gaza is collective punishment and a human rights violation even wider in scope than 2002.
24. The government must take action to ensure that the EU upholds Article 2 of the EU-Israel Association Agreement. Failure to do so undermines the EU's standing in regard to respect for international law. We call on the IDC to reaffirm its message that suspension of the EU-Israel Association Agreement should be used as a lever to effect a genuine change in Israeli policy.
Labelling of Settlement produce
25. War on Want welcomes the EU's move to stop products from Israeli settlements in the OPTs from benefiting from the tariff preferences offered by the EU-Israel Association Agreement. The IDC raised a number of important issues arising out of this development in its last report, including that, to be effective, "information about the postcodes needs to be widely understood in the EU" and member states should "monitor goods being imported from Israel".
26. There are also still problems with implementing EU directives on clear labelling of the origin of produce for European consumers. Produce from settlements is still being labelled 'Made in Israel' when it reaches the shelves and misleading consumers. Actions by consumers to ensure proper labelling of settlement produce have had some success in ending this practice, but some settlement produce is now labelled produce of the 'West Bank' instead, which equally fails to register its provenance in illegally occupied land. It is the responsibility of the UK government to work with the EU to ensure proper labelling of settlement produce.
27. Since October 2000 the UK government has used the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria to judge whether arms export licences should be granted. These set out a series of considerations which include whether the country of destination is in breach of international law, is involved in armed conflicts and respects human rights. On each of these counts Israel has been found seriously wanting. The British government must stop supplying Israel with weapons and military components. In doing so the UK is providing direct material support for Israel's aggression and sending a message of approval for its actions.
28. The UK government must end its unfailing support for the Israeli government and use all foreign policy tools at its disposal to end the occupation of the OPTs.
29. It should act immediately to put concrete pressure on Israel to end its policy of house demolitions, to dismantle the illegal Separation Wall and settlements, and to bring the brutal collective punishment of Gaza to an end.
30. The UK government must promote Palestinian unity and engage with Hamas.
31. Economic measures must not be promoted to distract attention from the root cause of poverty in the OPTs: Israel's continuing occupation of those territories.
32. Nor must measures be promoted by the Quartet that will normalise Israeli settlements and the economic dependency of Palestinians on the institutions of occupation.
33. The IDC should call on the UK government and on the EU to suspend the EU-Israel Association Agreement on human rights grounds, as required by Article 2 of the Agreement itself.
34. It is the responsibility of the government to work with the EU to ensure proper labelling of settlement produce.
35. The British government must stop supplying Israel with weapons and military components.
14 March 2008