EU financial support for Palestinian NGOs and intergovernmental organisations operating in the field has emerged as a sticking point for relations between Brussels and Tel Aviv, with EU-funded organisations complaining of obstacles to their operations.
EU funding for Palestine is provided in different capacities and “it foresees to provide up to €1.177 billion in financial support from 2021 to 2024”, an EU official told EURACTIV.
The main goals of these funds are to “promote the prospect for Palestinian statehood, to contribute to sustainable Palestinian economic and social development, promote human rights, democratisation, and reinforce effective and accountable governance and institutions in support of a Palestinian state that can assume the obligations foreseen in the two-state solution,” the EU official said.
However, many NGOs operating in the field consider statements by the EU institutions criticising Israeli settlements, for instance, as insufficient to address the problem.
“The EU must take concrete measures to end unlawful land grabs, asset confiscation and the demolition of civilian infrastructure. Donors such as the EU must call for full reporting of the financial value of the demolished structures that are lost and demand their compensation,” Vittorio Infante, EU Conflict and Humanitarian Policy Advisor at Oxfam Europe told EURACTIV.
EU-Israel Council to take place despite ongoing settlement expansion
The EU-Israel Association Council is preparing to meet for the first time in a decade, just before general elections in Israel in November, with Palestinian rights groups contending that Israel has entrenched its control of the occupied Palestinian territories through continued settlement construction and the activities of its security forces.
Six organisations case
Last October, the Israeli government designated six Palestinian organisations as terrorist groups. Some of them receive EU funds.
According to Israel, these groups have connections with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which is on US and EU terrorism blacklists.
As a precautionary measure, the EU froze its funds to them, but because of the lack of evidence provided by Israel to back up their designation, cash flows restarted to flow last summer.
These organisations include ‘Al Haq, Defending Human Rights’, an NGO based in Ramallah since 1979 to promote human rights and rule of law in the Occupied Territories.
In a meeting with journalists in Ramallah, the Al Haq director Shawan Jabarin said that organisations like Al Haq are targeted because they accuse the Israeli state of ‘apartheid-style’ policies in the Occupied Territories, as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch stated last year, and also “actively submit cases to the International Criminal Court” to promote accountability and rule of law in the country.
“They also target our workers, for instance, treating them or their families, or limiting permits because of the connection with us,” the Al Haq director said.
The work of entities operating in the West Bank is particularly challenging, local NGOs said during different visits to the area.
In the village of Al Walaja, situated between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, where a large Israeli settlement is gradually expanding, organisations in the field ask journalists not to be quoted as they fear being targeted by the Israeli government.
Palestinian families are required to get a Jerusalem ID card from Israeli authorities to be classified as residents, but face major bureaucratic obstacles to obtain it and face the daily risk of eviction.
“The Israeli government tends to divide the families in that village. Sometimes they give the Jerusalem ID to the parents and not to the children, and vice-versa”, an official from one of these organisations, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“Very often a family that applies for a Jerusalem ID without getting it, are not able to get the Palestinian ID from the Palestinian Authority, so they eventually become stateless,” the source told reporters.
Similar problems face the refugee camp of Aida managed by UNRWA (United Nationals Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East), which is located near the Har Homa and Gilo settlements, and close to significant checkpoints between Bethlehem and Jerusalem.
During a visit to the camp, UNWRA staff told reporters that the camp experiences many incursions by Israeli forces. Killings and arrests are among the results of their operations and the Israeli control of this territory affects their work.
According to their data, the camp had roughly 7,600 incursions in 2021 and has had around 6,300 so far this year.
“Members of our staff that are Palestinians sometimes need three hours for a trip that would need only thirty minutes to arrive in the office, because they cannot pass through certain roads,” a member of the UNWRA staff said.
The camp is regularly funded by the EU, and in 2022 it received €97 million.
[Edited by Benjamin Fox]