May 30, 2017

Day 3 EFA Visit to Palestine: Jerusalem & Ramallah

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Tuesday 2 October - Plaid Cymru MEP Jill Evans on the third day of her visit to Palestine with EFA MEPs Ana Miranda and François Alfonsi.

A day that raised serious questions. We began with a briefing by the United Nations office for humanitarian relief (OCHA) in Jerusalem. Our visit this time did not include Gaza but OCHA gave us a detailed update on the situation there which helped put the whole Palestinian situation in context. I can't speak highly enough of the work of the UN in the West Bank and Gaza. They not only provide support but they really understand the people and communities they work with. They gave us lots of statistics, but the most important fact for me was that the Palestinian economy is getting worse because they don't have access to natural resources or facilities to export goods. The World Bank, which is hardly a 'trendy leftie' organisation, has stated that if the restrictions on movement in the West Bank were removed, the economy would have a chance to flourish. Nothing can develop when there are over 500 "closures" in place - roadblocks, checkpoints etc.

We travelled to Ramallah later in the morning to meet the Palestinian Water Authority. Contrary to popular assumptions, there is no shortage of water in this region. In fact, it rains as much as it does in London. Palestine is rich in water resources. Under the Oslo agreement in 1993, as a temporary measure, Israel takes 80% of that water. What happened in fact was that Israel took 90% of the water and now sells Palestine its own water back at ever increasing prices. Not only that, but the average allowed consumption of water per person by Palestinians is 70 litres a day compared to 300 litres by Israelis. Compare that to Wales, where I come from, where we consume on average 149 litres. We believe that Wales as a nation has a right to control its own water supplies, but it is hard for us to imagine being exploited in the way the Palestinian people are. As many as 200,000 Palestinians don't even have access to running water.

From there were we went to meet families of the thousands of Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails. This is such a huge issue that the Palestinian Authority have a Minister for Prisoners who also met us. A year ago there was an agreement with Israel to release hundreds of prisoners when the Israeli soldier, Gilat Shalid, was released. It was shocking to hear that those released prisoners can now be re-imprisoned for life if they get involved in political activity. It was even more shocking to hear that the Minister for Prisoners is not allowed to visit those Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

PLC Barghouti
After meeting Israeli MPs last night, it was only right that we should meet Palestinians MPs tonight. One of the four was Dr. Mustapha Barghouti (photo right) who I had met some years ago on a previous visit. We had an open and frank discussion about prospects for peace. They were not optimistic that an agreement could be reached that would secure the future of a Palestinian state. We, as MEPs, and the European Union as a whole are committed to the so-called "two state solution" - an independent Israeli state and an independent Palestinian state existing side by side and co-operating with each another. With the increase in Israeli housing settlements in Palestine and apartheid like policies that discriminate between people on the basis of their nationality, this solution seems to be slipping from their hands.

The general international assumption is that things are much better now in Jerusalem and the West Bank. When I first came here in 2000 the military presence was overwhelming. There were soldiers and checkpoints everywhere. There was an atmosphere of fear and distrust. Superficially things seem to have improved. But is that the reality?

On our way back from Ramallah to Jerusalem tonight we encountered a massive traffic jam. It soon became clear that we were again being held up at an army checkpoint. We were stopped, the armed soldiers came on our minibus and asked for our passports. They wanted to see any cameras we had and after checking the photos they let us go. Two checkpoint stops in two days! Twelve years on it doesn't feel very different to me.

For more information, visit EFA delegation to Palestine