European-Funded Structures demolished in Tawayel in the Jordan Valley

by Becky, Yanoun Team

“We condemn such a demolition and I have asked the Israeli ambassador in Brussels to meet me at my department. First of all to convey my condemnation to the ambassador, but also to request compensation for the damage caused.”

Belgian Foreign Affairs Minister Didier Reynders, 2 October 2014

In October this year, the tiny village of Tawayel in the West Bank became national news in Belgium. On 29 September, the Israeli Military destroyed a power network which provides the small shepherding community in Tawayel (Tell al Khashaba) with electricity. The network was funded by the Belgian government and implemented by the Belgian Technical Company (BTC). The deliberate Israeli military demolition of 70 electric pylons and 4.5 kilometres of cables caught on camera by the EAPPI team from Yanoun sparked outrage in Brussels.

Demolition of Belgian-funded electric pylon in Tawayel on September 29. Photo EAPPI/H. Kjøllesdal.

Israeli authorities demolish an electric pylon in Tawayel which was funded by the Belgian government, 29 September 2014. Photo EAPPI/H. Kjøllesdal.

The destruction of the Belgian electricity network in Tawayel itself is not unique. Last week, the EAPPI team based in Yanoun arrived in Tawayel to witness the Israeli military in the process of destroying several water pipes funded by the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO). However, the strong condemnation of the demolitions expressed by the Belgian government is a positive step forward, as many demolitions go unchallenged by European funders.

An EA, Ghassan, our driver/interpreter and a villager from Tawayel walk away from a water pipe damaged by the Israeli military on 2 November 2014. Photo EAPPI/A. Tesche.

An EA, Ghassan, our driver/interpreter and a villager from Tawayel walk away from a water pipe damaged by the Israeli military on 2 November 2014. Photo EAPPI/A. Tesche.

The financial and human cost of demolitions

The European Union (EU) is amongst the largest donors in the Palestinian water and agricultural sectors. The EU and its member states help to fund water and sanitation infrastructure, electricity networks and roads in the West Bank, particularly in Area C. From 2002 to 2012, the Israeli military destroyed 82 projects with a total financial loss of €49.15 million. Since 2012, many more projects have been damaged by the Israeli military. Despite the financial cost to the European Union and its member states, few funders have objected to the demolitions or demanded compensation.

In addition to the financial losses, every demolition has a human cost for the Palestinians living in affected areas. Tawayel is a shepherding community, dependent on electricity to store their milk, cheese and yoghurt products. Although the electrical network has been partially restored, the damage to the electricity pylons could have a negative impact on the livelihood of shepherds such as Osama Beni Fadil, who has nine children to support. Living with the reality of demolition can be extremely demoralising.

“Nobody cares about us here, because we are not in Jerusalem,” Osama told EAPPI on 2 November after the demolitions of the water pipes, roads and one of his buildings.

The daughter of shepherd Osama Beni Fadil sitting with the family flock. Villagers in Tawayel are dependent on livestock produce for their income, which requires electricity for refrigeration. Photo EAPPI/ A. Tesche.

The daughter of shepherd Osama Beni Fadil sitting with the family flock. Villagers in Tawayel are dependent on livestock produce for their income, which requires electricity for refrigeration. Photo EAPPI/ A. Tesche.

Are the demolitions legal?

International Humanitarian Law applies to the whole of the West Bank, including villages such as Tawayel which are in Area C. Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states that destruction of personal property belonging to ‘public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations’ is prohibited unless ‘absolutely necessary by military operations’. The destruction of water projects violates the human right to access clean and adequate water which is enshrined in multiple international laws. The demolition of water pipes and roads in Tawayel are also illegal under Israeli law, as according to locals they had not been issued with demolition orders.

Israeli Military illegally demolish European Commission funded water pipes in Tawayel, West Bank. Video EAPPI/R. Viney-Wood.

Ongoing demolitions: Time for Europe to act

The destruction of the electrical network in Tawayel is not the first demolition of a European funded structure in the West Bank, and it is unlikely to be the last. In the case of Belgium, the electricity network is the first project they have funded to be demolished in the West Bank. Although the project had an outstanding demolition order on it from 2008 which was re-issued in March this year, the Belgian government had made the ‘utmost diplomatic efforts’ to prevent the destruction. The disregard of these efforts by the Israeli military combined with public pressure following images of the destruction in Belgian media led the government to condemn the destruction.

The Belgian Foreign Minister Reynders stated:

“We need to have an EU initiative, because this not only concerns Belgian projects, but also projects of several other countries, I believe, and definitely European Commission projects.”

Reynders added that Belgium intends to discuss the matter of compensation with other European states at the EU level. Since the Belgian condemnation of the demolitions the Israeli military have not touched the electric pylons in Tawayel, which have been partially restored. It is imperative that European funders object to Israeli military demolitions of their projects, on legal and financial grounds. It is also important for European funders to condemn the human costs of demolitions which affect every day life in villages such as Tawayel.

*Read more about the multiple demolitions Tawayel has faced in the past year.

What is the European Union doing for Palestine, and what should it be doing?

EAPPI observers actively involved in relaying facts on the ground from their eyewitness experience to the EU delegation in Jerusalem.

by Helga and Johanna

EAPPI visits the European Commission delegation in Jerusalem. Photo EAPPI/H. Edvindsen

EAPPI visits the European Commission delegation in Jerusalem. Photo EAPPI/H. Edvindsen

Working as human rights observers in the West Bank, we constantly see the European Union flag. We have attended trainings funded by the European Commission, met EU humanitarian aid workers improving hydration and sanitation facilities in vulnerable communities, learned about an EU funded project preserving the oral tradition of Bedouin culture. The list goes on…

On Monday, October 12, we visited, with 2 other EAPPI colleagues, the Office of the European Representative for the West Bank and Gaza in East Jerusalem. Our mission – to present our work and discuss EU policies in the region.

What is the EU doing?

In our meeting, the EU delegation representatives explained that the EU is helping the Palestinian Authority build institutions for the future independent and democratic Palestinian State and working to enhance economic and political cooperation with the EU. All of these efforts are based on the EU’s Interim Association Agreement on Trade and Cooperation.

The Lithuanian Presidency of the EU Council recently called on Israel to “end the settlements”, stating that they undermine the peace process.  Such an active stance is encouraging.

What we’ve seen…

Despite these positive developments, we’ve seen many counteractive actions and took the opportunity to share with the EU delegation what we have seen in our 3 months.

We discussed the rise in house demolitions in Area C. The UN recorded at least 8 demolitions in Palestinian villages since mid-August, including the demolition of Az Za’ayem Bedouin village, which we witnessed with our own eyes. This is only one example of a demolition in the E1 area, which will displace over 2,300 Jahalin Bedouins from the area east of Jerusalem. We pointed out that many EU funded buildings are those that are demolished, as was the case in Khirbet al Makhul. The Association of International Development Agencies in Jerusalem, reported in May 2012 that the Israeli authorities demolished 30 European funded structures between March to May 2012 alone. 

We expressed concern over the steady expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and the continuation of this expansion, despite current peace talks. Since 1967, Israeli has allowed the creation of over 150 settlements and 100 settlement outposts.

We shared the situation of settlement expansion in Hebron, in which Israeli settlers aim to move into the Rajabi building. If allowed, they will create a new settlement in Hebron, which will link the settlements of Kiryat Arba and Givat Ha’avot to the Israeli settlements in the Old City of Hebron.  This new settlement will also have a devastating humanitarian impact on the local Palestinian community.

Israeli settlers threw rocks and broke these windows of the Jab'a Bedouin community. Photo EAPPI/J. Kaprio

Israeli settlers threw rocks and broke these windows of the Jab’a Bedouin community. Photo EAPPI/J. Kaprio

We showed pictures of settler attacks against Palestinians; the burning of more than 400 olive trees in Jalud and pictures of windows of several buildings in the Jab’a Bedouin community that settlers damaged with stones.

What the EU must do?

Consistency and determination is required from the EU and its member states in policies towards supporting the development of a future Palestinian state and peace in the region.

As a major market for agricultural products from Israeli settlements, the EU helps sustain settlements, making them viable and profitable. This reality, necessitates that the EU fully implement its new guidelines, which will come into force on 1 January 2014 and ensure that Israeli settlements are not benefitting from trade with the EU.

Recent speculations reveal that the guidelines may not be fully implemented after all, due to the political dismay they caused in Israel and in order for Israel to be able to participate in the EU’s Horizon 2020 financial instrument. We expressed our concern and emphasized that the Horizon 2020 programme must not happen at the expense of human rights.

Respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law are core values of the European Union embedded in the charter of fundamental rights of the European Union.  These values are binding to all 28 Member States.

While EU policy making does not happen on the delegation level, we know they are important avenues in relaying facts from the ground to the corridors of Brussels’ institutions.

“Europeans are finally beginning to understand the situation in Palestine, we welcome their efforts to help and we welcome the guidelines,” the headmaster of Al-Fakheit school in Masafar Yatta recently told us.

We share his welcome and are glad we could portray the effects of the Israeli occupation on the everyday life of the Palestinians.

From the occupied Palestinian territories to the European Union

Jenny Derbyshire, previously based in Bethlehem, was part of a team from EAPPI that travelled to Brussels recently to bring to light stories of Palestinians living under siege. Derbyshire, from Ireland, used her eye witness accounts from the occupied territory to urge the European Union to support the two-state solution for peace and stability in the region.

by Jenny Derbyshire

Raba Fanoun from Nahhalin village near Bethlehem shows his olive trees destroyed by Israeli settlers. Photo: Merita Saajos

Raba Fanoun from Nahhalin village near Bethlehem shows his olive trees destroyed by Israeli settlers. Photo: Merita Saajos

In March this year, Raba Fanoun, from the village of Nahhalin near Bethlehem, discovered that Israeli settlers had come to his land during the night with hatchets and destroyed 80 mature olive trees, which his father had planted thirty years ago. This was nearly half the total number of his mature olive trees. The livelihood for his extended family depended on them. Later that day, volunteers from the EAPPI Bethlehem team visited Fanoun, to report on this destruction.

“When you plant a small flower in your house,” Fanoun said, “imagine how you feel when it dies; and think about the trees we have cared for, for 30 years.”

“This is a big attack on your livelihood,” I said.

“It’s not just our livelihood, it’s our life,” was the reply.

During my three months in Bethlehem I was often in this village, which is under constant threat from settlements on the surrounding hilltops, including the huge nearby settlement of Beitar Illit. In April we were called out to witness and report on the military orders left under stones on village farmland, confiscating another area of land for the extension of the security zone around Beitar Illit.

“When you go home, tell people in your countries,” the mayor urged us, “tell them what is happening here. This is the last of the farmland of our village. They want us to leave. They are trying to drive us away.”

As part of a meeting of EAPPI representatives with EU officials in September this year, I was able to tell the stories from Nahhalin to members of the European Parliament (MEPs), permanent representatives, officials from the External Action Service and the cabinet of the commissioner for research. We showed them a photo of the building activity that we saw taking place in Beitar Illit, right above Palestinian farmland. Such establishments lead to the extension of the security zone, and run-off from the settlement sewage system polluting the Palestinian farmland and water supply.

I was also able to show a photo of Fanoun with his destroyed olive trees and describe the impact settlement has on local people. We told the MEPs what Fanoun and the mayor shared with us.

We also brought to them words of another farmer from Nahhalin: “What they call Area C is actually the future of Palestine.” What most people in the occupied territories shared with us was that “the situation is urgent, if the two-state solution is to have any chance of success”.

For the visit to Brussels I worked as a team with two other former Ecumenical Accompaniers: Jonathan Adams from the United Kingdom and Dominika Blachnika from Poland were EAPPI volunteers in East Jerusalem in 2012; I was in Bethlehem this year and in East Jerusalem in 2012. So we also described the impact of the developments in the E1 area outside Jerusalem on the lives of the Bedouin people we had met there.

This is now a well-known issue politically, but the stories from people living there and the impact of the loss of land, water and access to Jerusalem shows the level of displacement and deprivation. We linked this with the stories from the Bethlehem villages, where Palestinian people are also threatened by forced displacement. Their farmlands are disappearing into settlement construction, is claimed by the route of the separation barrier, and comes under repeated attacks from settlers.

We shared what we had seen and passed on the words of the Palestinians we got to know during our stay; we shared maps and photos; we shared statistics. We reminded politicians that under international humanitarian law, which the EU upholds, Palestinians have a protected status and settlements are illegal. EU officials have recently taken steps through issuing EU guidelines on grants and loans to settlements. We hope that our testimonies will encourage them to continue in this direction and take the necessary actions for the resolution of the Israel Palestine conflict.

This article originally appear on the World Council of Churches website and also appeared on Christian Today.