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Losing ground - Israel, poverty and the Palestinians


Executive summary
Chapter 1. Roots of poverty: Palestinian history 1917-1994
Chapter 2. Coming to a halt: the impact of closure
Chapter 3. Lost ground: Israeli settlements and Palestinian land
Chapter 4. Every last drop: Israel's control of water
Chapter 5. A bleak harvest: the undermining of agriculture
Chapter 6. 'A process of deterioration': health, the intifada and closure
Chapter 7. Unequal playing field: the effect of integration on trade and the economy
Chapter 8. The divided city: Jerusalem and the loss of an economic centre
Chapter 9. Poverty or development: the reform of the Palestinian Authority
Chapter 10. Prospects and conclusions
Appendix: International humanitarian law Notes Acknowledgements


In recent years I have made many visits to the Middle East. In 1996, I noted the hope and optimism engendered by the Oslo peace process. But on each of my visits since then, the sense of frustration with Oslo has become increasingly apparent.

As I returned home each time, two requests rang loudly in my ears. Firstly, that the stories of ordinary people living in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel today should be told. Behind the politics and the events that grab the attention of the media, there is to be found not only real human suffering but also an increasing loss of hope.

Secondly, people told me, the UK and the EU must take their responsibilities seriously. Why should the UK and EU assume a special role? We have a moral responsibility. The UK, in particular, has played a singular role in shaping the political landscape of the Middle East.

We also have a global responsibility. Whatever the particular linkage between the crisis in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories on the one hand, and the current world situation on the other, the state of the world clearly cannot be understood without reference to Middle Eastern tensions.

Finally, we have a religious responsibility. Middle Eastern churches feel unrecognised and misunderstood outside the region. There is a further aspect to this religious responsibility. While the only solution to this conflict is a political one, a crucial religious perspective to that solution has been ignored. From this point of view, the Alexandria interfaith process initiated by Archbishop George Carey is to be welcomed. At the landmark gathering, a dozen senior Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders issued a seven-point declaration pledging to use their religious and moral authority to work for an end to violence and the resumption of the peace process.

Members of religious communities in the UK and Ireland could, and should, do more. They can, for example, support religious dialogue. Such a dialogue needs to cover key issues, including:

  • forgiveness and its relationship to justice, notably the recurrent biblical imperative linking promises of restoration for God's people to faithful obedience and conformity to God's will

  • an understanding of the significance of 'the land' and identity in all three traditions. The land is associated not only with promise but with warning

  • the nature of hope. We need to understand just what it is that motivates people to be willing to die, when there is no hope for which to live.

For each of the three great faiths represented in the Middle East, there is an urgent need to reflect theologically. For each community, there is a vital question we need to ask ourselves: in what kind of God do we believe? A life-giving God who cares for all humanity? A liberating God? A God who loves the world rather than a religious elite? It is a matter of theology, and ultimately it is in our theology, that our hope will be found.

The Palestinian-Israeli situation today shows the futility of violence, where endless repression and resistance feed off each other. From this cycle of repression and violence, conflict and provocation, comes the bitter fruits of poverty. Action is urgently needed to break this cycle of diminishing hope. We need an honest analysis of the causes of the current humanitarian crisis and we need a response which balances the need to address both immediate relief needs and the structural problems behind them. In particular, what is required is support for the active engagement of all key partners in a renewed peace process, working towards the end of the occupation and the causes of poverty and conflict.

For these reasons I very much welcome this report by Christian Aid and its work to eradicate poverty and to create the conditions in which peace and justice may become a possibility for all.

The Rt Revd Michael Langrish
Bishop of Exeter

Executive summary

'We do not want the flag. We want to live in freedom. Now we do not live - we simply exist. We exist by accident.'
Palestinian woman in the Gaza Strip

Every day brings news of further tragedy from Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories: the eight-year-old boy shot by the Israeli Defence Forces as he leaves school; the suicide bomber who kills himself and a group of Israeli teenagers out for a carefree evening; a crowded bus blown up during morning rush hour in West Jerusalem; F-16s and helicopter gunships mounting bombardments in civilian neighbourhoods. This is the daily fare for international television news - the regular viewing of two societies locked together in fear.

Behind the headlines and the television images is another sort of violence: the violence of the dramatic plunge by ordinary Palestinians into extreme poverty. This is the story that we do not hear, the relentless, incremental slide into a life dominated by lack of money to buy food, ill-health and rising levels of malnutrition. Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem are today experiencing a humanitarian crisis that is just as fundamental to the conflict as the suicide bombers and Israeli F-16s that make the news.

The impact of the conflict is felt by Israelis and Palestinians in innumerable ways: the worker who fears travelling to work because of suicide bombings on buses, or the children afraid to travel to school. But while the daily climate of fear is shared, the economic impact is primarily felt by Palestinians: the father who works only one day in ten; the farmer whose crops rot in the field because he may be shot by Israeli settlers if he tries to harvest them; the school building constructed with funds from international donors which is now shattered by army incursions. Large swathes of farmland have been cleared, citrus and olive groves torn out to make way for settlements and settler roads.

Almost three-quarters of Palestinians now live on less than US$2 a day - below the official UN poverty line. Half the population needs extra food to ensure minimum daily requirements. A quarter of all children are anaemic. From Christian Aid partners, working in the poorest communities in the occupied territories, we hear even starker figures: in some Gaza Strip villages, 63 per cent of children are anaemic, while unemployment stands at 70 per cent. Palestinian society is rapidly falling into poverty and despair.

The creation of poverty

Responsibility for the current humanitarian crisis rests principally with Israel's military occupation of the Palestinian territories. But the foundations for impoverishment were laid long ago. Starting with an already poor agrarian economy, Palestinians have seen the promise of a secure future stripped away - by the progressive loss of land from 1948 onwards and by successive military incursions marked by violence, land occupation and the subordination of the Palestinian economy to the Israeli economy. The Oslo Accords of September 1993, despite the great hopes surrounding them, failed to deliver significant change, as has the Palestinian Authority. Attention given by the Palestinian Authority to poverty eradication - even allowing for the destruction of its infrastructure - has been notable by its absence. Frustration, despair and disillusionment - especially following the failure of the Camp David talks - were partly the result of the slide into deeper poverty after 1993.

The rest of the story will be told more fully in this report by Christian Aid's partners and the ordinary Palestinians with whom they work: how actions taken by the Israeli government, for security or other reasons, have created a situation of de-development - of systematically stripping away the ingredients of a viable economy and society.

Individually, these acts would not be enough to cause extreme poverty; together, they add up to a devastating armoury of policies that have dismantled an already weak economy.

The key structures creating poverty are:

  • Loss of land - Since the 1967 Six Day War established a new border, Israel has gradually encroached on Palestinian land through expropriation, occupation and acquisition of so-called 'state land'. After the Oslo Accords, agreement on Israeli military control meant that Israel controlled 82.8 per cent of Palestinian territory. The area of self-rule in the Gaza Strip now amounts to less than a quarter of the size of London

  • Settlements - Almost 42 per cent of the West Bank, according to Christian Aid partner B'Tselem, is controlled by Israeli settlements and regional municipal councils. The number of settlers has doubled since the Oslo peace process, to 200,000 in the West Bank, excluding East Jerusalem

  • Water - Israeli control over access to water limits Palestinian irrigation for agriculture, the drilling of boreholes and personal consumption. Israelis' allocation of water is five times that of Palestinians. Israeli settlers in the Gaza Strip use almost seven times more water than Palestinians there

  • Closure and curfew - Since the second intifada, a tightening of the network of military checkpoints and roadblocks has placed three million Palestinians under virtual siege. Villages are cut off from one another; it is often impossible to travel from one part of the West Bank to another, as well as between the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The uncertainty as to whether journeys can be made is damaging, both psychologically and economically

  • Lack of strong self-government - The failure of the Palestinian Authority to tackle poverty and develop accountable institutions has hindered Palestinian economic development. In addition, 60 per cent of the Palestinian Authority's budget comes from tax revenue held by the Israeli government. Israel's ability to withhold payment of this revenue, coupled with the destruction of much of PA infrastructure, has contributed to a breakdown in government functions. The annexation of East Jerusalem has deprived the Occupied Palestinian Territories of its traditional economic centre.

Any real semblance of normal life is grinding to a halt - but it is ordinary life for which most Palestinians long. 'When I look at television, I see children in gardens and in schools, having a secure life,' one 35-year-old Palestinian mother of four told Christian Aid. 'I close my eyes and wish that I were living in these circumstances - especially for my children.'

The humanitarian mandate

All of Christian Aid's Palestinian partners have been affected by the second intifada and, even more fundamentally, by the Israeli invasion of March/April 2002 and subsequent tightening of the military occupation. Long-term development work - the challenge of helping people to raise their own standards of living - has become all but impossible. The Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees (PARC), which normally trains farmers in agricultural techniques, has also been distributing emergency food packages and has begun work programmes to alleviate unemployment. Twisted metal is all that remains of the greenhouses built by PARC in Beit Layla village; the greenhouses were bulldozed to create a 'security zone' for a nearby Israeli settlement.

Placing three million people under what is effectively a siege inevitably has consequences for their health. Treatment is inaccessible; emergency care is often blocked as even Red Crescent ambulances are fired upon; malnutrition is on the rise. Christian Aid's partner, the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees (UPMRC), has trained and resourced mobile medical and first-aid teams. Women have been trained to provide first aid, as ambulances are often blocked or delayed by closure and checkpoints. In a survey of 760 families in the Gaza Strip, nine out of ten reported that one or more family members had psychological difficulties. Children's lives, especially, are marked by fear, nightmares and anxiety.

Aid agencies such as Christian Aid have a duty to fulfil their humanitarian mandate and to meet immediate needs, especially in times of emergency. But Christian Aid's mandate, in the OPT and Israel as elsewhere, is also to look at the causes of poverty and to speakout about those causes. This report, Losing Ground, is an attempt to challenge the structures that are making Palestinians poor and to alert the international community to the urgency of finding a solution.

International responsibilities

Israeli government actions that impoverish Palestinians violate international humanitarian law, specifically the Fourth Geneva Convention and the Hague Regulations (reproduced in part in the appendix). Both regulate behaviour in war and in occupied territories. Collective punishment, for instance, as imposed by curfew and by closure, violates the Fourth Geneva Convention. Seizure or destruction of municipal property - the destruction of Palestinian Authority buildings, for instance - is illegal under the Hague Regulations. Many Israeli actions violate UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 that call for Israel to withdraw from territories occupied in 1967 and later resolutions calling for an end to violence.

Like any other state, Israel is obliged to adhere to the international conventions to which it has committed itself. Israel accepts the applicability of the Hague Regulations but not of the Fourth Geneva Convention in the OPT, although it undertakes to respect its humanitarian provisions. It argues that

the territory it occupies was not part of the sovereign territory of either Egypt or Jordan, the two states from which it wrested control of the Palestinian territories, and that therefore the Fourth Geneva Convention does not apply because the territories were never a state. No other High Contracting Party of the Geneva Convention has accepted this argument.

The Palestinian Authority, marked by corruption, collapsing infrastructure and inefficiency, has failed to tackle poverty and has also consistently violated human rights standards. Palestinian calls for reform have grown. The terms of reference for reform, Palestinians say, must be set by themselves.

But the responsibility for increasing poverty lies far wider than this. Had the other 160 signatories to the Geneva Conventions and the Hague Regulations taken their obligations seriously, the key issues in the conflict - annexation of land, settlements,closure and control of water - would have been confronted. The major powers - the US, UK, and the rest of the EU -have the authority to make international law meaningful. That they have not done so means that the downward spiral of Palestinian daily life is in equal measure their responsibility, too.

Christian Aid believes steps must be taken by the international community, Israel and the Palestinian Authority to:

Alleviate the current humanitarian crisis

  • Withdraw Israeli forces to positions held prior to September 2000 to allow humanitarian work to be carried out unimpeded

  • Establish an international presence to monitor all human rights violations

  • Lift the closure and dismantle checkpoints within the OPT

  • Allow unimpeded progress of Palestinian people and goods and humanitarian access through Israeli ports and across international borders

  • Release PA tax revenue currently held by Israel to a transparent fiscal agency within the PA

  • Repair water, sewage and other essential infrastructure

  • End all land confiscation and impose an immediate freeze on settlements.

Create the economic foundations for development

  • Allow the PA to exercise sovereignty over its international borders, trade and economic activities

  • Guarantee freedom of movement for Palestinians and goods within and between both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip

  • Establish a forum for deciding equitable water allocation and control across the region.

Dismantle the occupation

  • Allocate to permanent Palestinian control land seized by Israel since 1967

  • Reach a negotiated end to land confiscations and a final agreement on settlements

  • Support Palestinian-initiated reform of the Palestinian Authority to ensure good governance and accountability

  • Hold both Israel and the Palestinian Authority to account for violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.

Losing ground

As this report goes to press, an eight-metre high concrete wall is being constructed around the West Bank by the Israeli authorities. It is thought it will run much of the length of the 'Green Line' - the 1967 border - but at key points carves out yet more Palestinian land. Built at the cost of =A31 million a mile, the wall is creating what some Palestinians describe as the world's largest open-air prison. When it is completed, it will have razor wire, trenches, floodlights and electronic detectors. It will allow access to Israel only at Israeli-controlled checkpoints. When Christian Aid visited the town of Qalqilya, large areas of olive groves, farmland and homes were being cut off from the town - depriving farmers of their land and livelihoods.

For Israelis, living in fear for themselves and their children, the wall is an attempt to create security in a land where attacks can come at any time. No amount of 'absolute closure' - the complete block on all traffic between the occupied territories and Israel - has stopped the suicide bombs, or calmed the sense of fear and extreme tension that permeates Israeli society. Many Israelis hope the wall will provide the answer - that they can go back to living a more normal life. But it is not a solution to the conflict.

Based on its experience in Israel and the Palestinian territories since the 1950s, Christian Aid believes that any resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must respect the integrity of both the Palestinian and Israeli people. Both the Palestinian Authority and the state of Israel must be held to account for their violations of human rights and international law. Christian Aid unreservedly condemns the suicide bombing and attacks on Israeli civilians by Palestinians, as do its human rights partners in both the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel. Israel's right to recognition and to safety for all its citizens, as well as its right to independent economic development, is not in question. Christian Aid believes that the Palestinian people should be afforded that right as well.


The international community has failed to find a resolution to the conflict. Ending Israel's illegal occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, through a peace process based on international humanitarian law, is the only way to achieve such a resolution.

Christian Aid urges European states, particularly the UK and Ireland, to take all necessary steps to bring about a just and lasting peace. It calls on the international community to address the causes of Palestinian poverty.

As a matter of urgency, the international community must:

  • continue targeted aid for the most vulnerable people throughout the current emergency

  • implement an international protection mechanism in order to avert further loss of life among Israeli and Palestinian civilians, allow negotiations between the two sides to resume and ensure that humanitarian work can proceed unhindered

  • bring pressure to bear on the government of Israel to withdraw its military forces to positions held before September 2000 and halt all attacks on, and damage to, Palestinian civilian infrastructure

  • ensure that Israel ends the policy of closure and curfew of Palestinian cities, towns and villages throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Freedom of movement within these areas must be guaranteed

  • ensure that Israel stops all land confiscation and freezes all new settlement construction. Israel must also stop expanding existing settlements, a process which it commonly describes as 'natural growth'

  • encourage talks to resume immediately to reach a final settlement. Any framework must be based on UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. These call for full Israeli withdrawal from lands occupied since 1967 and the end to illegal occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, and reaffirm the right of Israel and a future Palestinian state to exist within secure borders

  • support reforms of Palestinian self-government that are meaningful, lasting and owned by the Palestinian people themselves. It should work with the Palestinian Authority to establish accountable and transparent institutions in order to prevent any human rights abuses within Palestinian areas and acts of terror within Israel. The PA must be held to account for its actions

  • assist in the reconstruction and development of the Palestinian economy and infrastructure through aid, trade and investment.

In addition, the international community must meet its own obligations under individual government and international law to:

  • ensure Israeli compliance with the Fourth Geneva Convention, which relates to the protection of civilians during war or under occupation. Christian Aid calls on the US, UK, Irish and other EU governments to specify publicly the actions they are taking to ensure that Israel complies with the Geneva Conventions

  • the European Union should enforce all provisions within bilateral treaties with Israel, including human rights articles, such as the Association Agreement. It should consider suspension of such agreements in light of Israel's non-compliance.

The United Kingdom and Ireland must take specific actions:

  • the UK government must explain how Israel's status as one of 14 'target markets', identified by the Department for Trade and Industry for preferential trade promotion, is compatible with Israel's non-compliance with international law

  • the UK government should use the range of bilateral mechanisms available to it to help ensure Israel's adherence to the Geneva Conventions and international law. Christian Aid calls on the UK government to explain how it is using its influence with the United States to press the US to ensure Israeli compliance with international law and to guarantee an equitable peace between Israel and the Palestinians

  • the Irish government should take every opportunity to use its influence, both bilaterally and through multilateral fora, to ensure Israeli compliance with international law and to promote an equitable peace between Israel and the Palestinians based on UN resolutions 242 and 338.

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