Last night, Moira+I went to listen to Lindsey Sharpe, from Ecumenical Accompaniment to Programme in Palestine+Israel (EAPPI). She talked about her experiences as one of EAPPI’s “ecumenical accompaniers” (EAs) in Jerusalem. EAPPI is a programme coordinated by the World Council of Churches founded in response to a call from the local Heads of Churches in Jerusalem that brings internationals to the West Bank. Since 2002, over 1,500 volunteers have worked in the West Bank for 3 months as EAs. EPPI’s mission is to witness life under occupation, engage with local Palestinians and Israelis pursuing a just peace, to change the international community’s involvement in the conflict, urging them to act against injustice in the region.As we all know, this “peace process” has been (and continues to be) a long, frustrating, ugly business.
In 1993, with the Oslo Peace Accords, there was hope and engagement between Israel and the Palestinians. More than 20 years on, peace in the Middle East seems more remote than ever. One of the main reasons is undoubtedly Israel’s incessant settlement policy in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In recent years, this policy has been preventing
the resumption of meaningful peace negotiations. But its negative impact goes much further: it threatens the viability of the two-state solution and therefore the very feasibility of peace.
The facts are frightening (taken from “Trading Away Peace: How Europe helps sustain illegal Israeli settlements”, published in 2012):
1. There are now more than 500,000 Israeli settlers living in over 200 settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. The settler population has more than doubled since the conclusion of the Oslo peace accords in 1993, which were intended to provide a framework for ending the occupation.
2. The settler population is growing at a much faster rate (an average of 5.3% annually over the last decade) than the Israeli population as a whole (1.8%). Some of the largest settlements, such as Ma’ale Adummim, Ariel and Betar Illit are now sizable towns with tens of thousands of inhabitants.
3. During the past two years in particular, following the failure of US President Obama’s effort to convince the Israeli government to freeze settlement construction, settlement growth has markedly accelerated. More than 16,000 new housing units have been announced or approved since October 2010.
4. Over the same period, Israeli authorities have stepped up demolitions of Palestinian homes, while violent attacks by settlers against Palestinians have also sharply increased.
5. More than 42% of West Bank land and the majority of water and natural resources have been seized from Palestinians and allocated to settlements.
6. Settlements and the related infrastructure, including new road networks and the separation barrier, have carved up Palestinian communities into disconnected enclaves with movement controlled by checkpoints. This “land grab”, that has no legitimate security justification, has dramatically reduced the space available for Palestinians to develop livelihoods and construct housing and infrastructure. At the same time, settlements have been integrated with Israel proper, blurring the internationally accepted pre-1967 border between Israel and the West Bank.
7. Through the establishment of settlements, Israel has created a discriminatory two-tier regime in the West Bank with two populations living separately in the same territory under two different systems of law. While settlers enjoy all the rights and benefits of Israeli citizens, Palestinians are subject to a system of Israeli military laws that deprives them of their fundamental rights.
It shouldn’t be like this.
Despite the fact that, for decades, the United Nations has condemned the Israeli Occupation on numerous occasions and despite the fact that politicians have frequently voiced their disapproval of Israel’s actions, world leaders (including past world leaders, like Tony Blair in his so-called “peace envoy” capacity!) continue to be unable to instigate change.
Again and again, UN resolutions have been disregarded or the US administration has vetoed security council resolutions to condemn Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory. Between 2000-2011 (I don’t have recent figures), the US has used its veto 10 times, nine of which involved backing the Israeli side in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate that there are violations and atrocities carried out by BOTH sides. I, like most people, just want an end to the injustice of occupation and a lasting, peaceful solution.
There MUST be a better way.
Photo: maps which show the loss of Palestinian land between 1946 and 2005 (and it’s still happening)... sorry for the poor quality.
PS: Lindsey Sharpe finished her talk by showing this clip from Palestinian poet, Rafeef Ziadah. I’d seen it before, but it IS quite special.