Select Committee on International Development Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Ms Isabelle Humphries

  My testimony is independent opinion gathered through three years working throughout the Palestinian Occupied Territories, and in no way reflects official policy of UNDP or any other NGO that I worked with.

  1.  I was contracted by UNDP/PAPP (UN Development Programme/ Programme of Assistance to the Palestinian People), to write their quarterly magazine, FOCUS. The aim of FOCUS is to provide information on the progress of the work of UNDP/PAPP, amongst whom DFID and the EU play a significant part in the funding, and also to raise awareness of the difficulties facing the Palestinian people, and those who seek to support Palestinian economic development.

  2.  Whilst researching and making numerous field trips to projects in towns, villages and refugee camps across the West Bank and Gaza, I had ample opportunity to hear directly from local beneficiaries, partner organisations and local Palestinian municipalities, of the effectiveness or otherwise of international financial aid. Whilst people were undoubtedly grateful for the excellent work that international donors enable through agencies such as UNDP, without international political lobbying for an end to the restrictions on movement of goods and people enforced by Israel, development of a viable Palestinian economy cannot even begin.

  3.  UNDP has correctly identified that mass unemployment is one of the most pressing needs in the West Bank, a problem cutting across class and gender. Mass unemployment has been created by closure of borders to imports and exports, and to the tens of thousands of workers who previously earned a living in Israel. UNDP projects try to maximise the number of working days provided.

  4.  Sadly, employment and raised standards of living created by, for example, the building of sewage networks in Northern Gaza, or environmental preservation in Wadi Gaza (UNDP funded projects), will only provide income in the short term. The average worker can only be given a few months work at the maximum by an internationally funded project. For certain such projects boost morale and feed malnourished children for an extra few weeks, but this can make few inroads into the main task of developing a genuinely viable economy which can support the Palestinian people in the long term.

  5.  Control over the movement of goods and people at Israeli points of entry to the West Bank and Gaza becomes increasingly devastating on Palestinian trade, employment and economic development. There can be no serious development without the lifting of boundaries, both physical and army enforced.

  6.  I visited a tomato grower benefiting from the Wadi Gaza project to reclaim the wetlands in Gaza. The project had greatly increased the quality of water available to him so his crop yield had doubled. Yet he could still tell me of how boxes and boxes of his crops went to waste rotting in lorries on the border into Israel, unable to reach the Israeli markets from which he can make his income.

  7.  Yet more borders keep being built, the "wall of separation" and the settlements which doubled in the Oslo years. Strangling Qalqilya and other cities, the wall has made a devastating impact on the economy, cutting off water supplies, preventing villagers from reaching hospitals and educational institutions in the district town of Qalqilya.

  8.  Seeing the massive scale of land confiscation in Jayyous for the wall, or the continuing settlement building, it is no wonder that people ask me why the international community refers to a "peace process". "There is no peace process", countless people have explained to me, "Look around us". It is difficult to see why these people should put their faith in the international "peace talks", while physical action on the ground, development of settlements and confiscation of land speaks only of further oppression. It is imperative that the international community are not just seen to give money to individual projects, but that the people can see that governmental powers are using all their lobbying power to end the devastation of the economy on the ground. Aid can only become more than a sticking plaster when it is accompanied by political lobbying for an end to closure.

  9.  A question of the inquiry concerns accountability of Palestinian government institutions. During times of such hardship it is difficult for institutions to be run efficiently or to be brought to account. People feel that they have more pressing daily needs than challenging shortfalls in the ruling system. Thus any corruption or poor governance will only be addressed by the Palestinian people themselves, when the attacks on their society and their institutions ends from outside. While the Israelis continue to control movement and curfews, the Palestinians cannot address the needs of building a stable accountable foundation for government, which is so necessary for an autonomous and viable economy. The UK and the EU must keep up the pressure on Israel to free up Palestinian society to be able to build its own government.

  10.  Regarding technical capacities of the public and private sector, it is difficult for professionals to take part in training programs in other parts of the West Bank and Gaza, let alone abroad. Palestinians used to be one of the most educated people in the Arab world, building the economies of Gulf nations, yet the latest generation is being prevented from receiving the training they need to build their own economy.

  11.  Civil society, including NGOs, is essential in ensuring a broad popular participation in the development of Palestinian society. Yet a crucial part of developing civil society, the possibility of having open and regular meetings, is rendered almost impossible by Israeli closure. Even people from neighbouring West Bank towns have trouble meeting to discuss issues of importance, let alone meetings between West Bankers and Gazans, to discuss the state of the society and the economy.

  12.  NGOs are rightly given DFID and EU money via various channels. However, I know having interviewed people, and worked myself with NGOs on the ground such as the Palestinian Center for Peace and Democracy (PCPD), that it impossible to get projects and public participation going during closure. Many people are also afraid to become active in local politics, in case of being accused of "incitement" by the Israelis. Alongside financially supporting NGOs, international donors must press Israel to end the closure that prevents such activity.

  13.  Priorities for UK aid: to create not just a sticking plaster, but lasting change. Aid must be seen as part, not independent from, an active political engagement to ease the closure that is strangling the Palestinian economy.

  14.  Potential for economic cooperation with Israel: In order to give Palestinians the chance of equal rights with Israelis, they must not simply become cheap labour in Israel once more. A genuinely viable economy has be built, and quickly, based on Palestinian strengths and needs. And for those who in the future do work in Israel again, they must be treated with equal rights as Jewish workers. Having worked myself with a worker's rights organisation in Israel, I have seen at first hand the discrimination against Arab workers, even those with Israeli passports. For a lasting peace this inequality must be challenged.

August 2003

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