Select Committee on International Development Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by War on Want


  War on Want welcomes this opportunity to engage on the issue of the Occupied Territories, which has implications well beyond the misery faced by the vast majority of Palestinians, and has become an issue integrally tied to peace, security and development across the whole world. The injustice faced by the Palestinians has become a truly global issue in which the UK Government must assume responsibility for its historical role.

  War on Want is an international development NGO, founded over 50 years ago. We have project partners across the world, including Palestine, and work closely with the trade union movement in the UK. We have worked with grassroots organisations, European partners and international agencies planning, implementing and evaluating more than 10 projects in the Occupied Territories (OT) in the last 10 years. These have mostly been long-term development projects, for example an agricultural production and training project leading to job creation for workers in the OT.

  We believe that for peace to be attained and sustained, development in Palestine should not be focused purely on poverty alleviation but on restitution of political and economic rights, which will help redress the power imbalance at the heart of the conflict. An essential ingredient in this is sustained and coherent pressure on the Israeli and US governments by the UK. We believe that the approach laid out below represents the best hope for security for the population of Israel, as well as Palestine, by bringing an end to the tragic cycle of violence and securing a sustainable path towards peace.


  Poverty in the OT is a historic problem fundamentally connected with Israel's occupation of Palestine and its dispersal of refugees throughout the Middle East. This on-going injustice has been turned into a humanitarian disaster over the last three years:

    —  Between September 2000 and February 2003, 2,113 Palestinians were killed and 21,884 were injured of which 2,500 were disabled including 500 children.

    —  Unemployment in the OT had risen to 53% by March 2003.

    —  At the beginning of 2002, average real income was 30% lower than in 1994. The number of poor, defined as those living on $2 a day or less, is now estimated to be at least two-thirds of the population.

    —  There has been massive destruction of infrastructure that the World Bank put at $800 million in June 2002.

  Source: "Fighting Palestinian Poverty", War On Want

  Attempts to alleviate this suffering have been frustrated, for instance by the Israeli Defence Force blocking the delivery of humanitarian aid at checkpoints and destroying social and medical infrastructure. Between September 2000 and September 2002 War on Want's partner, the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committee (UPMRC) counted: 95 first aid workers injured; 432 incidents of denial of access to Red Crescent ambulances at roadblocks; 76 Palestinians dead as a result of the prevention of access to emergency treatment.


  The humanitarian disaster in Palestine is deeply-rooted in the political situation, and dealing with the symptoms is not in itself a solution, although humanitarian alleviation is welcome in the short-term. Poverty is a result of a systematic denial of Palestinian rights: the right to work, to land, to water and to health care. The denial of these rights stems from the occupation, and can only be dealt with as part of a wider political strategy for the future of Israel/ Palestine.

Water rights

    "The human right to water is indispensable for leading a life in human dignity. It is a prerequisite for the realization of other human rights [. . .] contamination, depletion and unequal distribution of water is exacerbating existing poverty."

    Source: UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Twenty-ninth session—Geneva, 11-29 November 2002

    "To enable poor people to lead healthier and more productive lives through improved management of water resources and increased and sustainable access to safe drinking water supply and appropriate sanitation."

    Source: DFID's Goal in the Water Sector—Chapter 2.1.2

  Although the pretext for Israeli occupation of Palestine is security, control of water resources by the Israeli government may actually prove to be central to Israel's reluctance to end its occupation. The Israeli government took total control of all water resources in the West Bank and Gaza after 1967, severely restricting Palestinian use of the mountain aquifer and declaring the area adjacent to the Jordan River a "closed military area". Further widespread digging and pumping from deeper wells for Israeli use has caused Palestinian wells to dry up. Between 80-95% of the water resources of the OT is now used by Israel within its 1967 borders and by the settlements in the OT.

  While the minimum water consumption per person recommended by World Health Organisation (WHO) is 100 litres per person per day, the average Palestinian consumption is estimated at 50-70 litres, with some areas receiving only 19 litres per day. This compares to 350 litres consumed by the average Israeli—much of it from the OT (p 14 "Fighting Palestinian Poverty", War On Want).

  The current Intifada has exaggerated this ratio. Widespread reports of Israeli forces cutting off supplies, bombarding wells and tanks and shooting rooftop water tanks has meant serious water shortages.

Land rights

    "All peoples may, for their own ends, freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources without prejudice to any obligations arising out of international economic co-operation, based upon the principle of mutual benefit, and international law. In no case may a people be deprived of its own means of subsistence"

    Source: Article 1, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

  As DfID rightly suggests in its current consultation "Better Livelihoods for Poor People: The Role of Land Policy" paper, there is a direct link between land rights and poverty, especially when land is at the heart of a nation's income. Apart from the occupation in general, enormous amounts of Palestinian land have been illegally confiscated for settlements and "security" measures, including those annexed by the "Separation wall". Moreover Palestinian rights to sell their land has been severely curtailed. 35,000 acres of Palestinian land were seized during the Oslo Accords period alone (1994-2000) explicitly breaking the terms of the Accords (p 9 "Fighting Palestinian Poverty", War On Want).

  The agricultural sector has been crippled, and currently forms only 6.4% of GDP. The Israeli government controls movement of Palestinian goods as well as people. During the current Intifada this has taken particularly harsh forms, such as the uprooting of trees which the Palestinians depend on for their livelihoods, and the almost total restriction of movement of goods via a series of roadblocks. Between October 2000 and December 2001 alone, the damage sustained to agriculture, including the uprooting of 454,541 trees, was been estimated at $141 million (p 12 "Fighting Palestinian Poverty", War On Want).

Workers' rights

    "The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right to work, which includes the right of everyone to the opportunity to gain his living by work which he freely chooses or accepts."

    Source: Article 6—International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

  Israel has imposed restrictions on movement of people and goods throughout the occupation, through mechanisms such as "closures" and a system of identity cards. While justified on grounds of security, one effect has been to provide the Israeli economy with labour and resources. Basic rights that have historically allowed for the redistribution of wealth—such as trade union rights—have been denied to people in the OT.

  During the current Intifada, Palestinians working in Israel have been made effectively unemployed. Of 130,000 Palestinians who were employed in Israel, 100,000 lost their jobs on the outbreak of the Intifada. Identity cards, closures, curfews, and a series of roadblocks have led to human rights violations of Palestinians and prevented their transit to work.

  This systematic denial of rights forms the essence of the occupation. The current excesses we are witnessing in the OT—the "Separation wall", closure, curfew and serious violations of human rights in contravention of international law—are extreme manifestations of this denial. An implicit assumption in the Road Map to Peace is that a suspension of the worst excesses of the Israeli Defence Force will constitute a solution. A return to the Oslo period status quo will leave the underlying causes of poverty intact. War on Want takes a rights-based approach—the only way Palestine can develop politically, economically and socially is through a strategy of redressing the political imbalance between the Palestinians and the Israelis.


  We believe it is self-defeating for one part of the UK Government to allocate money for reconstruction and relief, if another part contributes towards destruction and distress. War on Want urges the Committee to press the UK Government to take a holistic approach and makes recommendations based on the following points.

  Development Agenda: Development should reflect a rights-based agenda aimed at the empowerment of Palestinian civil society and an end to the occupation (not merely a cessation of the current excesses).

  The UK should work in the Quartet for the Road Map to re-focus on the key issues of Palestinian poverty, land, water, worker's and other rights. In particular, the refugee issue requires urgent attention. The future of approximately 4.5 million refugees within a future Palestinian territory needs to be considered rapidly and international legislation put forward for those who hope to return.

  Many NGOs are working on these issues, some undoubtedly with DfID grants. But political support at an international level is also vital for these projects to succeed.

  UK Military Agenda: Military exports and assistance to Israel are antithetic to regional stability and fuel the cycle of violence.

  The value of UK military export licensing to Israel almost doubled from £12.5 million in 2000 to 22.5 million in 2001, coinciding with Prime Minister Sharon's accession to power and the worst excesses to date in the OT. UK companies supplying Israel include the Airtechnology Group, BAE systems, Smiths Group, Hiatt & Co Ltd, Civil Defence Supply Ltd.

  Despite the existence of Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria guidelines, the UK continues to issue licences for the sale of arms regardless of Israel's violation of international law. In 2002, the UK imposed a de facto arms embargo on Israel; the ban reflected a fear that Israel was in violation of its promise not to use military equipment in Palestine. However, the UK government later announced that it was allowing the export of UK components for American made F16s already sold to Israel. It is known that F16s are frequently used against Palestinian civilians. The UK Ministry of Defence should also consider the Israeli violation of international law when purchasing Israeli equipment.

  We would like to see the UK pursue a positive military course. A long-standing request of Palestinian civil society and the Palestinian Authority has been for an international monitoring presence to enforce a compliance with humanitarian law. No progress has been made on this issue.

  Trade Agenda: The EU maintains its trade preference agreement with Israel, despite growing concerns around the purchase of Israeli products.

  The EU-Israel Association Agreement allows products from Israel to be imported to EU countries at a preferential tariff rates. While the EU and the Israeli government differ over the territorial scope of the Agreement, the very existence and extension of the agreement must be questioned when trade policy could provide a key mechanism of exerting pressure on Israel. A full economic embargo would be in line with article 2 of the EU-Israeli Association Agreement which states that trade restrictions can be enforced in deference to a country's poor human rights record.


  War on Want calls on the Committee to exert its influence in sensitising all relevant UK Government policies as well as the European and international community towards positive and concrete measures to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

  We call for a suspension of military agreements until there is a clear sign that peace is a reality, and movement has been made towards redressing violations of international law. This includes withdrawal of Israeli forces and the freezing and dismantlement of settlements. We do no see how this could be achieved without an international peace presence.

  War on Want hopes the Committee will emphasise that the UK Government's political and economic assistance needs to address issues wider than emergency relief. The key to lasting peace will be addressing the underlying causes of underdevelopment. This means supporting the realisation of Palestinian rights and subsequent redressing of the balance of power, which will provide the only lasting basis for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

  Until the Palestinians are returned a fair share of what defines them as a nation with a history attached to a specific geographical land, and until they are afforded full social and economic rights, War on Want feels there is little prospect of peace. Although our concern as a development organisation is lifting Palestinians out of poverty, we also believe that such a peace is the best security for the future of Israel, and the only basis on which those two peoples can have a stable and prosperous future side by side. As a conflict which perhaps impacts on the rest of the World more than any other, and one for which the UK must take an historic responsibility, we finally urge the committee to make the issue of Palestine a top priority in the years ahead.

September 2003

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