Strasbourg – Israel is waging a war of attrition on EU-funded projects in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (oPt), destroying them in an effort to limit their presence in the region, said Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor at a meeting of the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Palestine (DPAL).

Israel’s government contributes to the fuelling of Israeli settler terrorism against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank by granting firearm licenses to settlers, said Euro-Med Monitor, encouraging them to carry weapons, and ordering the Israeli army to support and assist them during their harassment of the Palestinian population, which includes land burning and violent attacks. 

The DPAL met in Strasbourg on Wednesday evening to exchange views on the continual demolition of EU-funded structures in Palestine and the escalation of settler violence in the West Bank. Muhammed Shehada, Chief of Communications at Euro-Med Monitor, called on Members of the European Parliament to “speak up and name things the way they are”, asking them to condemn settler terrorism against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and “designate settler groups as terrorist organisations”. 

   It’s a war of attrition and seeing who has the most patience. In that sense, the EU, by funding projects across the occupied territories, is winning that war of attrition   

Muhammed Shehada, Chief of Communications at Euro-Med Monitor

“I know there’s a lot of reluctance to call it as such in Brussels, but the US Biden administration is getting there,” Shehada said, noting that the latest statement by the State Department described Israeli settler violence as settler terrorism. “Going into Palestinian communities and basically threatening women and children with guns and trucks and improvised weaponry … has been successful in emptying most of the area between Jericho and Ramallah.”

Shehada urged MEPs to pressure the European Commission to impose sanctions on those responsible for killings and violence against Palestinians, as well as impose travel bans against the most prominent settler activists who carry out the most violent attacks. He emphasised that while Israeli authorities are attempting to expel Palestinians and limit their presence in Area C of the West Bank, the EU must support and finance the right of Palestinians to be there.

“The Israeli army works hand-in-hand with the settlers,” Shehada stated. “The settlers drove the community [of Ein Samiya village] out, then the army went in and destroyed an EU-funded school in the area to make sure Palestinians would not return again.” He said that the best thing the EU is doing to support the Palestinians is funding the Palestinian presence in Area C and cooperating with the Palestinian Authority on both humanitarian and developmental projects.

“It’s a war of attrition and seeing who has the most patience,” added Shehada. “In that sense, the EU, by funding projects across the occupied territories, is winning that war of attrition.”

Euro-Med Monitor’s statement cited Israeli authorities’ destruction of nearly nine per cent of EU-funded facilities in the oPt in recent years, including schools, commercial establishments, agricultural projects, parks, and amusement facilities. Israel has been tearing down EU-funded initiatives since 2001, when it physically destroyed and/or financially dismantled approximately 150 development projects partially or entirely funded by the EC and EU Member States. The EU’s 2015 decision to require import labels on products imported into Europe from Israeli settlements caused the pace of the demolitions to increase significantly, starting in 2016.

Shehada encouraged MEPs to take concrete steps to hold Israeli authorities accountable for grave violations in the oPt, including the displacement of Palestinians from their villages, support for settler violence, and the demolition of EU-funded projects. He also stated that steps must be taken to prevent settler attacks on Palestinian communities and protect EU-funded projects.  “The EU has not even made a list of possible actions to present to Member States,” Shehada explained. “So, make a list of actions; it’s as simple as that—it [should be] intuitive.”

One way to hold [Israeli authorities] accountable, he said, is the Association Council. “You have an upcoming meeting with the Associate Council that Israel is expected to be invited to,” Shehada elaborated. “If you [meet] without any conditions vis-à-vis Israel’s behaviour on the ground, it will only signal weakness to the Israeli government and to settlers.”

Shehada called for MEPs to challenge the restrictions imposed on Palestinians by Israeli authorities, to “keep making a good noise”, and visit the ground themselves to meet Palestinians “to create a sense that the world has not moved on from their cause and that they are not isolated, because this is the perception that the Israeli government is trying to sell to the Palestinians; that you are on your own”.

Besides Muhammed Shehada of Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor, speakers at the meeting were Giovanni Di Girolamo, Head of Unit, Neighbourhood and Middle East (DG ECHO); Michael Mann, Head of Division, Middle East - Israel, Occupied Palestinian Territories and Middle East Peace Process (EEAS); and Aundrea Domenico, Head of the West Bank Coordination Unit at the United Nations