THE UK and other world powers must take concerted action to eliminate the deep inequalities that divide Palestinians and Israelis, if a further escalation of violence and further loss of life are to be avoided, Christian Aid urges in a report published yesterday, Where is Palestine? A story of loss, inequality and failure.
The author of the report and head of Middle East at Christian Aid, William Bell, says: “Palestinians face an even more grim future than many currently experience if governments and those with influence do not act now and embrace justice and accountability as a precursor to a lasting peace.”
The report describes the disparity between the Palestinians and Israelis in areas such as health care, employment, and trade with the outside world. Another area of “deep inequality”, the report says, is water consumption. West Bank Palestinians have access to approximately 73 litres per capita per day (l/c/d), and there are even lower levels in certain parts of Area C, where Israel has full military control. Estimates indicate that Israeli settlers and residents in Israel consume about three times as much (250 l/c/d) as Palestinians.
Commenting on the Christian Aid findings, Hagai El-Ad, the director of B’Tselem, an Israeli NGO, said that they should “serve as a wake-up call for UK policy-makers”. Without international action, Israel “will continue to enjoy blanket impunity while the world — the UK included — pretends that occasional ‘expressions of concern’ will suffice. In fact, they never did, and they never will.”
Echoing this theme, Moderators of the United Reformed Church’s General Assembly, Peter Pay and the Revd Clare Downing, said that “for too long, the international community has failed to hold the Israeli government to account.” The Revd Ruth Gee, the Methodist Church’s Assistant Secretary of Conference and Ecumenical Office, called the Christian Aid findings “timely”, and said the they “should move us to further action in pursuit of justice for all in the region”.
The report urges the British and Irish governments to take certain steps, including the recognition of Palestine and the use of “all available soft power and leverage” to end movement restrictions in and out of Gaza imposed by both Israel and Egypt. Life inside Gaza “is not sustainable in any dignified sense of the word”.
The Christian Aid report also acknowledges that there are failings in the Palestinian community itself, pointing to “a democratic deficit in Palestinian society. A vibrant and courageous civil society endeavours to hold both Palestinian and Israeli leaderships to account.”
Popular anger at the decision of Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian National Authority, earlier this year, to cancel long-overdue elections that he looked likely to lose (News, 7 May) has not abated. There is also growing discontent at the corruption in governing circles and the crackdown on dissent. A group of Palestinian NGOs has urged civil-society organisations to “fight political corruption by creating a coalition that can contribute to making change towards a more honest governance structure”.
By curbing corruption, an honest structure might allow more public money to be spent on improving Palestinians’ lives. But narrowing the inequality gap that Christian Aid highlights is a greater challenge.
The worldwide Church, the report says, should play its part in encouraging moves towards equality by, among other things, withdrawing investment from any company trading with illegal Israeli settlements on the West Bank. The Church should listen to the voices in the Israeli occupied territories, while bearing in mind its “duty of responsibility to demonstrate principled impartiality. It should not take sides other than that of justice. . . [It] should demonstrate love towards both Israelis and Palestinians, support initiatives for a just peace and use its prophetic voice to help transform conflict.”