Caabu, Amnesty UK and Medical Aid for Palestinians Parliamentary delegation to the West Bank, 28 May -1 June 2023
From 28 May to 1 June, Caabu, Amnesty UK and Medical Aid for Palestinians organised another powerful and telling delegation to the West Bank. The delegates were Flick Drummond MP, Seema Malhotra MP, Anum Qaisar MP and Lord Collins of Highbury. This was a crucial time to see the lived experience of Palestinians living under occupation and systemic discrimination, and how the regime of apartheid operates.
The situation has been extremely tense. According to the UN, since the beginning of 2023 until the 15 May, Israeli forces killed 108 Palestinians in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, more than double the death toll of 51 in the same period in 2022.
In Jerusalem, the rate of demolitions of Palestinian homes and structures is at its highest rate in years. We met families in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan under threat of forcible eviction. One family had to share their property with settlers. They had little faith that the international community would insist on international law being applied.
In Silwan, thousands of homes are under threat from the extremist settler organisation Elad. In Bustan, one section of Silwan we heard from residents – representatives of 85 families all at risk.
We visited the community of Jubbet Al Dhib, south east of Bethlehem. This is in Area C. On 7 May, the Israeli army demolished the community’s school, funded by donors. The children still go to the site and try to study under the trees. What will be the impact for this generation?
According to the UN, another 57 schools, all Palestinian, are under threat of demolition. The Israeli occupation hits Palestinian children extremely hard. The violence but also the daily harassment, humiliation, the grind of daily control, denial of access.
In the Jordan Valley, we saw Medical Aid for Palestinian’s terrific mobile clinic, delivering services to communities in Area C, who would otherwise not have access to even basic health care. Here too, they face demolition and forcible transfer. Many communities do not have access to running water and electricity whilst the neighbouring settlers certainly do. This contrasts with the lush settlement plantations nearby.
Settler violence is at record highs. We visited communities north of Ramallah and in the Salfit region. In one community a week before settlers from two outposts burnt these crops(wheat) with the help of soldiers. The Palestinians called the Israeli authorities. More soldiers came. They fired on Palestinians, injuring two. One remains in hospital. They burnt five cars. This will have a dire impact on the community and its attempt to survive economically.
In the South Hebron hills, settler outposts are increasing. Breaking the Silence gave the delegation a tour of the area including one outpost on the seam zone, that is between the route of the barrier and the green line. Many in the Israeli government want to legalise these outposts, illegal under Israeli law – they are of course all violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention, war crimes.
Visiting Hebron is always a tough experience, perhaps the most tense city in the West Bank. In the illegal settlement of Kiryat Arba is the memorial and grave of Baruch Goldstein. In February 1994, he massacred 29 Palestinian Muslims at prayer in the Ibrahimi mosque. He is venerated by extremist settlers, including Ben Gvir, the Israeli Minister of National Security. This video shows some settlers coming to venerate him and pray at this shrine, which used to be much bigger.
The centre of this historic city is divided into Areas H1 and H2. The latter is under complete Israeli military control. Various roads are according to the Israeli army, ‘sterilised’ meaning that no Palestinians can drive or walk there. Yes, they are likened to germs.
During the visit, the politicians had a chance to meet with Palestinian civil society, diplomats and human rights activists. They also visited the UNRWA headquarters in Jerusalem and had a briefing from the head of West Bank operations. The agency that handles Palestine refugees is suffering from a potentially existential funding crisis that threatens their programmes in their areas of operation that includes the oPt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
It was hard to be optimistic. Settlement growth was rampant. Israel despite telling the US it would slow this down has moved forward rapidly. The doomsday settlement of E1 is advancing through another approval stage, 15 settlement outposts are to be ‘legalised’ _under Israeli law and 7,000 settlement units in 35 settlements are about to be approved. This was the largest number of settlement units ever agreed at any single planning meeting. The total advanced in all of 2022 was 4,400 units.
The Israeli finance minister Bezalel Smotrich has instructed ministries to prepare for an additional 500,000 settlers in the West Bank - this does not include the increase in settlers in occupied East Jerusalem. It is not clear where the funding will come from.
Perhaps the most depressing element is the near absence of sustained international pressure and involvement. Israel enjoys a climate of impunity which it is fully taking advantage of. There is no political process to resolve this conflict nor does one look in the offing. The consequences will be largely felt by a captive Palestinian population, still enduring a decades-long occupation and system of apartheid.