Middle East Eye: UK aid to Gaza is absurd while it sells guns to Israel

23 August 2018 - 1:30pm
War on Want in the news

The new UK aid package ignores the root cause of the problems facing Palestinians: Israel's occupation and apartheid regime, writes Ryvka Barnard for Middle East Eye. 

The UK is pumping development and aid money into Gaza and the West Bank, while also selling weapons to Israel that are used to demolish, besiege, and destroy the same communities the UK claims to be helping.

The root causes
At the end of July, the UK government announced that it will double its aid package to the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). The new package will provide up to £38m (almost $49m) over five years to support "economic activity" in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

On the face of it, observers might see this as a step in the right direction, even if only a tentative one.

The West Bank and Gaza Strip are plagued by chronic poverty. Unemployment is at an all-time high, and access to basic goods and services including medical care, food, clean water and electricity are major problems for millions of Palestinians in the OPt.

The UK is clearly using this aid package to signal a commitment to addressing the real humanitarian crisis facing Palestinians.

A wider look at the UK's relationship with Israel and the oPt reveals a less optimistic picture. It doesn’t take a development expert to identify the shortcomings of the new aid package, which fails to address the root cause of the problems facing Palestinians: Israel's occupation and apartheid regime.

In failing to develop an aid policy which includes commitments to addressing the root causes, the UK is preventing any further progress towards economic stability, and towards an even greater goal and obligation, namely Palestinian self-determination.

Palestinians in the oPt don't suffer from poverty because of the lack of UK aid. The crisis stems from the majority of the Palestinian people being forcibly displaced 70 years ago, that millions have been living under military occupation for more than 50 years, and in Gaza, under siege and blockade for 11 years.

These are not incidental details. They are structuring elements that have set the framework for Israel's calculated de-development of Palestinian society and economy in the oPt for decades. Pouring UK aid money into this situation is trying to bail water out of a sinking ship with a thimble.

The ship of the oPt is not sinking because it has sprung a leak. It is being continually assaulted by the Israeli military, with the active help and support from the UK government, which gives Israel diplomatic cover for its ever-deepening system of military occupation and apartheid, and provides Israel with the tools of violence used in maintaining it.

Two recent examples show the dangerous level of the incoherence and destructiveness of UK policy towards the oPt.

Arming the perpetrator of violence
Since 2014, the UK government has approved more than $445m worth of military technology and arms exports to Israel. A list of the export licences approved shows a frightening arsenal of the types of weapons used by Israel in its daily assaults on Palestinian rights.

Armoured bulldozers sold to the Israeli military are used in the demolition of Palestinian villages and homes.

Drones, sniper rifles, grenade launchers, and dozens of other pieces of equipment cleared for sale by the UK government are precisely the types of weapons used by Israel in its brutal repression of the Great March of Return a few months ago, when more than 160 Palestinians were killed as they protested, unarmed, and some 13,000 injured.

Components for gunships, F-16 fighter jets and other large equipment were used in Israel’s brutal bombardments of the Gaza Strip in 2014, when more than 2,200 Palestinians were killed, more than 500 of whom were children.

Thousands of Palestinians remain displaced after Israel's large-scale bombing in 2014, and hundreds in the West Bank are at imminent risk of forcible displacement from village demolitions.

Thousands are now dead or maimed by Israel's recent attacks on Gaza.

Major infrastructure, such as electricity plants, hospitals and schools all came under attack, not to mention cultural centres and other key elements of any society’s healthy operation.

We know what Israel uses its weapons for, so what makes the UK government think it can detach its arming of Israel from the reason why Palestinians are reliant on development money in the first place?

Blocking accountability
Not only does the UK continue to supply weapons to Israel used in war crimes, but it also refuses to support independent investigations into the war crimes after they are committed. After this spring’s repression of the Great March of Return, the UK abstained in a UN Human Rights Council vote calling for an independent commission of inquiry into the violence in Gaza.

In explaining the vote, the UK said it will urge Israel to conduct an investigation into the killings. That's right - the UK is calling for the perpetrator of violence to conduct a fair and impartial investigation into its own actions. This is part of a cycle of impunity that the UK feeds into over and over again.

Just this week, the results of one of the Israeli military's recent investigations into its own actions were released. The investigation covered the Black Friday events in 2014, when it bombarded densely populated residential areas of Rafah with more than 2,000 bombs, missiles and shells, killing more than 200 Palestinians.

Amnesty International found overwhelming evidence that Israeli forces committed disproportionate and indiscriminate attacks on civilians, in some cases directly firing at people fleeing. Nobody was surprised that Israel found itself "not guilty" in its own investigation.

And the UK appears to be prepared to take that as a given, and continue pretending that the devastating conditions in the oPt have nothing to do with the state that has created them, and its army which enforces them.

Blaming the victim
So what does the UK's refusal to hold Israel to account have to do with its aid policies? UK aid and development money is supposed to support Palestinians in building a viable economy. They will fail to do so under such conditions not because they are not clever, or because they will not use the money efficiently (though these will both be suggested, not in so many words, as reasons why this aid package will fail to make a besieged and occupied society into an economically viable one).

If the UK wants its aid to be effective, it must address the root causes of the poverty in the occupied Palestinian territory, and use all of its available tools to push for an end to Israel’s military occupation and blockade. 

No amount of aid will make up for - or cancel out - the damage being done so long as the UK continues to trade in arms with Israel, and to protect Israel from facing international accountability.

If the UK actually wants to boost the Palestinian economy, it will suspend its arms trade with Israel, and stop enabling the illegal occupation and blockade that keep the Palestinian economy choked.


Ryvka Barnard is senior campaigns officer on militarism and security at War on Want.

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