I am posting below a comprehensive reply from the British Government on points I raised about Gaza, the West Bank, Palestine, and the wider issue of Palestinian refugees. Readers may wish to take up points with their MP.
“The UK Government remains concerned at the situation in Gaza. We believe that the restrictions on movements of goods and people, including on access to agricultural and fishing areas, do tremendous damage to the economy and living standards of ordinary people in Gaza and only serve to strengthen, not weaken, Hamas. We are pressing the Israeli Government at ministerial and official level to ease access restrictions. We do this in close coordination with the Office of the Quartet Representative and European Union partners.
You ask about UN Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA) funding in your correspondence. I can reassure you that the UK is currently working with UNRWA and other key donors on a resource rationalisation strategy, including a renewed effort to encourage UNRWA’s core group of donors to maintain their previous levels of funding and to look at non-traditional sources of funding. I would also like to add that the UK is a strong supporter of UNRWA and its work, and has already provided £23,264,000 this year and is looking at ways to provide further support.
You also raised concerns regarding UNRWA’s programme for schools and houses. UNRWA plans to build 100 schools in Gaza to provide education to the 40,000 Palestinian refugee children currently without a school place. UNRWA has formal approval from the Israeli Authorities to build 42 schools and has already completed five of these. UNRWA has completed 150 houses out of its housing programme and is awaiting approval from the Israeli authorities on four new housing projects. UNRWA has exprienced difficulties in getting the necessary materials for construction into Gaza. UNRWA has estimated that they need around 15,000 truckloads of materials to complete approved projects; currently their quota of trucks to enter into Gaza stands at approximately 50 a day.
The UK is working closely with UNRWA on this issue. We continue to press the Israeli Government to ease restrictions on the import of construction materials for international projects. We are also funding the UN Access Coordination Unit to work with the Israeli authorities, UN agencies and non-governmental agencies to facilitate the transfer of goods and materials into Gaza.
Regarding fuel supplies in Gaza, the UK has not made any specific representations to Israel on this as we do not see Israeli restrictions on supplies of electricity or fuel as being the main cause of electricity shortages in Gaza.
The Gaza Electricity Distribution Company is sourcing industrial diesel for the Gaza power plant through the tunnels so there is no shortage of fuel for the power plant, andi in fact we understand there could be up to a month’s worth of fuel in storage.
With fishing limits and exports, we and EU partners are urging the Israelis to extend the current fishing limit from 3 to 12 miles and to allow increased exports from Gaza to the West Bank, Israel and other third countries.
I share your concerns about the treatment of Palestinian children in Israeli prisons. We have welcomed Israel’s recent decision to raise the age of legal majority to Palestinian children in the Israeli military justice system. We continue to lobby for further improvements, including a reduction in the number of arrests that occur at night and the introduction of audio-visual recording of interrogations. Our Ambassador most recently met with senior Israeli officials on 6 October to outline our continued concerns. I also raised the issue of child detainees with the Israeli Ambassador on 26 October. In addition, the UK is supporting research into this issue by leading UK and international lawyers and is funding the work of Defence for Children International and No Legal Frontiers on the rights of Palestinian child detainees.
I also share your concerns about continued restrictions on family visits to both children and adults in custody. We raise our concerns about the treatment of Palestinian detainees with the Israeli authorities on a regular basis and I raised them with Minister of Justice Neeman during his last visit to the region.
On your other points, we too are concerned about the humanitarian consequences of the withdrawal of UK Agency for International Development assistance to the Palestinians, and the withholding of tax revenue by the Israeli Government. We continue to call on the US and other donors to work with the Palestinian Authority to ensure any future state will be stable, well-run and an effective partner for peace. I hope that a way can be found to release the US funds currently on hold so that the valuable work that USAID is doing in the West Bank and Gaza can continue. Withdrawing these programmes would be in no-one’s interests.
We have condemned the Israeli decison to withhold tax revenues due to the Palestinian Authority. It is profoundly unhelpful to our joint efforts to improve the lives of ordinary Palestinians, develop the capacity of the Palestinian Authority and build confidence between the two sides. It is also against Israel’s own interests, since it has direct implications for the Palestinian Authority’s ability to maintain effective security in the West Bank. We have noted the Israeli decision on 30 November to finally transfer the tax revenues but expect that the Israelis will henceforth transfer the revenues in an automatic and timely manner in accordance with its legal obligations.
Finally, I too believe that handing over of Area C to Palestinian aadministration would be a very significant and positive step.”