Tuesday

11th Aug 2020

Eminent women appeal for EU help on Palestine

  • Palestinian Bedouin girl at home in the South Hebron Hills, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank (Photo: Rosie Gabrielle)

Israel's West Bank annexation "was conceived almost entirely by men" and would crush the "dignity and rights" of Palestinian women still further, a group of 40 prominent women have said.

The move "would unravel half a century of efforts for peace in the region" and posed "an existential threat to Palestinians, to Israelis, to regional stability, and to an already fragile global order," Wednesday's (1 July) open letter said.

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  • Palestinian Bedouin women in South Hebron Hills (Photo: Rosie Gabrielle)

Annexation "will fragment Palestinian land and effectively consecrate Palestinian enclaves under permanent Israeli military control," it said.

The appeal came out on the 20th anniversary of a UN resolution on the importance of involving women in conflict-resolution.

"Their [Palestinian and Israeli women's] strong appeals [for peace], while separate and distinct, have in common a sense of shared humanity, and a common rejection of subjugation and discrimination, oppression and violence," Wednesday's letter noted.

But it also came out on the day Israel had pledged to start its annexation process.

Five Nobel peace prize laureates, including Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi and Northern Irish activist Mairead Maguire, signed the text.

Five former European leaders, including Tarja Halonen and Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, from Finland and Iceland, signed.

Nathalie Loiseau, a senior French MEP, two former EU commissioners (Austria's Benita Ferrero-Waldner and Sweden's Margot Wallström), as well as UN officials and other activists added their names.

"We're gratified that international women leaders took up the call ... to reach out and take a stand on the issue of annexation and Israel's impunity and the need for peace with justice," Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestinian diplomat, told EUobserver the same day.

Palestinian women in Israeli-occupied lands had staggering unemployment rates and struggled to look after large families in poverty, according to EU reports.

The situation was acute in Gaza, a recent study by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNWRA), also said.

Women "prepare less and cheaper food, borrow money, sell assets ... many cook with collected firewood, wake in the night to do housework while power is on, and forego medical costs," it said.

"They try ... to maintain their dignity and that of their children and their family," the study noted.

"Women [here] are constantly achieving marvellous things, especially under duress," Tamara Alrifai, an UNWRA spokeswoman in Gaza, also told this website.

But, at the same time, they endured increasing domestic violence, linked to jobless men and linked, directly, to the trauma caused by never-ending conflict.

"During the 2014 hostilities [between Israel and Gaza] there was a reported 22-percent rise in domestic violence experienced by married women, and a 30-percent increase for non-married women," the UNWRA study said.

Palestinian girls and young women performed well in education, the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank and UNWRA noted, in a mark of their unused potential.

And even if old Arab mores also held them back, they played a prominent role in PA diplomacy, with women Palestinian ambassadors in Germany, Ireland, Italy, Norway, and Sweden, among other top posts.

Hanan Ashrawi (l) at an International Monetary Fund event (Photo: imf.org)

Annexation plan

Meanwhile, Israeli leaders, who had earlier agreed to start annexing one third of the West Bank from 1 July, appeared in no rush to move ahead on Wednesday, amid divisions in the ruling coalition on how to proceed.

The US, Israel's superpower patron, was in no rush either.

The annexation idea was not necessarily "the answer" to the conflict, but more of "a starting point for negotiations" and an attempt "to start a conversation" on a peace deal, Ronald Gidwitz, the US ambassador to the EU, told EUobserver in Brussels last week.

For his part, EU foreign relations chief Josep Borrell echoed the women's call in an op-ed in Israeli newspaper the Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.

"It is painful to see the prospect of the two-state solution, the only realistic and sustainable way to end this conflict, at risk," he said.

But when asked if EU institutions were drawing up potential sanctions to deter annexation, Borrell's office told EUobserver on Wednesday that they were focusing on diplomatic outreach instead.

France was more hawkish.

"An annexation decision could not be left without consequences and we are examining different options at a national level and also in coordination with our main European partners," French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told the French parliament on Wednesday.

Israeli settler in Hebron, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank (Photo: Rosie Gabrielle)

EU options

Le Drian also indicated what the options were in a recent speech in the French senate.

Annexation would jeopardise a 20-year old EU association agreement on Israeli trade and diplomatic perks, he said on 24 June.

It could see Israel expelled from EU projects in Europe's 2021-2027 budget and stronger controls on imports from Israeli-occupied territories, he said.

It could even prompt recognition of Palestinian statehood "at an appropriate time," he added.

"The UK will not recognise any changes to the 1967 lines [existing Israeli borders], except those agreed between both parties," British prime minister Boris Johnson also said, in an op-ed in Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth on Wednesday.

But for its part, Hamas, the Palestinian militant group in power in Gaza, sent its own message on Tuesday, by firing rockets into the sea in a "warning" against the Israeli land-grab, auguring badly for stability and for those Palestinian women for whom escalation would bring more misery.

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