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24th Feb 2024

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Israeli settlers encircling Jerusalem, EU envoys warn

  • Christians and Palestinians targeted by violent Israeli settlers in holy city, EU report said (Photo: Mohammad Usaid Abbasi)
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Senior diplomats believe there should be EU visa-bans on violent Israeli settlers and obstructive officials, as occupation makes Palestinian lives ever harder.

EU countries ought to "consider possible measures as regards immigration regulations" on "known violent settlers and those calling for acts of violence," the diplomats said.

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The EU should also impose "reciprocity" against "Israeli discriminatory visa practices restricting freedom of movement of EU citizens", they added.

The 21 EU ambassadors in Jerusalem and Ramallah spoke in an internal EU report on events in East Jerusalem during 2022, seen by EUobserver.

Settler violence in Jerusalem last year included vandalisation of Christian churches and cemeteries as well as anti-Palestinian attacks, they noted.

Meanwhile, Israel authorised 7,000 new housing units, building a "settlement ring" around Jerusalem that will isolate it from the West Bank, making the EU and UN-backed two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict impossible.

Settler violence aside, Israeli security forces killed six Palestinians and injured 785 last year — just in Jerusalem — amid what the EU report called "excessive use of force" and "extensive use of live ammunition".

They also besieged 20,000 people in the Shu'fat refugee camp for 10 days in a "manhunt" in October, causing "healthcare emergencies".

"There had not been such sweeping measures since 2014 to 2015," the EU ambassadors said.

They painted a picture of a right-wing Israeli government that cared less and less about its international reputation.

And they detailed what that meant for ordinary Palestinians in 24 pages of disturbing figures.

In one example, Israeli authorities are building a massive cable-car system through the heart of the holy city that will connect Israelis in West Jerusalem with those in East Jerusalem over the heads of Palestinian slums.

In a second example, they stripped Palestinian human-rights lawyer Salah Hamouri of his citizenship and deported him to France in December.

The EU ambassadors' complaint on Israeli visa reciprocity also comes after Israel blocked MEPs from making official visits because it didn't like their left-wing politics.

The figures showed Jerusalem was spending just 15 percent of its budget on Palestinians, who were almost 40 percent of its population.

Some 86 percent of Palestinian children lived below the poverty line and one in 10 was likely to drop out of school, compared to one in 100 in West Jerusalem.

Just 26 percent of Palestinian women had jobs, compared to 82 percent of Israeli women.

And 144,000 Palestinians lived under a threat of Israeli bulldozers because Jerusalem authorities deemed their homes to have been illegally built.

The ambassadors' call for Israeli visa-bans is a long way from becoming policy, either at EU or member-state level.

But their internal reports give an unvarnished version of events that forms the framework for future EU discussions.

Just 21 out of 27 EU countries signed it because some, such as Latvia and Luxembourg, don't have missions in Jerusalem.

They called for a strong "common message" on the conflict.

But the Czech Republic and Hungary didn't sign the Jerusalem report because they routinely go against EU criticism of Israel, blunting European diplomacy.

The 21 ambassadors added that strategic communications should reiterate "the EU's opposition to boycotting Israel".

They said Israel should "open investigations after each [Palestinian] fatality".

But they said nothing on the independence of enquiries, even though most Israeli armed-forces probes go nowhere, such as that into an Israeli sniper's killing of Palestinian-US journalist Shireen Abu Akleh last June.

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