The European Union is putting Palestinian lives at risk as it continues to delay the disbursement of aid to vital sectors in the occupied Palestinian territory.
By: Ahmed Bayram, NRC
Media and Communications Adviser, Amman,
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A large portion of EU funding committed to Palestine, valued at nearly €215 million, has been delayed since 2021 as the European Union continues to condition the release of the money on specific changes to Palestinian school textbooks. Meanwhile, this aid suspension is crippling critical sectors and services, including healthcare in occupied East Jerusalem, with dire consequences for patients needing treatment at hospitals.
“These restrictions punish terminally ill patients who cannot get life-saving medicine and force children to go hungry when parents cannot afford to buy food. Palestinians are paying the cruellest price for political decisions made in Brussels,” said Jan Egeland, the Norwegian Refugee Council’s (NRC) secretary-general.
At least 500 cancer patients, diagnosed since September 2021, have been unable to access adequate, life-saving treatments at occupied East Jerusalem’s Augusta Victoria Hospital, resulting in avoidable deaths, according to the Lutheran World Federation, which operates the hospital. Patients already under the care of the hospital have endured significant delays in critical treatment.
The devastating impact of the EU’s decision extends beyond healthcare. Since November 2021, up to 120,000 Palestinians, the majority in Gaza, have not received cash support that is critical for their survival, according to news reports. Salaries of Palestinian Authority employees, including teachers and healthcare workers, have been cut by 20 percent.
Muhammed, 74, from Gaza, has been impacted by the delays in EU aid. He relies on social assistance from the Ministry of Social Development, which is his sole source of income but has not received support for close to two years. He cares for his wife who is partly paralyzed and is now unable to afford adequate housing. He told NRC, “We do not ask to live like the rest of humanity, just a quarter of the life they live would suffice, no more.”
“The delay because of a political position is putting lives at risk every day. We appeal to EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to release the funds immediately so that critical assistance for vulnerable Palestinians and support for basic services can continue,” Egeland added.
An initial proposal to disburse the funds was held up in 2021 after Olivér Várhelyi, the European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, pushed to make the financial assistance conditional on changes to the Palestinian curriculum, despite the textbooks overall being in line with UNESCO standards. Fifteen EU member states signed a letter to the European Commission criticizing the delay and calling for the immediate release of the funds.
The EU’s Foreign Affairs Council has requested that the issue be referred to EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to stop further delays, but it remains unresolved.
NRC urges EU donors to immediately find a way to resume funding life-saving programmes, basic service provision and social safety networks without further conditions.
The EU is the largest donor to the Palestinian Authority with some €1.3 billion spent under the European Union Joint Strategy 2017-2020, and some €827 million in humanitarian assistance since 2000.
The current DG NEAR Individual Measures Budget for Palestine (2021-2023) is €214.85 million including €135.35 million in direct budget support. In addition to this, UNRWA received €92 million in support under separate Individual Measures.
An initial proposal presented to the European Council for the disbursement of the funding, without the condition of reform of the education sector, was retracted in December 2021 and replaced by a proposal by EU Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi that included education reform conditionality. However, the proposal with education reform conditionality did not pass the vote.