EFA visit to the West Bank and East Jerusalem : MEPs on fact finding mission
Day Four: Life in a Refugee Camp
Wednesday 3 October - President of the EFA Group in the European Parliament Jill Evans talks about the fourth and final day of her visit to the West Bank and East Jerusalem with MEPs Ana Miranda and François Alfonsi.
Jill talks of their visit to the Amari Refugee Camp near Ramallah, their meetings with local people, and about life in a refugee camp.
EFA MEP François Alfonsi talks about the challenges of life in a refugee camp and the need to create a Palestinian state. (FR)
Day Three: East Jerusalem and Ramallah
Tuesday 2 October - Plaid Cymru MEP Jill Evans on the third day of her visit to Palestine with EFA MEPs Ana Miranda and François Alfonsi.
A day that raised serious questions. We began with a briefing by the United Nations office for humanitarian relief (OCHA) in Jerusalem. Our visit this time did not include Gaza but OCHA gave us a detailed update on the situation there which helped put the whole Palestinian situation in context. I can't speak highly enough of the work of the UN in the West Bank and Gaza. They not only provide support but they really understand the people and communities they work with. They gave us lots of statistics, but the most important fact for me was that the Palestinian economy is getting worse because they don't have access to natural resources or facilities to export goods. The World Bank, which is hardly a ‘trendy leftie’ organisation, has stated that if the restrictions on movement in the West Bank were removed, the economy would have a chance to flourish. Nothing can develop when there are over 500 "closures" in place - roadblocks, checkpoints etc.
We travelled to Ramallah later in the morning to meet the Palestinian Water Authority. Contrary to popular assumptions, there is no shortage of water in this region. In fact, it rains as much as it does in London. Palestine is rich in water resources. Under the Oslo agreement in 1993, as a temporary measure, Israel takes 80% of that water. What happened in fact was that Israel took 90% of the water and now sells Palestine its own water back at ever increasing prices. Not only that, but the average allowed consumption of water per person by Palestinians is 70 litres a day compared to 300 litres by Israelis. Compare that to Wales, where I come from, where we consume on average 149 litres. We believe that Wales as a nation has a right to control its own water supplies, but it is hard for us to imagine being exploited in the way the Palestinian people are. As many as 200,000 Palestinians don't even have access to running water.
From there were we went to meet families of the thousands of Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails. This is such a huge issue that the Palestinian Authority have a Minister for Prisoners who also met us. A year ago there was an agreement with Israel to release hundreds of prisoners when the Israeli soldier, Gilat Shalid, was released. It was shocking to hear that those released prisoners can now be re-imprisoned for life if they get involved in political activity. It was even more shocking to hear that the Minister for Prisoners is not allowed to visit those Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.
After meeting Israeli MPs last night, it was only right that we should meet Palestinians MPs tonight. One of the four was Dr. Mustapha Barghouti who I had met some years ago on a previous visit. We had an open and frank discussion about prospects for peace. They were not optimistic that an agreement could be reached that would secure the future of a Palestinian state. We, as MEPs, and the European Union as a whole are committed to the so-called "two state solution" - an independent Israeli state and an independent Palestinian state existing side by side and co-operating with each another. With the increase in Israeli housing settlements in Palestine and apartheid like policies that discriminate between people on the basis of their nationality, this solution seems to be slipping from their hands.
The general international assumption is that things are much better now in Jerusalem and the West Bank. When I first came here in 2000 the military presence was overwhelming. There were soldiers and checkpoints everywhere. There was an atmosphere of fear and distrust. Superficially things seem to have improved. But is that the reality?
On our way back from Ramallah to Jerusalem tonight we encountered a massive traffic jam. It soon became clear that we were again being held up at an army checkpoint. We were stopped, the armed soldiers came on our minibus and asked for our passports. They wanted to see any cameras we had and after checking the photos they let us go. Two checkpoint stops in two days! Twelve years on it doesn't feel very different to me.
MEP François Alfonsi from Corsica talks about his impressions on the third day of the EFA MEPs visit (FR)
Day Two - The West Bank: Life Under Occupation
Monday 1 October - Jill Evans MEP reports on the second day of the visit to the West Bank and East Jerusalem with EFA MEPs Ana Miranda and François Alfonsi
Our journey began in Jerusalem itself - or rather in the hills above Jerusalem.
From an incredible vantage point over the whole city, including the Mount of Olives and the Dome of the Rock, we learned how vitally important planning decisions are. They can determine the very future of a state. We looked down on a vast area of land between Jerusalem and Jericho.
There are plans to build houses here for Israeli settlers - that is, people who move into the occupied West Bank to live, often in caravans or makeshift houses to start with, but then expand and grow the settlement into a village or town which soon gets connected to electricity, water and all other utilities.
They create new Israeli towns in the middle of Palestinian communities. It would be a disaster for Palestine if this particular area was built on because it would take even more of their land and prevent them moving freely between their communities. The road already built there is for the use of Israeli settlers only - local Palestinian people are not allowed to travel on it.
Our next stop was to look at the separation wall that has been built around the West Bank. It is a massive ugly concrete wall that often runs down the middle of the road, cutting villages in half, separating children from their schools, workers from their workplace, patients from their hospitals. I have seen the wall many times before, topped with its razor wire, but I still cannot believe that in the 21st century we have yet another wall which separates people and brings not security but misery. However, like the Berlin wall, the Israeli wall is quickly being covered with colourful graffiti messages of support and hope.
It was hope that I found in Hebron too. I have been here before - the city that has been described as having more restrictions on people than any other city in the world. There are streets that Palestinians are not allowed to walk down (although I could as a foreigner) and the are many checkpoints. People have to go through airport security type machines and metal turnstiles several times a day just going about their everyday business. Children have to go through them to get to school. Soldiers are a constant presence on the streets. It is heartbreaking to see such a beautiful ancient city scarred in this way. Hundreds of shops and other businesses have closed down and what was a thriving commercial centre is now a ghost town. But despite everything a few local glass makers have survived in business.
We left Hebron for Tel Aviv - an hour's drive - to meet two Israeli Members of Parliament. Ironically we were stopped at an Israeli checkpoint on the Road. We were ordered to hand over our passports, take our belongings and leave our mini bus to go into the terminal. We each had to be security checked and then wait while our bus was thoroughly searched by the soldiers.
We were very late arriving for our meetings in Israel. We could honestly say it wasn't our fault!
EFA MEP François Alfonsi gives his impressions on everyday life under occupation in the West Bank, and the political challenges in building a lasting peace (FR).
Day One - Tel Aviv and Jerusalem
Sunday 30 September - EFA Group President, Jill Evans, reports on the first day of the MEPs visit
Arriving in Tel Aviv on Sunday afternoon I was immediately hit by the heat here - it's about 30 degrees. I met colleagues from Corsica at the airport and travelled to Jerusalem - about 45 minutes. I have made this journey many times since my first visit in 2000. Unfortunately, nothing has changed for the Palestinian people in all those years.
This was clear in the two meetings we had on Sunday night. When we get to their office in Jerusalem, we hear that the director of the human rights organisation can't come to meet us because he has been denied a permit to travel from one side of Jerusalem to the other. This is everyday life for the people. They can't travel around freely.
I was particularly disturbed to hear that the actual right to live in Jerusalem was taken away from 4,500 Palestinians in 2008 - their residency was revoked and it's still going on today. They don't have the automatic right to live in the city even if they've been born and brought up there and their whole family live there.
The future of Jerusalem as a shared capital for Israel and Palestine is one of the major issues we have come to discuss and we will hear more about that tomorrow.
It was a pleasure to meet Rosanne, a student in Bethlehem University who was planning a career in social work and who was already working with young people in Jerusalem. The drop out rate of school children is shocking, with 40% of high school students leaving before completing their final year in 2011.
Our final meeting was back in our hotel and late starting because our speaker, Hana, has had a three hour journey - delayed because of military roadblocks and checkpoints. She is one of a group of just four Israeli lawyers who defend Palestinian victims of torture.
We heard chilling evidence of the abuse of prisoners' rights, including hundreds of children. As long as the occupation continues, she said, prison and torture will be used to terrorise Palestinian society.
I've been here only a few hours but that's all it needs to begin to understand what occupation means. We came to see and report the facts and that is exactly what we will do.
EFA President Jill Evans discusses the upcoming fact finding trip
Jill Evans François Alfonsi Ana Miranda
MEPs François Alfonsi, Jill Evans, Ana Miranda from the European Free Alliance Group in the European Parliament are visiting the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The fact finding mission aims to get a first hand view of the challenges facing people in their daily lives as they deal with the effects of occupation including settlement building and frequent check points.
They will view the effects of settlement building, visit a refugee camp and hold meetings with local politicians and NGOs.
This page will be updated daily throughout their visit, including with a video blog.