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EU withholds funds, puts Palestinian lives at risk

Fatima Salem (C) looks on as Sven Kuhn von Burgsdorff, head of the European Union's mission to the West Bank and Gaza Strip (R) on December 20, 2021 [AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP via Getty Images]
Fatima Salem (C) looks on as Sven Kuhn von Burgsdorff, head of the European Union's mission to the West Bank and Gaza Strip (R) on December 20, 2021 [AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP via Getty Images]

The European Union is putting Palestinian lives at risk by delaying aid for vital sectors in the occupied Palestinian territories, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) has warned. Those at risk include patients needing treatment in occupied East Jerusalem hospitals.

The EU has been withholding millions of euros in aid to the Palestinians since last year after claiming that textbooks in Palestinian schools have anti-Semitic content. The bloc insists that the books must be revised. Indeed, the European Commission has since been discussing whether or not to make aid conditional upon such revisions.

However, according to the NRC, the suspension of aid is paralysing critical sectors and impeding vital services, including healthcare in East Jerusalem, where hospitals provide life-saving care for Palestinians from across the occupied territories.

"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," said Jan Egeland, the NRC's secretary-general. "Palestinians are paying the cruellest price for political decisions made in Brussels."

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According to the NRC, at least 500 cancer patients diagnosed since September 2021 have failed to have access to adequate, potentially life-saving treatment at Augusta Victoria Hospital in occupied East Jerusalem.

Moreover, up to 120,000 Palestinians, the majority based in Gaza, have not received financial payments since 2021 that are critical for their survival. The salaries of PA employees, including teachers and healthcare workers, have been cut by 20 per cent.

Muhammed, 74, from Gaza, cares for his wife who is partly paralysed and is now unable to afford adequate housing. He told the NRC that he relies on social assistance from the Ministry of Social Development, which is his sole source of income, but has not received support for almost two years. "We do not ask to live like the rest of humanity, just a quarter of the life they live would suffice, no more," he pointed out.

The EU is the PA's largest single donor. Its aid helps to pay the salaries of civil servants and funds numerous development projects and programmes.

"The delay because of a political position is putting lives at risk every day," added Egeland. "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."

Between 2008 and 2020, Brussels sent around $2.5 billion in direct budget support to the PA, it was reported. The EU has officially cited "technical difficulties" to explain why it has donated very little to the PA since 2020.

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