~ by Katya Reed, from the occupied West Bank
(Interview with John Prideaux-Brune, Country Director for the OPT and Israel at Oxfam GB, Part 2. Part 1, on Gaza, was here.)
“You can have development under an occupation but you can’t eradicate poverty.” That thought-provoking statement came from John Prideaux-Brune, Oxfam GB’s Country Director for Israel and the OPTs, during the interview I conducted with him January 12 in his office in East Jerusalem.
Prideaux-Brune explained that impoverishment is now widely recognized to be a condition where one is denied control over one’s life. Poverty is about being denied a voice. “You can be the richest person in the world but if you have no voice you are still in poverty,” he said.
Military rule anywhere, of course, denies a voice to citizens. But rule by an occupying foreign army does so even more, as is generally recognized in the special provisions international humanitarian law makes to try to protect the welfare of people living under foreign military occupation.
In the West Bank and Gaza, the 4.3 million civilian residents have now been living under foreign military occupation for nearly 43 years– and the mechanisms for sustaining that occupation have become extremely complex over time. In the West Bank, the land mass has been sliced and diced into five different kinds of governance zones:
- East Jerusalem has been outright annexed by Israel.
- Israel has also, more quietly, extended its civil law system to the many large areas occupied or controlled by Israel’s illegal settlements, which thereby, in effect, annexes them.
- In other areas, not directly controlled by the settlement blocs, the Palestinian population comes under the undiluted control of the IDF’s ‘civil affairs’ branch. These expanses of land– which total around 60% of the West Bank’s entire terrain– were designated, under Oslo, as ‘Area C’.
- Other areas of land were designated ‘Area B’. In these patches, the (‘interim’) Palestinian Authority exercises control over civilian functions while the IDF retains control over security affairs.
- In the other small patches designated ‘Area A’, the PA is supposed to control both civilian functions and security– though in practice, the IDF still moves and operates quite freely within the cities and towns that are designated ‘Area A’.
In the interview with Prideaux-Brune, he expressed particular concern for the situation of Palestinians in Area C. In those areas, he noted, the Israeli government continues to deny Oxfam GB and their local partners permission for water storage tanks during a drought and the rehabilitation of tin shacks for impoverished Bedouin communities.
He concluded wryly that in some portions of Area C, “Pretty soon you’re going to have to have a permit to breathe”.
ISRAEL STOPS WORK VISAS FOR OXFAM & OTHER NGOS IN OPT
At around the time I conducted the interview, the Israeli authorities were introducing tight new restrictions on the ability of international humanitiarian-aid and development groups like Oxfam to operate in the OPTs. In early January the Interior Ministry announced that it would no longer grant work permits to Oxfam and other major international organizations working in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). Instead, Israel issues employees like Prideaux-Brune only ‘B-1’ tourist visas that don’t formally allow the holder the right to work, even though Israeli officials have assured these employees that Israel understands their work in the OPT will continue.
The new visa restrictions do not apply to those organizations working in Israel or the settlements throughout the West Bank, in which case NGOs are simply granted work visas for Israel. What Prideaux-Brune and others are gravely concerned about is the “slippery slope” that such policies might portend.
While at this point the tourist visas may be granted to employees on a reliable basis, Prideaux-Brune voiced his grave concern about this pattern of further constrictions on international NGOs in the OPT. Having no legal basis to work in the country you are based in increases the stress on staff and also makes recruitment much more difficult.
“YOU CAN’T ERADICATE POVERTY WHILST YOU HAVE AN OCCUPATION”
Prideaux-Brune began summarizing Oxfam GB’s work in the West Bank with a disclaimer. He emphasized that while Oxfam GB does believe it can meaningfully support Palestinian development efforts, it is well aware that no matter how expansive development efforts are, poverty will persist as long as the occupation continues.