EU funding help for demolition victims in the West Bank

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 West Bank - ©UNRWA Photo

17 March 2017. The European Union is financing psychological help for people who suffer the traumatic experience of having their houses demolished without notice by the Israeli army.

1,094 demolitions were carried out last year, 2016, in the West Bank, more in one year than ever since UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, started collecting data in 2009. 

In an interview in Brussels, Scott Anderson, the West Bank Operation Chief of UNRWA, told UNRIC that demolitions were usually carried out with virtually no advance warning. He gave as an example a recent demoliton of an appartment block in the town of Betunia on the West Bank.

Scott Anderson, Director of UNRWA Operations in the West Bank"They showed up at five in the morning and the residents were given a few minutes to get themselves ready and grab what they could from the house before the bulldozers pushed it in,“ Mr. Anderson said. "In addition to loosing a substantial investment they lost personal effects, pictures, stuff that is not easily replaced. So it was quite dramatic for them.“

UNRWA´s Crisis Prevention Unit responded immediately with pshycological first aid and transitory cash assistance.

"This is a traumatic experience. The people have nowhere to live at this point. We give them usually a three-month window to give the family time to get back on their feet and reestablish themselves. Depending on the nature of the demolition we can also give funding to pay for new household items. They will have no food, no kitchen appliances - nothing except what they can grab when they run out of the door.“

Funding for the phsychological help is part of the European Union´s 660 million euro contribution to the regular UNRWA budget, and 128 million euro contribution to UNRWA´s humanitarian appeals. The EU and its Member States fund 57% of the UNRWA budget.

With a growing population, the occupied West Bank needs more housing, but building permits are extremly hard to obtain, not least in East Jerusalem. It can take up to a decade to get a permit even to build on one´s own land. Many Palestinians don´t wait for a permit and increasingly face demolition of their houses.

"In addition the people face a 50,000 shekel fine, which is roughly 12,500 euros, and they have to pay to remove the rubble, since they shouldn´t have built there. Presuming that they had to take out a loan to build the appartment block in the first place, this puts them in a very precarious position.“

West Bank demolished house | © 2016 UNRWA Photo

This adds to the serious economic problems faced by Palestinians in the West Bank which, according to Mr. Anderson, are in part due to the serious difficulties Palestinians face to move around freely.

"Fundamentally the West Bank has a protection crisis with humanitarian implications“,  Mr. Anderson told UNRIC . "If we look at, for example, unemployment in the camps, it is fundamentally because the access regime that the Palestinians face on a daily basis prevents the economy from expanding at the rate that it should“.

According to the International Monetary Fund the economy grew by 4% in 2016, which is not enough to create a sufficent number of jobs, which results in considerable humanitarian needs.

"It takes about 127 permits for people to move around in the West Bank. It can be from area to area, to drive in and out of Israel, it can be many things. But what it does do, is to inhibit the free flow of people and goods and business ... These restricitions, the IMF says, inhibits the proper growth of the economy,“ according to Mr. Anderson.