Palestinian lives at risk if EU continues to withhold aid: NRC

EU has withheld $230M in aid until school textbooks are changed, leaving Palestinians unable to buy food and medicine.

A humanitarian organisation has warned that the European Union’s continued delay in distributing aid to vital sectors in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip is putting Palestinian lives at risk, with dire consequences for patients needing treatment at occupied East Jerusalem hospitals.

Since 2021, the EU has withheld a large proportion of its funding to the Palestinians – nearly $230m – under the pretext that Palestinian school textbooks need to undergo revisions and changes.

But, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), the suspension of aid is paralysing critical sectors and impeding services, including healthcare in occupied East Jerusalem, where hospitals provide life-saving treatments to Palestinians from across the 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. Palestinians are paying the cruellest price for political decisions made in Brussels,” said Jan Egeland, the NRC’s secretary-general, on Tuesday.

The rights group, which helps displaced people, said that at least 500 cancer patients, diagnosed since September 2021, have been unable to access adequate, life-saving treatments at Augusta Victoria Hospital in occupied East Jerusalem.

This has led to avoidable deaths, according to the Lutheran World Federation, a global communion of churches, which operates the hospital. Patients already under the care of the hospital have endured significant delays in critical treatment, the group said in a statement.

The EU’s decision to withhold the badly needed aid has also had dire consequences on the cash support needed for Palestinian livelihoods. Since November 2021, the group said, as many as 120,000 people, most of them in Gaza, have not received financial support, while Palestinian Authority (PA) employees have had their salaries cut by 20 percent.

“We do not ask to live like the rest of humanity, just a quarter of the life they live would suffice, no more,” said Muhammad, a 74-year-old man from Gaza whose sole source of income is assistance from the Ministry of Social Development, which in turn relies on EU aid.

For close to two years, he has not received any cash aid, which is badly needed to support his disabled wife and to be able to afford adequate housing.

Al Jazeera has reached out to the EU for comment.

The Gaza Strip has been battered by years of Israeli siege and bombardment, which has pushed much of the population below the poverty line and rendered 63 percent of its population in need of some form of humanitarian assistance.

Some 2.1 million Palestinians, out of 5.3 million, need humanitarian assistance, according to ECHO, the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations.

The EU is the largest donor to the PA with some $1.4bn spent under the European Union Joint Strategy 2017-2020, and some $886m in humanitarian assistance since 2000.

Fifteen EU member states have signed a letter to the European Commission criticising the delay in providing the funds, and have called for their immediate release.