Gaza: Aid agencies call for suspension of enhanced EU-Israel agreements

“The EU must now apply real pressure to convince Israeli and Hamas leaders to accept [an immediate ceasefire].”
Jeremy Hobbs
Executive Director of Oxfam International
Published: 7 January 2009

(Brussels, 7 January 2009) A coalition of major humanitarian, human rights and development organizations called on the European Union today to immediately suspend any further enhancement of its relations with Israel, known as an ‘upgrade’, until it agrees to a comprehensive ceasefire and provides unimpeded humanitarian access. Both Israel’s offensive in Gaza and Hamas rocket attacks into Israel have caused unacceptable civilian casualties.

The call comes ahead of the informal meeting of EU ministers in Prague this Thursday. It follows Israel’s rejection of European attempts to secure an immediate ceasefire during a visit of the EU’s most senior representatives to the region on Monday 5 January.

“Israel has shunned diplomatic efforts by the EU and the delegation has returned empty-handed. The EU’s credibility is now at stake. It is inconceivable that we should extend further benefits of European partnership to a government that violates international humanitarian law and refuses negotiation in favour of continued violence. It is time for robust EU action to bring about an immediate ceasefire and end the violence on all sides,” said Daleep Mukarji, Director of Christian Aid UK and Ireland.

The coalition of organisations from over 10 European countries – including Oxfam International, World Vision and Muslim Aid - warns that the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, already dire following the 18-month blockade, has been pushed to crisis point by the current military conflict.

More than a million Gazans face extreme shortages of electricity and water, and thousands of people have fled their homes. Food stocks are running short. Hospitals are struggling to function without electricity, relying on generators, and are unable to provide adequate care to the high number of casualties. Sewage is flooding into the streets of Beit Hanoun as the waste water pumping stations are shutting down due to lack of electricity.

“This is not the time to be awarding benefits to a party to the conflict. The civilian casualties and destruction of homes, schools and basic infrastructure in Gaza are shocking and increasing every day. The EU cannot proceed with upgrading our relations with Israel while such violations are talking place,” said Souhayr Belhassen, President of FIDH.

The coalition calls on the EU to uphold fundamental European principles by:

  • Suspending the EU-Israel upgrade process until a full, complete and permanent ceasefire has been agreed by all parties and Israel provides unimpeded humanitarian access;
  • Making publicly clear that partnership with the EU should be linked to respect for human rights and international law;
  • Securing action in the United Nations Security Council to adopt a binding resolution that demands an immediate ceasefire, and includes effective monitoring to ensure adherence to it by both sides.

“The EU agrees that an immediate ceasefire and an opening of Gaza crossings is our only hope for alleviating the desperate situation in Gaza and providing security for people on both sides. The EU must now apply real pressure to convince Israeli and Hamas leaders to accept this and redouble its efforts to achieve sustainable peace in the region,” said Jeremy Hobbs, Executive Director of Oxfam International.

Notes to Editors

1. The coalition includes the following organizations:

Avaaz, Broederlijk Delen (Belgium), CAFOD (UK), CCFD (France), Christian Aid (UK and Republic of Ireland), Danish Church Aid (Denmark), Diakonia (Sweden), Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (Denmark), FIDH (France),  medico international (Germany and Switzerland), Muslim Aid (UK), Oxfam International, Rehabilitation and Research Center for Torture Victims (Denmark), Trócaire (Ireland), United Civilians for Peace (Netherlands), World Vision (UK).

2. The EU foreign ministers’ statement on 30 December 2008 called for an “immediate and permanent ceasefire” that would allow “lasting and normal opening of all border crossings.”

3. Note on the process of upgrading EU relations with Israel:

  • The upgrade process is supposed to enhance mutual economic and political cooperation across a range of sectors.
  • The EU agreed to the Israeli request for upgrading in June 2008 and reconfirmed in December 2008. It also verbally linked the upgrade to the peace process and the respect for human rights. The preparations are ongoing in the EU institutions.
  • The process was expected to be completed under the Czech presidency and endorsed at an EU-Israel Association Council scheduled for 18 May 2009.
  • A suspension of activities would entail a freeze on all activities, processes and events that are part of the EU-Israel upgrade, for example, an EU-Israel summit.
  • The legal basis for the EU’s relations with Israel is the EU-Israel Association Agreement.  Article Two of that Agreement states that relations “shall be based on respect for human rights and democratic principles.”