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What does Oxfam do in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel (OPTI)?
Oxfam has been working in OPTI since the 1950s, with a country office established in the 1980s. Working with Israeli and Palestinian partner organizations, Oxfam aims to improve the lives of poor and marginalized Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
Our work focuses on agricultural development, emergency and primary health, education, protection of civilians, and the rights of women. For example, we support cooperatives of women olive producers to improve the quality of their oil and reach wider markets. We also work with human rights organizations to advocate for civil and political rights and an end to the policies that cause poverty and injustice.
What is Oxfam's position on the conflict?
We want to see a just and lasting agreement between Israelis and Palestinians that will bring an end to the occupation, and peace, security and prosperity for Israelis and Palestinians alike.
Oxfam calls for a comprehensive negotiated solution based on international law and we support the two-state solution called for by the international community. We condemn violence against civilians on all sides and believe that both Israelis and Palestinians deserve to live in dignity without fear of violence or oppression.
Why is Oxfam against settlements?
Israeli settlements in the West Bank are widely recognized by international governments as a violation of international law and a major obstacle to peace. In our daily work we see the negative impact of Israeli settlements on the lives and livelihoods of Palestinian businesses, farmers and herders. These settlements are a major cause of Palestinian poverty and the denial of rights which we try to address in our work. Settlements continue to expand across the West Bank – in the past 20 years the settler population has more than doubled to over 520,000 today. This has resulted in the confiscation of Palestinian land and resources and has fuelled poverty. Settlements also threaten the viability of a future Palestinian state, leaving the West Bank carved into 167 disconnected enclaves. Oxfam supports the two-state solution but settlements are a direct threat to that solution.
But settlements also provide jobs for Palestinians, don’t they?
The occupation, of which Israeli settlements in the West Bank are a large part, is a cause of poverty. According to the World Bank, restrictions on Palestinian access to Area C – the 61% of the West Bank that is under full Israeli government control and where most settlements are located – cost the Palestinian economy about $3.4 billion a year.
Unemployment in the West Bank has risen as a result, with nearly one in three working age Palestinians under 29 unemployed. Some Palestinians do find work in Israeli settlement farms and factories, but this is often because they are restricted from pursuing other livelihoods and have little other choice.
Oxfam works with olive farmers and animal herders living near settlements across the West Bank. They are prevented from accessing parts of their land and receive much less water per person than Israeli settlers. Palestinians in Area C require Israeli permits to build new homes, wells, irrigation systems or animal shelters, but over 95 percent of Palestinian applications are rejected. At the same time, Israeli settlements continue to expand.
Around 800,000 olive trees have been uprooted, and in the past year more than 660 Palestinian homes and property have been demolished. Palestinian olive oil production alone has dropped by 40 percent in the past decade. Unable to make a living on their own land, the only option available to many Palestinians is often settlement factories and farms which receive support from the Israeli government.
Does Oxfam support a boycott of Israel?
No. We oppose trade with Israeli settlements in the West Bank because they are illegally built on occupied land, increase poverty among Palestinians, and threaten the chances of a two-state solution. However, we are not opposed to trade with Israel and we do not support a boycott of Israel, or any other country.
We do not fund activities that call for a boycott, divestment or sanctions. Oxfam believes that a vibrant civil society is the best way to overcome global poverty and injustice, and we know that a strong civil society will have many different opinions and approaches. We work with more than 30 diverse Israeli and Palestinian partners and we do not expect that all of them agree with us on all policy issues. Some of them may support a boycott, but we do not fund this part of their work.
Oxfam also does not fund or support any organizations that promote anti-Semitic or any other discriminatory practices, or advocate violence. We believe that trade with settlements, or companies located in settlements, contributes to legitimizing their presence and denying the rights of Palestinians. We promote ethical consumption and we support the right of consumers to know the origin of the products they purchase. Therefore we urge the Israeli government to ensure proper labeling of Israeli products and of settlement products so that consumers can differentiate between them.