Science - April 20, 2006

In the news/ EU aid to Palestine cut

Palestine has come under increasing international pressure since Hamas won the elections in January. Last week the EU stopped aid to the Palestinians, reducing the country’s GNP by one third, and said the move was to force the radical Palestinian movement to recognise Israel and to stop violence. But what does a Palestinian think about this?

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Said Husaineid has been living in Wageningen for seven years now. After working with great pleasure with both Palestinians and Israelis in his hometown of Bethlehem on the West Bank, he arrived here in 1999 to do a Master’s in biotechnology. Two years later his wife and children joined him and he started a PhD on increased energy efficiency in the production of greenhouse tomato plants.

With a smile Husaineid tells about his life in Holland, the country he loves for its good organisation and where he wants to get a job once he finishes his PhD. ‘Although we miss our family, Wageningen makes the missing less severe.’ In good Dutch he tells proudly that he recently acquired Dutch citizenship.

When it comes to the European sanctions against the Palestinian authorities, Husaineid patiently starts to explain the ins and outs of a complex situation. He believes that the recent election result shows that the European definition of terrorism is not matched by the way the Palestinian people regard Hamas. ‘If Hamas was seen as a terrorist organisation, it would not have been elected by such a big majority. So many people voting for Hamas just indicates that the priorities of the Palestinians are not financial support, but freedom and justice. Everybody knew that aid would be cut if Hamas won, and still they got elected.’

Therefore Husaineid thinks that only acting pro-Israel is not the right way to help the region. ‘Consider this: Israel has occupied Palestinian land since 1967, systematically terrifies thousands of Palestinian people, and is building a wall that has even been condemned by the international court in The Hague. Helping Israel and at the same time punishing a democratic decision of Palestine is clearly injustice towards the terrified and occupied Palestinians. The EU should apply the same sanctions against both Israel and Palestine.’

What strikes Husaineid too is that the world seems so focused on Hamas, while the Palestinian leaders now officially represent all of the Palestinian people and should not be judged on their membership of Hamas. ‘Take Holland; other countries do not judge Prime Minister Balkenende on being a member of the Christian party CDA. He can only be judged on his functioning as prime minister representing the Dutch government.’

Whichever way you look at it, the boycott appears to be strongly related to the terrorism label that Hamas has been given by the West, Husaineid agrees. ‘Maybe this is something Europe should watch out for. Because one of the Hamas leaders’ main focuses is the well-being of the poor, Hamas can count on a relatively high degree of trust among these people. Stopping aid as the result of a democratic decision is definitely not going to bring the Palestinians closer to Israel.’

Hence one of the biggest problems Said sees is the polarity of opinion exhibited by many newspapers and governments. ‘It seems that if you are pro Israel, you automatically have to be against Palestine. To me there is no shame in being pro Israel, but why not in addition help three million Palestinians? Now 140,000 Palestinian civil servants have to work without pay because the world is claiming to help Israel. If we help Palestine instead of punishing it, we could bring peace to the area. But we can only do this by first changing the idea that the Palestinian government is a terrorist organisation. Then we could start negotiations that might result in an agreement to control the use of the financial support. We could make sure that the money would be used for the development of wealth and peace among the Palestinians. In the end this will help both Israel and Palestine towards a two-state solution.’

Martijn Vink

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