EU states lose huge sums as Israeli settlers wreck Palestine aid projects

Ireland says ‘a number of donor countries’ are working together to get compensation for damage to projects

A Palestinian man packs up his home in the occupied West Bank village of Zanuta, following a sharp rise in settler attacks. Thomas Helm / The National
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Vital infrastructure paid for by European countries in the occupied West Bank is being systematically destroyed by Israeli settlers, further stoking anger at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his far-right allies, who are accused of licensing settler violence.

Property worth hundreds of thousands of euros funded by countries including Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands is already recorded as having been destroyed since October 7, although the total amount is believed to be far higher, The National can reveal.

Ireland says a number of the affected nations are demanding compensation.

The rising cost of unchecked Israeli vandalism raises important questions about how much longer European public opinion can tolerate pumping huge amounts of aid into the West Bank through national and EU budgets, only to see it destroyed by Israeli settlers with seeming impunity.

After an investigation by The National, the Netherlands revealed for the first time that property worth around €150,000 ($160,000) that it donated to one NGO has been damaged.

Ireland revealed that two of its projects with the same NGO had been vandalised since October 7.

They were “a 2015 Irish Aid-supported water project and a 2016 energy project,” a representative for Ireland's Department of Foreign Affairs said.

The total value of the damage was not given.

The organisation behind the projects, Comet-ME, which provides water and electricity infrastructure, estimates that it has incurred damage worth as much as €200,000 due to settler vandalism since the beginning of the war.

Comet-ME told The National that the issue was almost unprecedented, with only four incidents of vandalism to donated property before October 7 recorded since the organisation was established, in 2009.

The worst assault on the NGO’s projects happened in the days immediately after the Israel-Gaza war broke out, when settlers attacked water infrastructure and solar panels in projects around the South Hebron Hills. Palestinians have been forced to flee the area since October 7 in the face of rising settler violence.

The extent of the problem across the West Bank could be far higher, however, given the vast web of infrastructure projects across the region that are funded by European states.

Allegra Pacheco of the West Bank Protection Consortium, an umbrella programme supported by a number of European nations that provides humanitarian protection in the affected areas, said that it is difficult to get the “complete picture” about the cost of settler vandalism to projects funded by European states since October 7.

“Many of the Palestinian communities where the population was forced out by settler violence are inaccessible either due to physical obstacles or due to the threat of further violence by settlers nearby,” she added.

The UK and Germany also donate to Comet-ME and, like the Netherlands, remain staunch supporters of Israel’s pursuit of the Gaza war, despite mounting criticism of their positions at home and abroad.

The German Foreign Ministry said it had been “made aware of incidents of settler vandalism involving Comet-ME infrastructure”.

“The increasing violence in the West Bank is of deep concern to Germany,” it said, although it added the damage to German-donated property was “relatively low”.

The UK did not answer any of the questions posed by The National about damage to property it funded, nor about whether it will take legal action. The possible cost to British taxpayers is therefore unclear.

When asked whether it plans to take legal action to recover its costs, the Netherlands said that it is “working closely with Comet-ME to find out exactly what happened”.

“Once that picture is complete, we will consider follow-up steps,” it added.

Ireland admitted, however, that donor countries have been “working together to pursue compensation for the West Bank Protection Consortium”.

“The Consortium has sought, but not received, accumulative compensation regarding confiscated or demolished assets since 2015,” they added.

While settler vandalism has been the overwhelming cause of material damage since October 7, Israeli authorities have for years used demolition orders to destroy European-donated structures in Area C of the West Bank.

Updated: January 25, 2024, 7:51 AM