Following the recent unrest in the Hebron area, Mr. Roy Dickinson, Head of Operations at the European Commission Technical Assistance Office visited three EU – funded projects on Thursday 9 August, to monitor the situation and express the European Union's continued solidarity with the Palestinian people.
The EU delegation was welcomed by the recently appointed Mayor of Hebron, Mr Khaled Osaily. Mr. Roy Dickinson said "The EU is committed to supporting the new Government not only at the central level, but at the municipal level, where this is possible. It is also committed to Palestinian people in the whole of the occupied Palestinian territory. This is my first visit to Hebron and its surroundings, but it will certainly not be our last."
The EU delegation then visited the Bedouin village of Al-Tuwani, where 160 Palestinians live in the shadow of a nearby settlement, to get a sense of the ongoing difficulties faced by the local families. They met a leader of the community, who explained that one of the major challenges was to enable the children from the surrounding areas to get to the school in Al-Tuwani safely. However, thanks to an EU –funded project, implemented by the non-governmental organisation Comunità Papa Giovanni, the children were now always accompanied by peace monitors, which meant that they were able to safely take the shortest route, passing close to the settlement, to get to school. While many difficulties remained due to the presence of the settlement, he expressed the hope that gradually the situation could continue to improve, through pursuing a non-violent approach to conflict resolution.
This visit was followed by a meeting with the Deputy Minister of Labour, Dr. Salah Alzaroo, in the municipality of Halhoul, to discuss the expected resumption of a €4.3 million project to build and equip a multi-purpose Technical Vocational and Educational Training centre. The project had been almost completed, but had to be suspended in 2006, following the election of Hamas and their refusal to accept the international Quartet's three principles: to give up violence, recognise Israel's right to exist and accept all previous agreements signed between the PLO and Israel. Mr. Dickinson explained during the meeting that, following the appointment of Dr. Salam Fayyad's government, the European Commission now expected to resume a number of projects, including the TVET. Dr. Salah Alzaroo, Mr. Dickinson and Mr. Anastasios Frangos, the European Commission engineer in charge of the project, discussed possible next steps to ensure that the project could be restarted within the shortest timeframe possible. The TVET will provide vocational training, such as metallurgy and auto-mechanics, to some 500 trainees coming from all over the occupied Palestinian territory, and will help to provide skilled workers to help boost the local economy.
The EU delegation's tour finished in the nearby village of Tarqumia with a visit to the Community Rehabilitation Centre, which is funded with a €296,000 grant from the EU, and run by the Spanish non-governmental organisation, Movimiento por la Paz (MPDL). There, the local project coordinators explained the difficulties faced by people with disabilities in terms of accessing adequate care, due to the many restrictions on access and movement in the area. In addition, they explained that there were very few facilities providing proper rehabilitation for people suffering from a wide variety of disabilities, such as cerebral palsy. The activities of the Community Rehabilitation Centre, including outreach visits with qualified physiotherapists and social workers to five neighbouring villages, had significantly improved the situation for some 350 local people living with a disability, and helped to reduce the significant burden on their families.
Summing up at the end of the visit, Mr. Dickinson reaffirmed "It's a great pleasure to have visited this beautiful region, and to have seen three very different EU projects. Whilst they're different, they have one thing in common: they clearly demonstrate the firm commitment of the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people, on the one hand, and the European Union and ordinary European people on the other, to work in partnership to bring the hope of a better future for the Palestinian people."