Published on Friday, March 22, 2002 by the Inter Press Service
Destruction Wrought by Israel Tallied in Millions
by Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS - Israeli military attacks in the West Bank and Gaza are estimated to have destroyed some 22 million dollars worth of Palestinian infrastructure financed by the United Nations and European Union (EU).
The losses include damage to or destruction of refugee camps, health clinics, broadcasting facilities, schools, health laboratories, homes, and the Gaza airport.
Peter Hansen, commissioner-general of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), said the destruction of U.N. installations alone has amounted to more than 3.8 million dollars.
"This figure does not include much more needed for the future social and health needs of a severely traumatized refugee population," Hansen said Thursday.
The EU has estimated that Israeli bombing and military assaults so far have destroyed 15-18 million dollars worth of European- financed projects.
EU foreign ministers, meeting last month in Brussels, reserved the right to seek compensation from Israel for damages caused by its military forces in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza.
U.N. spokesperson Farhan Haq told IPS: "Traditionally, we have made requests for compensation from Israel for damages caused to U.N. property. But they have never responded."
According to the Palestine National Authority, total damages in the West Bank and Gaza since the current Palestinian uprising began in September 2000 could exceed 200 million dollars.
Hansen said Israeli attacks - including the use of U.S.-supplied F- 16 fighter planes and Apache helicopters - have caused damage to some 22 U.N. schools, four U.N. health clinics, two ambulances, and four refugee camp service centers.
"The entire military exercise will cost UNRWA at least 270,000 dollars in immediate repairs to its installations, while the United Nations alone will have to spend 225,000 dollars on urgently needed road and infrastructure repairs inside the camps," he said.
The damages were primarily caused by Israeli military incursions into several U.N.-run refugee camps during the last two weeks. More than 100 Palestinians were killed and more than 500 were injured in the attacks.
"The dead and injured are each an individual tragedy for their families - families with few other places to turn for help and assistance than UNRWA," Hansen said.
According to preliminary estimates, UNRWA will need about 2.3 million dollars to rebuild 141 refugee homes recently destroyed.
A further 540,000 dollars is needed to repair some 1,800 shelters that suffered minor damage. This is in addition to the more than 5,000 refugees whose homes had been destroyed by Israeli bulldozing and shelling between September 2000 and the latest flare-up of fighting.
The razing of homes, strongly condemned by human rights organizations, is a common form of punishment inflicted on Palestinians by Israeli forces in retaliation for suicide bombings.
The Israelis also have blown up the headquarters of the Palestine Broadcasting Corporation, destroying some three million dollars worth of communications equipment given by Germany, France, Denmark, and other EU nations.
According to published reports, the damage also includes the destruction of the Inter-Continental Hotel in Bethlehem, which was partly financed by the European Investment Bank. Damages to the hotel are estimated at over 700,000 dollars.
The heaviest damage was to the Gaza airport, which has been rendered inoperable and shut down. The closure of the airport has been designed to ground Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who has not been allowed to leave home.
Chris Patten, the EU's external affairs commissioner, said: "If you think of the investment that has gone from Europe to the West Bank and Gaza over the years to try to help in the creation of a viable state, the loss is incalculable."
Since 1994, the EU has been the largest single donor, accounting for about 2.9 billion dollars in development aid to the Palestinians.
Since 1996, the Israelis have refused to pay some 1.7 million dollars in damages for the destruction of a U.N. military compound belonging to the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).
The Israeli attack on Lebanese civilians taking shelter in the UNIFIL headquarters took place in Qana, southern Lebanon. The Israeli bombardment resulted in the deaths of more than 100 Lebanese civilians and three Fijian U.N. peacekeepers.
The Israelis also rejected a General Assembly resolution calling for the payment of compensation for the destruction and the killings.
Meanwhile, in a report released last July, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the military confrontation between Israelis and Palestinians was wrecking the fragile economy of the West Bank and Gaza.
The World Bank has estimated a loss of about 2.4 billion dollars in gross national income.
Copyright 2002 IPS