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Minister Hautala in the Middle East: water is a burning issue
In collaboration with the Palestinian National Authority, Finland has been involved in enhancing the water supply of, for example, Palestinian villages on the north-western side of Jerusalem.
“Water is a burning issue everywhere in the Middle East. The situation of the Palestinian territories is made more difficult by the fact that 80 per cent of the water resources in the West Bank are controlled by Israel. Still, water is a human right that belongs to everyone," said Minister for International Development Heidi Hautala when she visited a Finnish water project in the West Bank.
During the past three years, Finland has been involved in enhancing the water supply of, for example, Palestinian villages on the north-western side of Jerusalem in collaboration with the Palestinian National Authority.
The new water supply network built in the project, the new reservoir and the restored pump station make people’s life easier in eight villages.
The focus of Hautala’s visit was on development cooperation and humanitarian assistance: this year, Finnish support for development cooperation work performed in the Palestinian territories amounts to EUR 9 million. In addition, Finland provides a total of EUR 4.5 million of funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
The meetings with the representatives of Israeli administration planned in the Minister’s programme were cancelled due to Israeli Foreign Ministry strike.
In Ramallah, Minister Hautala met the acting Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority Rami Hamdallah.
A moment of carefree childhood
The trip also included a visit to Gaza, hosted by UNRWA.
“In many people’s minds, Gaza is the embodiment of misery. In many respects, this is true – people are both mentally and materially anguished by the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip and the activities of extremist movements. On the other hand, in the middle of all misery, we saw joy on children’s faces and women dedicated to advocate change," Hautala noted.
The Minister’s visit coincided with the summer camp season in Gaza.
The purpose of summer camps, funded by Finland and organised by UNRWA, is to enhance the well-being of 150,000 children in Gaza by means of physical exercise, play and culture. It is also wished that, at the same time, this would promote moderation under otherwise difficult conditions.
Getting to know “the others” by doing things together
In addition, Hautala got acquainted with projects supported by Finland with an aim to strengthen peaceful interaction between the Palestinians and the Israeli.
The MEET project teaches Israeli and Palestinian youth technology, business and management – in other words, trains future leaders for the region. MEET is the only training programme in the region that brings together Israeli and Palestinian youth in this manner.
The cultural centre International Center in Betlehem, on the other hand, strives to strengthen the Palestinian cultural identity by supporting the development of arts and various forms of artistic impression and cross-cultural encounters. The Center was established with the help of Finnish funding and it celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.
“In this area, there is too much religion and politics that remains detached from people’s everyday lives. That is why we focus on supporting people in their everyday lives,” described Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, Director of the Center, when presenting the Center.
The three-day visit gave Minister for International Development Hautala, who visited the area for the first time, a real crash course in the current problems of the area and the efforts to solve them.
“Every effort should be made to find a solution to the situation in the region. On one hand, the continuous expansion of the Israeli settlements, which is in violation of international law, constitutes an obstacle to the progress of the peace process. Rocket strikes made by Palestinian extremist groups, on the other hand, also contribute to the difficult situation,” Hautala pointed out.
From Jerusalem, the Minister continued her trip to Jordan.