The following statement was just released by the Australian Parliamentary Friends of Palestine at the conclusion of the delegation’s Middle East visit:
The Parliamentary Friends of Palestine study tour arrived in Palestine on 17 April and has been here for eight days, visiting the West Bank, Gaza and Israel. It has been an informative and rewarding experience.
We were given a very warm welcome by the people of Palestine and we are grateful for the hospitality and friendship that has been shown to us.
We have met with Palestinian leaders, religious representatives, NGOs, academics, United Nations representatives and we visited Australian development projects.
In addition, the members of the Parliamentary Friendship Group met with current and previous Israeli Knesset Members and Israeli civil society organizations.
We appreciate Australia’s long-standing and bipartisan foreign policy commitment to a secure and independent Palestinian state existing side-by-side with a secure and independent Israel.
Australia is delivering support for Palestine through 4 main pathways:
1. A 5 Year Funding Agreement between Australia and the Palestinian Authority via the World Bank Palestinian Reform and Development Program Trust Fund for the building of transparent, accountable government institutions.
2. Direct aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for the Palestinian refugees.
3. Long-term funding for Australian aid agencies working with Palestinian civil society on a range of projects in the West Bank and Gaza.
4. Education funding through the Australian Leadership Award Fellowships and Australian Post-Graduate Scholarships
The Delegation learned first-hand about the importance of resolving the Final Status Issues of Borders, Security, Settlements, Jerusalem, Water and Refugees.
Our group has visited both the West Bank and Gaza and has seen first-hand the difficulties experienced by Palestinians in their daily lives under occupation; from checkpoints, closures, home demolitions; settlements; the separation wall; and the permit system; as well as the crippling effect of the blockade on Gaza.
It has been instructive to hear first hand from Palestinian farmers about the severe economic and social effects on families and communities, of losing significant farming land to settlements and the Wall, and to then have access to their remaining land severely restricted through the system of permits.
We were told of the lack of access to water, severely impacting Palestinian communities.
Young Palestinian students explained to us the difficulty of crossing multiple checkpoints in order to attend university.
At Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem and the Al Ahli Hospital in Gaza, the group met with Palestinian women with breast cancer who are experiencing difficulty accessing treatment.
Statistics show that the death rate for breast cancer within Gaza and the West Bank, stands at 70%, some 30% higher than in the rest of the world.
We will return to Australia with energy and determination to inform our parliamentary colleagues and our communities about the situation as we experienced it on the ground. We look forward to further developing the relationship between our parliaments and peoples.
Palestinians and their President Mahmoud Abbas with whom we met yesterday, have reaffirmed their commitment to peace and their readiness for statehood. We know that ordinary people in Israel also want peace and security.
We sincerely appreciate the support provided by the Palestinian Authority, the Australian Representative Office in Ramallah, the Australian Embassy in Tel Aviv, and the General Delegation of Palestine in Australia.