Polish Minister Refuses to Meet Israeli Envoy Over West Bank Controversy

After Israel's Civil Administration destroyed Palestinian cisterns repaired by a Polish group, criticism of Israel increases in Polish media.

Criticism toward Israel has grown in the Polish media of late, after Haaretz published a report regarding Palestinian watering holes destroyed by Israel's Civil Administration in the West Bank that had been repaired by a Polish volunteer organization.

Poland's under-secretary of state Jerzy Pomianowski even refused a recent meet with Israel's ambassador in Warsaw, Zvi Rav-Ner. This is the first time such a diplomatic incident has occurred between the two nations.

When the destruction of the water cisterns was first publicized in Poland in February, Rav-Ner apologized to Pomianowski and promised that such an occurrence would not recur – on the condition that the volunteers request a permit for their activities from Israel.

Nonetheless, the Polish Foreign Ministry did not understand why the volunteer group, Polish Humanitarian Action, would need a building permit to rehabilitate a water cistern. PHA, relying on international law, refused to operate as instructed – and recently some additional water tanks that were repaired with funds from the Polish Finance Ministry were destroyed in the Palestinian village of Tiran.

The PHA intends to raise the issue with European Union institutions.

"This time I didn't speak with the Israeli ambassador, yet Poland conveys its regret over the recurrence of the incident," Pomianowski said in response to the destruction of cisterns. He added, "The Foreign Ministry maintains constant contact with the president of the volunteer organization, Ms. Janina Ochojska, and is following continued developments regarding the dispute."

Substantial criticism has been voiced regarding Israel in parts of Polish media, and from the Polish side, it appears that the dispute is not focused on the issue of the water cisterns, but rather on the struggle to evict Palestinian residents living in the vicinity of Jewish settlements located in the West Bank.

Amira Hass