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30 November 2013

November marked one year since the Egyptian-mediated ceasefire understanding between Israel and Hamas, which ended an eight day escalation of hostilities. The year that passed has witnessed the lowest level of violence and civilian casualties registered in Gaza and southern Israel in 13 years. Additionally, there has been limited improvement in people's access to fishing areas at sea and to farming areas along the fence with Israel.

Overall, however, Gaza has seen a deterioration in living conditions. The majority of the Israeli-imposed restrictions on the movement of people and goods to and from the Gaza Strip have remained in place, with at least one of them (import of building materials) tightened. The impact of those measures has been compounded since June 2013 by the halt in the smuggling of construction material and fuel via the illegal tunnels under the border with Egypt.

Since 1 November, the Gaza Power Plan (GPP) has been forced to shut down due to the fuel shortage, triggering one of the most serious energy crises in the Gaza Strip in recent years, including electricity outages of up to 16 hours per day. The water and sanitation sector has been one of the hardest hit: a number of sewage pumping facilities have started to overflow and the frequency of water supply to households has decreased dramatically. The provision of health services has also been impacted by the energy crisis. Among other ramifications in the health sector, government hospitals have reduced non-urgent surgeries by almost half in order to save fuel needed to run generators to power life-saving equipment.

Particularly affected by the deterioration are those who continue struggling with the consequences of the November 2012 hostilities, including families that remain displaced, those severely injured, and children experiencing psychosocial distress. This overall deterioration is a matter of concern, not only in itself, but also as a critical factor undermining the ceasefire and potentially leading to the resumption of large scale violence.

There are worrying signs of an overall deterioration in the West Bank as well, with a sharp increase in casualties over the past year. In November alone, six Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces and 308 were injured. Two of this month's fatalities and six of the injuries occurred at military checkpoints in the West Bank. In recent years, there has been a gradual easing of mobility restrictions between the main Palestinian cities and villages. However, checkpoints have continued to impede Palestinian movement and remain frequent flashpoints of violence. At present, there are 59 permanently staffed military checkpoints within the West bank, in addition to 25 "partial checkpoints" staffed on an ad-hoc basis, and a monthly average of about 250 flying checkpoints deployed for several hours at a time at different locations.

Also of concern in the West Bank is the fact that the number of structures demolished and people displaced in East Jerusalem so far this year (almost 100 and 300 respectively) is by far the highest recorded since 2009. This month, the Israeli authorities issued new demolition orders against ten apartment buildings in an East Jerusalem community separated from the city by the Barrier, placing additional 1,500 residents at risk of displacement. Forced displacement has a serious physical, socio-economic and emotional impact on Palestinian families and communities, depriving people of their homes, often their main source of physical and economic security

Despite the deterioration in the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, the ceasefire reached a year ago between Israel and Hamas is still holding, offering a window of opportunity to address some of the drivers of humanitarian vulnerability affecting Gaza's population. Additionally, the ongoing negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority present an even more significant opportunity to improve the living conditions of the entire Palestinian population in the oPt and ending the ongoing occupation. As stressed by the UN Secretary-General on the occasion of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, "after two decades of talks and far too many adverse developments on the ground [...] we cannot afford to lose the current moment of opportunity. I ask all in the international community to work together to translate the solidarity expressed on this occasion into positive action for peace and justice."
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