The lack of adequate access to water and sanitation services is a concern also in the Gaza Strip. After relative calm in recent months, July witnessed a significant increase in rockets launched by Palestinian factions and airstrikes by the Israeli air force. In addition to civilian casualties, Israeli airstrikes have affected the already vulnerable water and sanitation infrastructure in Gaza, damaging an agricultural well and water tanks. Despite the announced easing of the blockade by the Israeli authorities in June 2010, the entry of materials needed for the implementation of water and wastewater infrastructure projects remains impaired, particularly for middle and small scale projects: materials for 17 water and sanitation projects are still awaiting approval from the Israeli authorities to improve or repair Gaza’s deteriorated water and sanitation infrastructure.
The restrictions on the import of building materials also impact the education sector in Gaza. Overcrowding is the main concern with 80 percent of government schools and 90 percent of UNRWA schools operating double shifts. In recent months the Israeli authorities have approved the construction of 42 new schools for UNRWA. However, due to delays in the disbursement funds pledged at the Sharm el Sheikh international donor conference in March 2009, the building of 33 schools has been temporarily delayed.
Classroom shortages are also the main challenge facing East Jerusalem schools, with many existing facilities substandard or unsuitable and pupils accommodated in rented houses that do not meet basic educational and health standards. Despite the pressure on the municipal school system, which is unable to absorb all school-going children in East Jerusalem, the development of alternative schools is systematically impeded by the discriminatory, restrictive planning and zoning implemented by the authorities. This discriminatory policy likewise restricts Palestinian education in Area C, where many schools are built without permits (currently 18 schools have been served with demolition orders), or are housed in structures that are unsafe or lack proper hygienic facilities. Because of the shortage, children often travel long distances or cross military checkpoints to reach school, contributing to the reported high drop-out rates in affected schools, particularly among female children. Children’s right to education in the oPt is also affected by armed conflict, with a greater frequency in incidents resulting in damage or threats of damage to schools documented In the first half of 2011, as compared to the same period in 2010.
Bedouin communities at risk of displacement
due to an Israeli ‘relocation plan’
This month the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA) informed OCHA about its intention to ‘relocate’ Bedouin communities from strategic areas throughout Area C, with priority given to those spread in the Jerusalem periphery. This comes amidst a sharp increase in demolitions since the beginning of the year, during which, 387 Palestinian structures were demolished due to lack of permit and 755 people were displaced (as of 31 July).1 This is more than twice the number of people displaced and a 40 percent increase in structures demolished compared to the equivalent figures in 2010. Over a third of the structures demolished in 2011 were located in Bedouin communities.
There are at least 20 Bedouin communities with a population of approximately 2,400, (mostly refugees) located east of Jerusalem. These have lived in the area for generations, but are now at risk of displacement due to the ICA’s ‘relocation plan’. Fourteen (14) of them have been displaced at least once since 1948.2 In recent months, two of these communities, Wadi Abu Hindi (350 people) and Al Muntar (300 people), have received demolition orders on virtually all existing structures. In the case of the former, if the orders are implemented, it would be the second time that the community is completely destroyed since 1997.3
In another community, Khan al-Ahmar (pop. around 500), some 10 residential structures are awaiting a final decision on their demolition, while the community’s school has a final order that can be implemented at any moment. Moreover, the adjacent settlement of Kfar Adumim has recently filed a petition with the Israeli High Court of Justice requesting it to order the ICA to prevent the opening of the latter school in the upcoming school year that begins in September 2011.4
The Bedouin communities in the Jerusalem periphery already face a dire humanitarian situation. Their natural growth has been hampered, necessary infrastructure development prohibited and their traditional way of living endangered. Restricted access to resources (fodder, water, markets) and essential services (health, education), combined with periods of drought during the last few years have overstretched the coping mechanisms of the communities, some of which are trapped in a vicious circle of mounting debts. The communities usually live in basic shelters (tents and metal shacks) and are not connected to the water or electricity networks.
In a recent media article about its ‘relocation plan’, an ICA spokesperson stated, “They will get land for free, electricity, water, which will probably improve their situation… They can’t keep moving from place to place and land is limited. This is the only solution with the Bedouin.”5 The site proposed by the ICA for relocation is in Area C next to Al Ezzariya town (Area B), where over 300 Bedouin families were relocated in the late nineties, to allow for the expansion of the Ma’ale Adumim settlement. Even though their housing is no longer at risk of demolition, these families have consistently reported a wreckage of their traditional way of life due to lack of access to grazing land, as well as health problems, attributed to the proximity of their houses to a landfill.
The area targeted for the evacuation of the Bedouin communities, has been the object of major plans issued, but largely not implemented, by the Israeli authorities, including the Barrier and the E1 project. Under the approved route, the entire area will be left on the ‹Jerusalem side› of the Barrier, separating it from the rest of the West Bank. The E1 Master Plan, approved in the late nineties, entails the creation of an Israeli urban continuum between the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim and East Jerusalem. The area is also planned for the expansion and linkage of smaller settlements in the area (Qedar, Kfar Adumim, and Almon), and is considered of strategic importance to guarantee the Israeli control of Highway No. 1 linking Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley.6 If implemented, these plans would prevent the urban growth and development of the Palestinian towns and neighborhoods in the area, and disrupt the territorial contiguity of the West Bank, essentially bisecting it into two completely separate territories.
The demolition of private property and the forced displacement of protected persons (with narrow exceptions), as well as the transfer of civilians from the territory of the occupying power to an occupied territory are all prohibited under International Humanitarian Law.7 Israel's policies regarding the Bedouin population in the West Bank are also inconsistent with the provisions of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.8
Herder communities in Area C severely affected by water scarcity
Many parts of the oPt are facing severe water shortages this summer. The average rainfall during the 2010/2011 season was only 72 percent of the historical average, with many semi-arid areas in the Eastern slopes of the West Bank9 experiencing precipitation levels below 50 percent (see graph below).10
Water shortages have especially affected farmers and herders living in Area C in parts of the southern and northern West Bank and the Jordan Valley, which have experienced three consecutive years of below-average rainfall, and where restrictions on water projects and infrastructure imposed by the Israeli authorities are stricter. Water consumption among these communities is estimated to be less than 30 litres per capita per day--well below the 100 litres the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations. By comparison, Israeli settlements consume approximately 270 litres per capita per day.
A rapid assessment carried out by WASH agencies among Area C communities found a higher degree of vulnerability compared with 2010. As rainfall averages decrease, there is a corresponding decrease in the area of cereals planted, which results in a reduction of domestic fodder supply. In an assessment carried out in April 2011 by the Ministry of Agriculture only 60 percent of the surfaces normally planted with cereals (barley and wheat) were planted.11 The limited rainfall has also resulted in households only being able to fill cisterns at one third of available capacity, forcing them to purchase larger amounts of tankered water, which is up to three-four times more expensive than water delivered by the water network.12
Further compounding the problem is the demolition of cisterns by the Israeli authorities due to the lack of building permits. From January 2010 to date, 44 cisterns (primarily for harvesting rainwater) and 33 wells have been demolished, half of which were recorded this year alone (20 cisterns and 15 wells in 2011) affecting nearly 14,000 people, over half of whom are children.13 Most structures demolished in 2011 were the principle livelihoods means of livelihood the most vulnerable families in the West Bank, pushing them deeper into poverty. This results in the loss of their primary coping mechanism especially in times of water scarcity.
The discriminatory zoning and planning regime governing Palestinian communities living in these areas, implemented by the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA), is made evident when compared to the preferential water resource distribution provided to Israeli settlements located in the same areas. For example, approximately 9,400 Israeli settlers live in the Jordan Valley region, and consume around 45 Million Cubic Metres of water a year.14 This is almost a third of the quantity of water allocated to the 2.5 million Palestinians living in the West Bank.15 Currently, a response to the dire situation is being jointly coordinated by WASH and Agricultural Sectors in the framework of the MoA led Water Scarcity Task Force. The response comprises the provision of water and fodder to communities most affected, in addition to seed distribution to replenish the stock of cereal seeds for the coming planting season. The response, which will be implemented in July 2011 (when the need for subsidised fodder is greatest), is supported by ECHO, the Government of Italy, the Government of Canada and OCHA Humanitarian Response Fund (HRF) and Central Emergency Relief Fund (CERF).
Settler-related violence on the rise
Violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians and their property continued during the month with 18 incidents leading to casualties or property damage recorded. So far this year there have been 237 such incidents, approximately 46 percent above the figure for the equivalent period in 2010. In addition, there is evidence suggesting that the scope of the property damage is increasing over the past several months. In July, 1,550 Palestinian-owned trees were reported to have been damaged or destroyed, with nearly three quarters of them burnt in a single incident on 15 July in the village of Burin (Nablus governorate). Since the beginning of 2011, OCHA has recorded a total of 45 attacks on Palestinian trees, allegedly perpetrated by Israeli settlers, which involved the uprooting, burning or vandalizing of some 5800 trees, severely undermining the livelihoods of Palestinian farmers.
According to Burin’s head of the village council, no complaint was filed with the Israeli Police following the latest incidents, as these complaints almost never lead to the prosecution of perpetrators. The tendency to refrain from complaining to the Israeli Police is reinforced by the hurdles facing those Palestinians who choose to do so, including the need to reach police stations located within Israeli settlements.
When complaints are filed, investigations are rarely met with success by the Israeli police. Approximately 90 percent of the Israeli police investigations into such offenses in recent years ended in failure, as files are closed on the grounds of either a “lack of evidence” or “perpetrator unknown”. In some cases complaints were lost and never investigated.16 Of 97 complaints related to the vandalization of Palestinians’ trees occurred between 2005 and 2010, followed up by the Israeli human rights group Yesh Din, none has to the filing of an indictment against suspects, including 72 cases closed on grounds of “perpetrator unknown “.17 The lack of adequate law enforcement has meant that damages caused to Palestinian property by Israeli civilians are being perpetrated under an umbrella of impunity.
Some of the communities who suffered from the loss of trees have been also affected by limited access to their land. A large number of settlements include within their outer limits, or on their vicinity, agricultural land owned and cultivated by Palestinians, which has not been formally expropriated or seized. For the last few years, access to such land has been subjected to the requirement of “prior coordination” with the Israeli District Coordination Liaison offices. This type of coordination, designed to allow the prior deployment of Israeli forces to secure the area while farmers work, is implemented mostly during the olive harvest season (October-November), rendering access at other times uncertain and dangerous. This regime not only penalizes Palestinian farmers, rather than the settlers, but it has also proven largely ineffective in preventing attacks against trees and crops, most of which occur outside the times allocated through the coordination process. According to information collected by OCHA, a “prior coordination” system is currently in place regarding access to land within, or in the vicinity of, 55 Israeli settlements and settlement outposts, for farmers residing in some 90 Palestinian communities and villages.
Gaza airstrikes result in civilian casualties
and destruction of water infrastructure
After two months of relative calm, July witnessed a significant increase in rocket launching by Palestinian factions and airstrikes by the Israeli air force. The escalation began on 7 July, and continued intermittently throughout the month. As a result, three Palestinians were killed and 29 others injured. One of the fatalities and 83 percent of the injuries (24) were civilians not involved in the fighting, including six children and five women. Two Israelis were also injured – a soldier during an incursion to Gaza, and a civilian driving a military vehicle close to the border.
While most Israeli air strikes appeared to be targeting rocket launching crews, military training bases, and tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border, adjacent civilian infrastructure has been also affected. That was the case of an Israeli airstrike on 17 July at 3 am in Beit Hanoun town. In addition to the injury of seven civilians, including four children, this attack resulted in the destruction of a 60-year-old agricultural well, as well as in damage to nine water tanks belonging to five households in the adjacent neighborhood, serving some 60 people.
The already vulnerable water and sanitation infrastructure serving the Gaza Strip population has been increasingly affected by Israeli attacks in recent months. In addition to recurrent incidents of damage to domestic and irrigation equipment, in March 2011, the Khuza’a municipality warehouse was hit by an airstrike that destroyed a large quantity of essential water and sanitation materials and spare parts. The following month, the Al-Mintar water reservoir in Gaza City was also hit, leaving 30,000 people in eastern Gaza city with no water for three days The targeting of civilians and civilian property is prohibited under International Humanitarian Law (IHL). Parties to an armed conflict must also take all necessary precautions to prevent or minimize civilian casualties and damage to civilian objects, and avoid, to the extent possible, locating military objectives within or near densely populated areas. Following the incident on 17 July, the Emergency Water Sanitation and Hygiene Group for oPt stated that “Israel as the occupying power has to ensure that the Palestinians have access to essential services… what we keep witnessing is the opposite – civilian infrastructures, in particular water-related facilities, are often hit during Israeli airstrikes, depriving people of indispensable services.”
Access restrictions continue to impede
rehabilitation of water infrastructure in Gaza
Despite the easing of the Gaza blockade announced by the Israeli authorities over a year ago (20 June 2010), entry of materials needed for the implementation of water and wastewater infrastructure projects continued to be impaired, particularly for middle and small scale projects.
This month, 69 truckloads of WASH-related materials coordinated by Palestinian Water Authority (PWA), the Coastal Municipal Water Utility (CMWU) and the UN could enter the Gaza Strip. While the volume of WASH materials that entered has significantly increased following the easing of the blockade, the large majority of these materials (93 percent) were for three large-scale projects (North Gaza Emergency Sewage Treatment Project, Gaza Central Sewerage Project, and ANERA WASH project).
However, when excluding these three flagship projects, less than one fifth of the materials requested were allowed into Gaza since the easing announcement. As a result, there are 77 million dollars worth of materials needed for 17 water and sanitation projects, which await approval from the Israeli authorities to enter the Gaza. The prolonged delays are preventing the implementation of projects urgently needed to improve or repair Gaza’s water and sanitation infrastructure.
Protecting education in armed conflict
Humanitarian concerns regarding the right to education in the oPt and Israel
In situations of conflict and instability, education can be both life-saving and life-sustaining. A protected and safe educational environment provides a sense of normalcy and facilitates the transmission of key safety messages and life skills. As the new school year approaches, there are a number of concerns related to the right to education in the oPt. These range from classroom shortages to school demolitions, unacceptable or inadequate school conditions, compromised access for students and teachers, and recurrent attacks that occur during hostilities that cause damages to schools and other educational infrastructure.
Armed conflict continues to have a negative impact on the right to education in the oPt, with attacks during armed hostilities or other conflict-related violence resulting in damages to schools or other education facilities with greater frequency as compared to the equivalent period last year. In the first half of 2011, there were 29 documented incidents of attacks resulting in damage or threats of damage to schools, compared with 16 incidents in the equivalent period in 2010.18
violence resulting in damages to schools or other education facilities with greater frequency as compared to the equivalent period last year. In the first half of 2011, there were 29 documented incidents of attacks resulting in damage or threats of damage to schools, compared with 16 incidents in the equivalent period in 2010.18
Continuing hostilities between the Israeli military and armed Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip have affected the students of both populations: In Gaza, eight armed attacks resulted in Palestinian schools being damaged, including seven damaged as a result of Israeli air strikes. In southern Israel, a 16-year-old Israeli boy was killed when armed Palestinian militants fired a missile at an Israeli school bus near the border between Israel and Gaza, and two incidents of Palestinian rocket fire caused damage to school infrastructure in southern Israel.
Two thirds of the incidents in the West Bank affected schools located in Areas A and B; some of them occurred in the course of Israeli military raids on school premises and resulted in children being exposed to tear gas inhalation, frightened or injured by sound bombs, or arrested within their schools. Two schools were attacked by Israeli settlers, one of them involving setting fire to a room in Huwwara Boys’ Secondary School in Nablus.
School demolitions, or threats of demolition, are among the most serious attacks on education in the oPt. This year, part of a school was demolished in the Area C village of Dkeika (Hebron), and in 2010, one school in the community of Khirbet Tana was demolished for the sixth time. OCHA has documented six schools with pending demolition orders in East Jerusalem, and 18 schools with demolition orders in Area C (six of which were issued this year).
The lack of schools in many small communities in Area C means that children often must travel or walk long distances to reach the nearest school. In some communities, such as those in the northern Jordan Valley or in closed areas behind the Barrier, children must cross military checkpoints to reach school. To reduce the exposure to delays and harassment, and to save on transportation costs, during the school week, many children from those remote communities stay in towns where the schools are located, and return home only on weekends. Access constraints have also contributed to the reported high drop-out rates in affected schools, particularly among female children.19
In East Jerusalem, almost half of the classrooms in Jerusalem Municipal educational institutions attended by Palestinian students (647 out of 1,398) were considered to be ‘non-standard’ in 2010.20 To partially address these difficulties, double shifting is common, and schools are often forced to hold classes in rented houses that do not meet basic educational and health standards.21 Despite the pressure on the Jerusalem municipal school system, it is almost impossible for alternative schools to obtain Israeli-issued building permits, and sometimes they are forced to build without a permit, and running the risk of receiving demolition orders and heavy fine.
Furthermore, it is estimated that anywhere between 4,300 and 5,300 pupils are not enrolled in any educational institution.22 According to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), many fail to complete the secondary educational cycle, with the post-elementary dropout rate in municipal schools estimated as high as 50 per cent.23
Classroom shortages are also the main challenge facing the education sector in the Gaza Strip. The area is among the most densely populated areas in the world, with 56 percent are children under the age of 18, and their numbers are growing. The ban on the import of building materials imposed by Israel in 2007 as part of the blockade is among the main reasons for the current shortage of classrooms. Approximately 80 percent of government schools and 90 percent of UNRWA schools run double shifts. As a result, students often have to be accommodated in schools far from where they live, and classroom time has been reduced by almost one third. Even with double shifting, schools are overcrowded, with an average of 39 pupils in a class.24 These difficulties have had a severe negative impact on learning outcomes.25 Furthermore, during 2011/2012 school year, an estimated 40,000 Palestinian refugee children eligible to attend UNRWA schools had to be referred to Government schools because of the lack of adequate facilities.
To address the classroom shortages for the next five years, 130 new government-run schools, and 100 new UNRWA schools are needed. According to UNICEF, although it could have supported the building of 500 classrooms in PA schools, the funds to implement the construction were reallocated to other projects because the building materials could not enter into Gaza as a result of the blockade. In the case of UNRWA, in recent months the Israeli authorities have approved the construction and the import of the required materials for 42 new schools. However, due to delays in the disbursement of funds pledged at the Sharm el Sheikh international donor conference in March 2009, the building of 32 schools has been temporarily delayed.
Under International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and International Human Rights Law, Israel has the duty to respect the right to education of all children in the oPt.26 From this derives the obligation to allocate adequate resources and space, as well as allow for access to materials needed for the construction and upgrading of schools. In addition, Israel should take measures to prevent violence affecting schools, and avoid disruptions to the educational process, either by its military forces or its citizens. Furthermore, IHL expressly prohibits the destruction of property belonging to individuals or communities, except when absolutely required by military operations.27 When hostilities occur, all parties to a conflict must take all precautionary measures to avoid or minimize harm to the civilian population and infrastructure.28
Access of humanitarian staff
During the first seven months of 2011, international NGOs and the UN agencies reported a total of 372 access incidents (38 in July), nearly the same figure as in the equivalent period in 2010 (379). These incidents have taken place despite a variety of measures and coping mechanisms implemented by humanitarian organizations, including reliance on long detours to avoid problematic checkpoints, the request of permits regarding access of staff to Gaza and East Jerusalem, and the provision of collective transportation for staff accessing East Jerusalem, among others.
Nearly 70 percent of this year’s incidents occurred at West Bank checkpoints, most of them controlling access to East Jerusalem. The majority were triggered by demands by Israeli security personnel to perform internal searches of UN vehicles, in violation of the UN Convention on Privileges and Immunities.
A UN survey conducted in February 2011 revealed that each working day, 385 UN vehicles carrying approximately 970 UN staff are required to cross Barrier checkpoints, most of them on the Jerusalem periphery, in the course of their duties. However, due to a variety of constraints (see table), less than a third of the vehicular checkpoints along the Barrier (11 out of 34) are normally accessible by UN staff. This limitation requires UN staff to use detours resulting in additional travel time and transportation costs, particularly affecting those agencies functioning from, or providing assistance to beneficiaries living in East Jerusalem or in rural areas between the Barrier and the Green Line (the ‘Seam Zone’).
Of the total number of access incidents reported in 2011, 78 (13 in July) occurred at the Erez Crossing, including four incidents involving strip searches.
This month UN agencies submitted 86 permit requests for national staff members to enter or exit the Gaza Strip via Erez, of which 58 (67 percent) were approved, two were denied and the remaining 26 were delayed, resulting in them missing their planned trip. All the requests denied and delayed were submitted on behalf of staff members with Gazan IDs. Overall, the rate of approval in July is lower than the monthly average rate during the first six months of 2011 - 72 percent – as well as the average rate in the first six months of 2010 before the Israeli announcement on the easing of the blockade, which stood at 76 percent. This is despite the commitment made by the Israeli authorities in that announcement to ‘streamline the movement of employees of humanitarian aid organizations’.
International NGOs are also facing difficulties in obtaining permits for their national and international staff to enter and exit Gaza. Some staff have been waiting since March for permits to enter Gaza. Of the requests facilitated by OCHA, the average approval time was 19 days. However, generally the average time for permits to be approved is 27 days.