The past 12 months saw the most destructive assault in the recent history of the oPt. Operation Cast Lead, which Israel prosecuted in Gaza between 27 December 2008 and 17 January 2009, resulted in the death of almost 1,400 Palestinians, including 347 women and 209 children, and more than 5,000 injuries. It also brought massive destruction of public and private property, infrastructure and productive capacity, prompting the expansion of an already extensive humanitarian relief effort.
The war was preceded by a crippling siege on Gaza’s borders, which is still in place. The blockade - imposed following Hamas’s takeover in mid-2007 – has had devastating consequences on all aspects of life for the 1.4 million residents of Gaza, over two-thirds of whom are refugees registered with UNRWA. The ban on exports and extensive curbs on imports have all but destroyed the formal private sector, leading to dramatic increases in poverty and unemployment levels and enabling the growth of an illegal ‘tunnel economy’ beneath the border with Egypt. The blockade extends to the materials and equipment needed to rebuild homes and infrastructure destroyed during the war, stymieing all meaningful reconstruction and recovery efforts and leaving the population increasingly vulnerable and overwhelmingly dependent on aid handouts. Barring a few exceptions, including small numbers of patients and students, this population remains trapped inside Gaza’s borders. The provision of basic services - health, education and public utilities - continues to be severely degraded by a lack of materials, equipment, funds and unresolved internal political strife, whilst fuel shortages render the supply of electricity and water sporadic.
In the West Bank, there have been some signs of improvements in conditions over the past year, due to the easing of movement restrictions between some major Palestinian cities east of the Barrier, reduced levels of Israeli-Palestinian violence and the transfer of substantial financial support to the caretaker PA government. However, greater freedom of movement has come at the expense of the entrenchment of Israeli measures to control and limit Palestinian access to land and resources, causing further fragmentation of West Bank territory and segregation of the indigenous population. The impact of Israeli actions in the West Bank has been largely palliative and will likely remain so absent changes in the fundamentals of the context, namely the continued occupation of Palestinian land and the illegal consolidation and expansion of settlements.
For many Palestinians in the West Bank, access to economic resources and basic services continues to be severely restricted, limiting opportunities for sustainable growth and development. Access to East Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley and areas between the Barrier and the Green Line is particularly constrained, and the Palestinian population of these areas is particularly vulnerable. Living conditions of many communities in East Jerusalem and Area C are further aggravated by risk of displacement and regular exposure to settler violence.
Palestine refugees, who account for around 40 percent of the total population of the oPt and more than two- thirds in Gaza, continue to suffer the worst impacts of the crisis. Consistent with trends over the past few years, they typically endure higher levels of poverty, unemployment and food insecurity than non-refugees.
To assist and protect refugees and safeguard their basic rights and freedoms, UNRWA is launching a new appeal for emergency assistance in 2010. This appeal will target the most vulnerable refugees in the oPt, in particular the population of Gaza and communities in the West Bank most affected by closures and access restrictions. Support will be given to Palestinians facing acute protection concerns or living in particular hardship and those at risk of displacement or loss of livelihood. This includes marginalized rural communities living in Area C and close to the Barrier, camp dwellers and families in East Jerusalem, as well as other needy groups such as women, children, youth and the disabled. In both fields, a more targeted approach to provision of relief assistance will be introduced to ensure that UNRWA’s interventions respond to the specific priorities of families and individuals.
UNRWA will provide relief assistance in the form of: (1) emergency livelihoods support, including food aid, job creation and cash assistance for families in poverty or facing acute shocks; (2) support to access essential basic services, particularly basic education, health and environmental health services and; (3) emergency shelter support for families whose homes have been damaged or destroyed through conflict or natural crises.
The Agency will also protect Palestine refugees through a broad range of strategies that promote respect for their human rights, as enshrined under international humanitarian law. This includes: (1) enhanced monitoring, reporting and advocacy on human rights violations; (2) provision of community mental health services to address the psycho-social distress caused by violence, closure and hardship; (3) outreach and mobile services for isolated communities and those at risk of displacement in the West Bank and; (4) the maintenance of a rapid response mechanism in the event of acute crises affecting refugee communities.
UNRWA seeks to further strengthen its capacity for coordination, management and planning of emergency operations, by investing in dedicated resources at field and HQ levels and improving of programme planning tools and systems, in accordance with approaches being introduced as part of the Agency’s Organisational Development plan.