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Source: United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
22 July 2009

The report in brief

This is the fifth volume in the series of Arab Human Development Reports sponsored by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and independently authored by intellectuals and scholars from Arab countries.

Like its predecessors, this Report provides eminent Arab thinkers a platform from which to articulate a comprehensive analysis of their own contemporary milieu. It is not a conventional report produced by the United Nations. Rather, it is an independent publication that gives a voice to a representative group of Arab intellectuals whose sober and self-critical appraisals might not otherwise be heard in the particular circumstances of the region. The views of the authors are supplemented by an opinion poll conducted in four Arab countries—Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco and the Occupied Palestinian Territory—that represent a range of political and cultural contexts for the Report's analyses. A special Youth Forum convened for the Report also provides insights from young Arabs.

Inspired by UNDP's 1994 global Human Development Report on human security, the present study takes up that subject as it concerns the Arab countries.1 Its starting point is that, seven years after the publication of the first Arab Human Development Report, the region's fault lines as traced in that analysis may have deepened.2 The question thus arises: why have obstacles to human development in the region proved so stubborn?

This new Report proposes that the answers lie in the fragility of the region's political, social, economic and environmental structures, in its lack of peoplecentred development policies and in its vulnerability to outside intervention. Together, these characteristics undermine human security—the kind of material and moral foundation that secures lives, livelihoods and an acceptable quality of life for the majority. Human security is a prerequisite for human development, and its widespread absence in Arab countries has held back their progress.

1 UNDP 1994.
2 UNDP 2002.



Occupation, military
intervention and
human insecurity

Occupation and military intervention expose human security to violence on three levels—institutional, structural, and material.1 In institutional terms, they violate international law, which prohibits the use of force in international relations except in self-defence; they abrogate the laws of the occupied country; and they interfere in the establishment of government in a manner that serves the occupier rather than the occupied. Structurally, they introduce new conditions for the distribution of wealth and power, which cause more divisions among the population. In material terms, occupation and military intervention are imposed by force, which leads to resistance by force, and to heavy casualties among occupied and occupier alike. They also freeze economic activity, livelihoods and essential freedoms. Through their exponential effects, occupation and military intervention contravene basic human rights, create systemic human insecurity and set back human development. This is the lesson of history and it applies to all occupations and military interventions, whether in the Arab region or abroad.

At the time of writing, there are three cases of occupation and military intervention in the Arab region: the Occupied Palestinian Territory (the West Bank and Gaza strip since June 1967), Iraq (since April 2003), and Somalia (since December 2006). This chapter examines the origins of occupation and military intervention in these different cases and their compound costs and impacts. It starts by noting that the general impacts extend beyond the institutional, structural and material violence inflicted in those three cases. Occupation and military intervention undercut human security in neighbouring and other Arab countries in several ways. First, they displace peoples across borders, creating humanitarian challenges for neighbouring states and seeding tensions among them. Second, as a cause célèbre of extremist groups that resort to violence, they feed the militant appeal of those who continue the cycle of violence in the region and whose acts provoke a backlash against citizens’ rights and freedoms. Finally, as a threat to sovereignty, they allow Arab governments to cite national security as a pretext for halting or postponing democratization and for perpetuating authoritarian rule.

Origins and rationales
Occupied Palestinian Territory: In June 1967, Israel occupied territories in Egypt (Sinai)2 and Syria (Golan Heights),3 as well as the West Bank and Gaza that had been respectively under Jordanian and Egyptian rule since 1948. Successive Israeli governments have claimed that they are ready to evacuate portions of these lands in exchange for peace and arrangements guaranteeing Israeli security. According to Israel, the wording of the UN Security Council resolution 242 (1967) entitles it to retain portions of these territories, as it refers to “withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories” occupied in June 1967 and not “the” occupied territories, despite the resolution’s emphasis on the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war”. Israel expanded its occupation by constructing settlements on these lands to house settlers. In its resolutions 446 and 452 (July 1979), the UN Security Council determined that the policies of Israel in establishing settlements have no legal validity and called upon the Government and people of Israel to cease, on an urgent basis, the establishment, construction and planning of these settlements.


In all three cases, occupation and military intervention violate international law, the authoritative frame of reference for regulating relations between nations and peoples. International law prohibits the occupation of others’ land by force or recourse to military force against another nation for purposes other than self-defence.10 A further common feature of military intervention in these countries is that it has deepened existing class, group, sectarian or tribal divisions, aggravating tensions that have erupted into conflicts within conflicts.


The compound impacts
of military intervention
on human security

I. Threats to life


B. The Occupied Palestinian Territory
Fundamental human rights are frequently violated in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and such violations have intensified since the outbreak of the Al-Aqsa intifada on 29 September, 2000. Most threats to Palestinian human security come from Israeli forces. However, recently, another source of threat to Palestinian human security has emerged, originating within the Palestinian resistance itself. In the absence of a horizon for a political settlement with Israel, differences between the Palestinian organisations notably Fatah and Hamas have widened, culminating in the collapse of the national unity government which had brought together the two chief factions in the Palestinian national authority. The collapse occurred in the wake of armed clashes between these two camps, resulting in Hamas’s takeover of Gaza in June 2007. President Mahmoud Abbas subsequently formed a parallel government in Ramallah and, since then, each camp has claimed the sole right to represent the Palestinian people.

At the time this report was finalized in December 2008, the truce between Israel and Hamas had ended. Provoked by Hamas rocket attacks, Israel launched a counteroffensive against Gaza, which had already been under siege since Hamas took over the strip in June 2007. This campaign, which caused an international outcry over its use of disproportionate force, resulted in a significant number of civilian casualties (notably children and women) among a population that had already been impoverished by the siege.25 A cease-fire was implemented unilaterally by Israel on 18 January 2009, and later the same day by Hamas and other Palestinian factions. Numerous sources document Israeli violations of Palestinian rights to life and freedom. This section relies on data from the Israeli human rights organisation, B’Tselem, whose figures on these violations are higher than those provided by both Palestinian human rights agencies and the Palestinian authorities themselves. B’Tselem furnishes the following information on the numbers of Palestinians and Israelis who died from violence in the West Bank, Gaza and Israel:

Figure 8-4 shows the breakdown by nationality of victim and assailant of a total of 5,970 deaths by violence in the OPT and Israel between 2000 and 2008: there were 4,908 fatalities among Palestinians and 1,062 fatalities among Israelis. B’Tselem also details the incidents that led to fatalities, the majority of which were among Palestinian civilians, as shown in Table 8-1.

Internal strife between clashing Palestinian factions also brought about a considerable number of Palestinian deaths. Yet, the 594 victims of these conflicts represent barely 6 per cent of the total of those killed by Israelis.26 The purpose of this observation is not to belittle the gravity of inter-Palestinian violence, but rather to place it in its proper perspective. Moreover, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, the total number of Palestinians injured by live ammunition, rubber bullets, gas and other weapons in the OPT between January 2000 and March 2008 amounted at 32,569.27

II. Threats to liberty

B. The Occupied Palestinian Territory
Detention, imprisonment, and kidnapping are the second most serious human rights abuse in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Amnesty International confirms that Israeli authorities have arrested many thousands of Palestinians since the turn of the century. Approximately 10,000 remain in custody in some thirty detention centers, according to Palestine’s Ministry of Prisoners’ Affairs.38 Some have been deprived of their liberty for many years. The rulings were handed down by military courts whose procedures failed to meet international standards for fair trial. Fewer numbers—about 700 individuals detained in October 2006 according to Amnesty International estimates—are under administrative custody, which is to say, detained without being charged and without the intention of being brought to trial.

Israeli military command is the authority empowered to issue orders for administrative detention, the terms of which can last up to six months and are renewable without limit. While the Israeli government claims that this measure is founded on Article 78 of the fourth Geneva Convention on the protection of civilians in time of war, which allows an occupying power to inter persons for “imperative reasons of security,” Amnesty International believes that Israel’s treatment of administrative detainees is inconsistent, not only with international human rights standards, but also with the very convention it cites. Israel has exploited the provisions of Article 78 by turning what was intended as an exceptional precautionary measure into a routine instrument for punishing persons suspected by the military of working against Israeli interests.39

On the other hand, Amnesty International also points out that, in the OPT, the governments in the West Bank and Gaza have both abused the right to liberty of the Palestinians under their authority, especially following the armed clash between Fatah and Hamas in 2007. In the West Bank, there has been a marked deterioration in the human rights situation. Arbitrary detention of suspected Hamas supporters by Palestinian Authority security forces has become routine and detainees are often subject to torture or other ill-treatment. Similarly, in Gaza, arbitrary detentions and torture or other ill-treatment of detainees by Hamas forces are now widespread and the initial improvements in the security situation that followed Hamas’s takeover are fast being eroded.40

III. Threats to economic conditions
and livelihoods


B. The Occupied Palestinian Territory
Forty one years of occupation, as well as the expansion of Israeli settlements, have prevented Palestinians from controlling their own affairs, and render illusory any notion of the economy as a means of meeting their most basic needs.

According to a report of the UN Secretary General to the United Nations General Assembly in May 2008, Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank has taken place under every Government since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.51 In 2007, there were more than 450,000 settlers living in 149 settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. According to United Nations sources, almost 40 per cent of the West Bank is now taken up by Israeli infrastructure associated with the settlements, including roads, barriers, buffer zones and military bases.52

In June 2002, Israel began construction of a wall on the line separating it from the West Bank. When complete, approximately 10.2 per cent of West Bank territory, including East Jerusalem, will be isolated by the wall and physically connected to Israel.53 In 2004, the International Court of Justice issued an advisory ruling that the wall violated international law. Meanwhile, Israeli authorities continue to violate Palestinian Authority (PA) autonomy by controlling transportation networks, border crossings, the airport, and extensive portions of land. In addition, they restrict the Palestinians’ freedom of movement by forcing them to pass through checkpoints. By September 2007, the West Bank had 607 such checkpoints54 where Palestinians, regardless of the urgency of their needs, were forced to stand for long hours in inspection queues before being allowed to go on to their destinations.55

Other Israeli practices have impaired the Palestinians’ ability to conduct their economic affairs in a stable and predictable way. This applies as much to wage earners as it does to business owners. Prominent among such practices is the policy of closures in the OPT, which paralyses the movement of people, goods and services at many levels. Another detrimental practice is the withholding of disbursals to the PA from tax revenues levied by Israel. There is also the total embargo that Israel imposed on Gaza following Hamas’s electoral victory in January 2006, an embargo Israel tightened further in the wake of the fissure between Hamas and Fatah in 2007.

A 2008 World Bank study on the costs of the closures regime in the West Bank and Gaza explains that this policy imposes three types of restrictions on the movement of Palestinians: internal closures, which restrict free mobility inside the West Bank and Gaza; external closures, which restrict access from the West Bank and Gaza to Israel and Jerusalem; and external international closures, which restrict access from the West Bank to Jordan and from Gaza to Egypt.56 To drive home the extent of the closures regime, the report notes that, in November 2005, there were more than 600 physical barriers (more than ten per square kilometre), consisting of 61 fulltime and 6 partially staffed checkpoints, 102 roadblocks, 48 road gates, 374 earth mounds, 28 earth walls and 61 trenches.

Closures fragment the Palestinian economic space. Cut off by impediments to mobility, and unable to predict when closures will occur, Palestinian villages and towns struggle to survive on whatever resources they have. The frequent revocation of permits for West Bank and Gaza residents working in Israel diminishes their income, as does the reduction of working days for labourers unable to reach their jobs in Israel or in the West Bank. Closures also make it difficult for businesses to obtain the intermediate supplies they need to produce goods, and to market them in areas other than their own.

The World Bank study estimates that a single full-day closure inflicts a $7 million dollar income-related loss in the West Bank and Gaza. For 2001 to 2005, the total employment-related loss is estimated at $2.4 billion and the total closure-related loss is estimated at $928 million, which comes to a total estimated loss of $3.3 billion for that period, or the equivalent of 58 per cent of the total foreign aid provided to the PA.

The economic costs of closures go beyond their impact on income. Production costs rise sharply when closures force goods to move via long detours, or when they block commerce altogether. According to the World Bank study, between 2000 and 2005, transportation costs from Ramallah to Bethlehem soared by 348 per cent; from Ramallah to Nablus by 105 per cent; and from Ramallah to Jenin by 167 per cent.57 Such handicaps reduce the competitiveness of the Palestinian economy and deter investment. 58

It is thus hardly surprising that poverty and unemployment are widespread among Palestinians. The Human Development Report 2007/2008 records that, from 1990 to 2005, the West Bank and Gaza registered a negative annual per capita GDP growth rate of -2.9 per cent. It further records that, between 1996 and 2005,59 unemployment affected more than a quarter of the labour force (26.7 per cent) and that the ratio of unemployed women to men was 71 per cent.60

A 2003 World Bank report on the state of the Palestinian economy two years after the Al Aqsa intifada noted a sharp decline in all major economic indicators.61 By the end of August 2002, per capita income had dropped to half its 2001 level, joblessness affected half of the labour force, and infrastructure had sustained $728 million worth of damage. Moreover, Palestinian exports were down by half, imports by a third, and the volume of investment, at $140 million, was then less than a tenth of its 1999 level, when it had reached $1.5 billion. The report added that the chief cause of the Palestinian crisis was Israel’s blockade.

Another report, from the International Labour Organisation in 2008, observes that one in three people of working age (15 years and above) was employed full or part time in the OPT. Annual per capita GDP stabilised in 2007 at $1,178, which is some 27 per cent below its historic peak of 1999. In November 2007, extreme poverty affected 40 per cent of the population in Gaza and 19 per cent in the West Bank, lower than the levels of the previous year owing mostly to the resumption of wage payments to civil servants which Israel had cut off following the Hamas electoral victory.62

The Palestinians have paid a heavy price for exercising their democratic rights via the ballot box. After the peaceful January 2006 election which put Hamas in power, international financial aid stopped flowing. Although this aid has become available again to the Fatah government in the West Bank since the break with Hamas, there has been no radical improvement in economic conditions, primarily because of Israel’s repeated incursions into these areas. What is new, however, is the punishment that Israel has inflicted on Gaza following the Hamas takeover in the strip. Such punishment has taken the form of a total blockade, obstructing all communication with the outside world for whatever purpose. The measure has induced the collapse of most industrial and agricultural activity in the area, disrupted essential infrastructure and services through frequent and long power shortages, and further damaged water quality. The Israeli assault on Gaza that began on December 27, 2008 created massive infrastructural damage and marked a new level of violence in the treatment of Palestinian civilians.


IV. Threats to people’s access to food,
health and education

B. The Occupied Palestinian Territory
In the West Bank and Gaza, economic decline is clearly reflected in the food supply situation. According to the ILO, approximately half of all Palestinian households are dependent on food assistance provided by the international community. Some 33 per cent (or 0.7 million people) of what was formerly a middle-income society in the West Bank now relies on food aid. Worse still, the figure for Gaza stands at 80 per cent of households, or 1.3 million people.

Prevailing health conditions similarly reflect a slumping economy. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and the Israeli authorities were in charge of health conditions in the West Bank and Gaza until this responsibility was transferred to the PA in 1994. In spite of forty one years of occupation, Palestinians, in 2004, enjoyed reasonable levels of health: an average annual income of $1,026, a 91 per cent literacy rate, a life expectancy of 72, a low infant mortality rate (20.5 per 1,000 births)78 and a low maternity mortality rate (11 deaths out of 100,000 live births). The reason for this is to be found in the Palestinian spirit of solidarity and the support given by civil society to health care centres and other medical institutions. However, these conditions began to deteriorate after 2003 with the outbreak of the Al-Aqsa intifada, the construction of the separation wall, and the blockade of Palestinian territories.

Together, the wall, along with the check points, road barriers, and blockades that stifle Palestinian towns and villages, have cut off access to 41 health care facilities and obstructed access to others, as well as to schools and places of work. Thirty six per cent of these health care facilities reported that many of their patients can no longer reach them, 53 per cent reported receiving additional patients diverted to them by the blockade, 63 per cent encountered delays in providing emergency services, and 55 per cent of them had difficulty obtaining medicines for the treatment of chronic illnesses. When completed, the wall is expected to isolate a total of 71 clinics and will become a barrier even to Palestinian ambulances which are forbidden to enter in the area between the wall and the 1967 Green Line (Samer Jabbour and Iman Nuwayhid, in Arabic, background paper for the report).

In the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the absence of a budget in 2006 and the Western boycott of the Palestinian government caused an acute educational crisis. This was aggravated by the strike of employees in the education sector in protest against non-payment of wages, which deprived public school children of their right to education and forced some 2,000 higher education students to interrupt their studies for about two months.79

From 2000 to 2005, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Higher Education, 300 schools were closed down and eight universities bombed. In March 2004, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights reported that seventy-three educational institutes, including occupational training institutes, were destroyed in Gaza. Also, according to these records, the University of Hebron and the Hebron Polytechnic were kept closed throughout 2003, to the detriment of 60,000 Palestinian students. In the same year, the University of Jerusalem was threatened by the construction of a wall that would have divided the university and appropriated a third of its land. Only after an international campaign against this violation was the wall relocated outside the university compound.80

Roadblocks and similar obstacles to freedom of movement have also had an impact on education in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. For example, between April 2001 and December 2003, the earth mound barrier on the Sarda road from Ramallah to Birzeit University in the West Bank caused such delays that commuting times for students and professors doubled; occasionally the Israeli authorities would prohibit passage altogether. Because of this, two-thirds of the second 2001/2002 academic term were lost, forcing a two-month extension at the expense of the summer term.81 Birzeit was thus unable to fulfil its role as an institute open to all members of the same nation, because most of its students were unable to reach their university. From 2000 to 2005, Gazan enrolment at the university dropped from 400 to thirteen. In the 2004/2005 academic year, the enrolment rate of students from Jenin and Nablus in the northern West Bank dropped from 120 per year to zero.82

In addition, throughout the Territory, primary school enrolment has been eroded by frequent obstacles to pupils’ access.

The real fear is that, with these reductions in attendance and enrolment, Palestinian schools and universities will become increasingly unable to contribute to the development of Palestinian society as a whole.83


V. Threat to the environment


B. The Occupied Palestinian Territory
Israeli policies have negatively affected the environment in the territories. Among the gravest impacts is the enormous attrition of Palestinian water resources, which has undermined general water conditions. The annual water deficit in the West Bank and in Gaza is as high as 50 million cubic metres a year and water pollution rates are high. In 90 per cent of the water supplies, chloride concentrations range from 250 to 2,000 millilitres/litre (international standards stipulate that levels should not exceed 250 millilitres per litre) while nitrate concentrations also exceed the internationally acceptable level of 50 millilitres/litre.92

Israel’s actions have also contributed to the deterioration of the Palestinian environment through its neglect of wastewater systems in the territories and its failure to meet international health standards in this regard. Settlements pour millions of cubic metres of wastewater into riverbeds and elsewhere on Palestinian land. In the West Bank alone, settlements inhabited by some 350,000 settlers pump out 40 million cubic metres of waste water a year, compared to 33.72 million cubic metres produced by the entire Palestinian population in the West Bank. In Gaza, wastewater flows into sandy areas or is removed by tanker trucks and pumped into Wadi al-Salqa, Wadi Gaza, and other riverbeds. However, a considerable portion of it flows into the Mediterranean or seeps into the ground, mixing with the water in subterranean reserves.93

The occupation authorities have constructed a wastewater collection station in Beit Lahya in the Northern Gaza Governorate. The facility is adjacent to large residential complexes. The Mizan Human Rights Centre reports that the station stands atop the largest and once highest quality aquifer in Gaza. The aquifer is now polluted, ruining prospects for agricultural development and cultivation.94


This chapter has illustrated the exponential impacts of military intervention on human security in three Arab cases. In the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Iraq and Somalia, occupation and military intervention have exacted a heavy price in terms of lost lives and freedoms, with negative repercussions on income, employment, nutrition, health, education and the environment. They have sparked both legitimate resistance and a cycle of violence and counter-violence that engulfs occupied and occupier alike and that spills over into adjacent countries, disrupting human and national security across a wider front.

Prospects for settling the three major conflicts are very largely governed by the will of non-Arab parties. Yet Arab states have a role to play. Even when Arab governments have adopted unified positions on some of these questions, they have failed to abide by the commitments they have consequently undertaken, or to put their resolutions into effect.

The question posed by current conditions is, what action should be taken to end military intervention? It is useful to recall that, in all three cases, with all their different circumstances, the invading powers or occupying authorities have acknowledged that their presence or occupation is temporary. The government of Israel has not refuted the concept of two states, one Israeli, the other Palestinian, living side by side. The withdrawal of United States troops from Iraq is expected to become effective by the end of 2011,97 and Addis Ababa announced that its mission was completed in December 2008.98

Nevertheless, serious efforts are required to translate elusive intentions into tangible plans, particularly in the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict where Israel’s military dominance creates an imbalance in attempts to negotiate a settlement and where special diplomatic efforts are required to overcome suspicions, acts of provocation and hostilities on both sides. In the case of Iraq, the agreement between the US and the Government on the withdrawal of US troops points in the right direction. Similarly, Ethiopia’s withdrawal from Somalia sets the stage for new diplomatic initiatives.

But in all three cases, hard questions remain about the reconstruction of state institutions, society and the economy in the post-conflict phases in these countries. The Iraqi factions have yet to meet within the framework of a comprehensive political process, reconciliation efforts in Somalia are going around in circles, and the dispute between Fatah and Hamas has not been resolved. New attempts to build peace in the region should start with a fresh dialogue on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and involve neighbouring countries such as Syria. Moreover, priority must be given to removing obstacles to the development process in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. As a New York Times editorial put it: “In the West Bank, that means freezing further settlement construction and expansion. It means lifting roadblocks between Palestinian cities and towns that are not needed for security. In East Jerusalem, it means stopping the humiliating eviction of Palestinians. And in Gaza, it means expanding exceptions to the blockade to allow the import of cement and reconstruction materials.”99

The situation in the region throws into strong relief the responsibility the UN must bear with regard to the fate of the countries under occupation or subject to military intervention. Yet, on the questions of Iraq and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the UN has been marginalized. On Somalia, it has once more resumed intensive efforts to restore stability and more humane conditions, which however requires the cooperation of all vested interests. The fact remains that the only impartial framework for realising human and national security in the three cases is that provided by the UN. The League of Arab States could acquire greater credibility and efficacy if it cooperates with the international organisation towards this end. However, for that to happen, global and regional powers must summon the will to leave the field open for the UN and the League of Arab States to remedy the extensive damage on the ground.


1 Galtung1964.
2 Israel withdrew from Sinai in 1982 as a result of the Peace Agreement with Egypt.
3 The Knesset ratified the Golan Heights Law in December 14, 1981, extending Israeli law to the area of the Golan Heights.
10 Charter of the United Nations 1945.
25 UN-News and Media Division 2008; 2009a; 2009b.
26 Data for the period 2000-2008 based on B’Tselem 2009.
27 PCBS 2008.
38 Ferwana 2006.
39 Amnesty International 2006.
40 Amnesty International 2007a.
51 UN Report of the Secretary-General, 2008f.
52 UN Report of the Secretary-General, 2008f.
53 UN-OCHA 2007.
54 UN-OCHA 2008a.
55 Al-Tufakji 2003 (in Arabic).
56 Akkaya, Fiess, Kaminski and Raballand 2008.
57 Akkaya, Fiess, Kaminski and Raballand 2008.
58 Akkaya, Fiess, Kaminski and Raballand 2008.
59 Latest available data in the period.
60 UNDP 2007.
61 World Bank 2004.
62 ILO 2008b.
78 WHO 2005c..
79 Independent Commission for Human Rights 2006.
80 The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights 2005 (in Arabic).
81 UNESCO 2005.
82 Barghouti and Murray 2005.
83 Barghouti and Murray 2005.
97 Government of the United States and the Republic of Iraq 2008.
98 Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia 2009.
99 New York Times 2009.

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