|Largely related to the long-term restrictions imposed by Israel on the movement of people and goods to and from the Gaza Strip through Israeli-controlled crossings, the economy and the population in Gaza have become dependent upon the illegal tunnel trade, stemming from smuggling tunnels under the border with Egypt, and the Egyptian-controlled Rafah Crossing, which has become the primary passenger entry and exit point to the outside world. In recent months, as part of efforts to counter insecurity and illegal activities in the Sinai, the Egyptian authorities have closed illegal tunnels and limited the operation of the Rafah Crossing. At the same time, there have been only limited easings of the ongoing restrictions imposed at legitimate crossing points from Israel. Consequently, an already fragile humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip has worsened.|
The closures of the illegal tunnels have led to a sharp reduction in the transfers of construction materials and heavily-subsidized Egyptian fuel, on which Gaza relies to operate schools and hospitals, water and sanitation facilities and to fuel the Gaza Power Plant (GPP). As of the time of publication, the GPP has been forced to reduce electricity production and may shut down completely, if adequate fuel supplies are not urgently made available. The Rafah Crossing, when open, has been operating a greatly reduced schedule and access is limited to certain authorized categories, including foreign nationals, people holding valid visas, and patients officially referred for medical treatment abroad. Although there has been increase in the number of Gazans, including medical cases,permitted to pass through the Erez Crossing with Israel in the past two months, this has not offset the overall drastic reduction in passage through Rafah.
This latest crisis compounds already worrying developments in the Gaza Strip in 2013, including rising levels of food insecurity. Data from the 2012 Socio-Economic and Food Security Survey (SEFSec) indicate that 34 per cent of Palestinian households in the oPt – approximately 1.6 million people – were food insecure in 2012, reversing improvements reported since 2009. In the Gaza Strip specifically, the 'food insecure' category increased from 44 per cent to 57 per cent, primarily because of the prolonged blockade, which continues to prevent any significant recovery of the local productive economy, especially the export sector. In this context, UNRWA's suspension of its School Feeding programme for the first semester of the 2013-2014 academic year, due to a shortfall in funding, is a worrying development. The programme had been continuously running since 2008, and was intended to provide an estimated 233,000 children with a daily nutritional supplement.
The current crisis is bringing the people of Gaza to a breaking point - Israel, the Palestinian authorities, Egypt and third party states must take urgent action now to ensure adequate supplies, particularly of fuel, to maintain essential services. There is an urgent need for lifting of the long-term restrictions on imports, exports and essential supplies, through the legitimate crossings between Israel and the Gaza Strip. This is the one measure that will result in a significant improvement in the humanitarian situation; in the immediate term this will alleviate shortages of fuel and construction materials necessary to maintain a minimum level of essential services and, in the long-term, will increase economic access to fuel and facilitate development and rehabilitation of electricity infrastructure. The situation in the West Bank this month is also of serious concern. Although the number of search and arrest operations in recent months has remained stable, the frequency and intensity of confrontations during these operations and the number of resulting civilian casualties has increased. The death of five Palestinian civilians in August brings the total the number of Palestinian civilians killed by Israeli forces in the West Bank this year to 14,compared to four during the same period in 2012, while the number of injuries during search and arrest operations has increased by 150 per cent.
Following a lull during the month of Ramadan, August also witnessed a sharp increase in demolitions of Palestinian-owned homes and other property in Area C and East Jerusalem, on the grounds that they lacked Israeli-issued building permits. Of particular concern in the significant rise in demolitions in East Jerusalem so far in 2013, leaving almost 250 people displaced, by far the highest number since 2009. In one serious case, the entire Tel al'Adassa Palestinian Bedouin community in East Jerusalem was forced to relocate to the “West Bank” side of the Barrier this month, following the demolition of all their remaining residential and livelihood structures and orders by the Israeli authorities for them to relocate from the site under threat of fines, arrest and confiscation of sheep for non-compliance. The United Nations has repeatedly called on the Israeli authorities to cease the practice of forced evictions and destruction of civilian property, which remains one of the leading causes of forced displacement, and consequent humanitarian vulnerability, in the oPt. In a report submitted to the Human Rights Council this month (A/HRC/24/30, 22 August 2013), the UN Secretary-General raised concerns regarding the risk of forcible transfer of a number of Palestinian communities in the West Bank, in violation of international humanitarian law.