Assistance in Gaza must be accompanied by a strengthening of the ceasefire and lifting of the blockade
Shelter needs in the aftermath of this year’s hostilities in the Gaza Strip are enormous. Damage assessments are nearly finalized and indicate that over 118,000 housing units have been destroyed or damaged to varying degrees. Up to 19,600 families are currently displaced, many of them in overcrowded and unsustainable conditions. One of the main transitional shelter solutions being pursued is the provision of prefabricated units on temporary displacement sites. However, the lack of adequate locations and proper access to services and employment for such sites, along cost-benefit considerations, has raised serious concerns among humanitarian agencies and beneficiaries about the suitability of this approach.
Meanwhile, the entry of construction materials defined by Israel as “dual use items” (cement, gravel and metal bars) into the Gaza Strip during the month fell far short of the amounts required to meet overall repair and reconstruction needs. While the pace of imports of such materials is likely to increase alongside the implementation of the temporary Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM), the capability of the sole operational crossing, Kerem Shalom, is a significant limiting factor.
The fragile humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip have been compounded by the almost total closure of the Rafah crossing with Egypt, the longest closure in over six years, following an attack in the Sinai Peninsula in October. The Ministry of Health estimated that by the end of November, there were over 1,000 patients waiting to exit Gaza, including those with advanced cancer, renal and heart diseases, and orthopedic and ophthalmological needs. This raises concerns about deteriorations in their medical conditions.
The number of people displaced or at risk of displacement is also an issue of concern in the West Bank. During November, the Israeli authorities demolished 46 Palestinian-owned structures in Area C and East Jerusalem, displacing 136 people, half of them children. The cumulative number of people displaced so far in 2014 due to demolitions in the West Bank (nearly 1,200) is the highest in an entire year since 2008, when OCHA began tracking this indicator.
Also of concern are the ongoing levels of tension and violence in Jerusalem. In the gravest incident this month, two Palestinians attacked a synagogue in West Jerusalem, killing four Israelis and a policeman. Clashes with Israeli forces continued across Jerusalem governorate and resulted in the injury of nearly 800 Palestinians during November. The frequency and intensity of clashes declined towards the end of the month following the lifting of some of the access restrictions to Al Aqsa Mosque compound, along with a halt to visits by Israeli politicians to the site.
Support for the forthcoming humanitarian appeal for the oPt is essential to prevent further deterioration in the situation of the most vulnerable residents, but this step alone is insufficient. As highlighted by the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs in his briefing to the Security Council this month, the reconstruction of Gaza also requires “a strengthening of the ceasefire, including a lifting of the closure”. He warned that: “the continued reality of the close to 50-year long occupation and the lack of progress towards the two-state solution ensure that the next round of violence is never too far below the surface. The time has come for leaders on both sides to make the difficult compromises that will promote stability and ensure long-term security for both Israelis and Palestinians.”