15. In pursuance of its mandate, the Committee continued to monitor the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, as well as relevant political developments.
16. The violence in the Gaza Strip and southern Israel started to escalate when Israel killed six Hamas members in military operations in the central Gaza Strip that targeted a tunnel that the Israeli military said Hamas had been planning to use to capture Israeli soldiers. Militants in the Gaza Strip responded the following day by firing 35 Qassam rockets into southern Israel. Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the rocket fire.
17. Following the end on 19 December 2008 of the six-month ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip that had been brokered by Egypt, on 27 December 2008 the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) launched, without warning, their military offensive in the Gaza Strip, Operation Cast Lead, with the stated purpose of deterring further rocket attacks by Hamas against Israeli citizens. Despite the international community’s repeated calls for an immediate ceasefire and respect for civilian life, the offensive continued until Israeli troops completed withdrawal from the Gaza Strip on 21 January 2009, preceded by unilateral ceasefires declared by both parties on 19 January.
18. International humanitarian organizations and other investigation missions reported that during the offensive, the Israeli forces had made extensive use of white phosphorus in residential areas, causing death and injury to civilians and extensive fire damage to property. Homes, schools, medical facilities and United Nations buildings took direct hits. Tank-fired flechette rounds were also used by Israeli forces on at least five occasions between 4 and 9 January, resulting in the deaths of several civilians.
19. During the offensive, Israeli forces routinely prevented ambulances and other vehicles from reaching the wounded or from collecting bodies anywhere near their positions. Requests by Palestinian ambulance services to be allowed passage to rescue the wounded and evacuate the dead in any area in Gaza that had been taken over by Israeli forces were consistently denied by the Israeli army. As a result, many of the wounded, who were never more than 15 minutes away from a hospital, died.
20. Several Palestinian medical facilities, including hospitals, were repeatedly hit during the bombardments, and medical staff were themselves the victims of some attacks. According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, in the course of the operation, 16 medical personnel were killed and 26 injured while on duty. Israeli bombardments damaged or destroyed 29 ambulances. Of the 122 health facilities throughout the Gaza Strip, 58 were either damaged or destroyed by direct or indirect shelling. Of those, 15 were hospitals and 43 were primary health-care clinics.
21. As a result of the offensive, 1,409 Palestinians were killed, of which 237 were combatants and 1,172 were non-combatants. Of the 1,172 non-combatants killed, at least 342 were children and 111 were women. Some 5,000 Palestinians were injured, including many women and children, many of whom were maimed for life. According to the Government of Israel, close to 800 rockets and mortar rounds launched from the Gaza Strip landed on Israeli territory during the operation, killing four Israeli civilians and injuring 182 others. Ten Israeli soldiers were killed during the offensive, four of them in a friendly fire incident, and 336 were injured.
22. Some 40 Palestinians were killed and many others injured at or in the vicinity of schools and a health centre run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) when they were hit by Israeli missiles, aerial bombs, artillery fire, or mortar rounds. Also, 5 UNRWA staff and 3 of its contractors were killed while on duty, and another 11 staff and 4 contractors were injured. There were four incidents during which aid convoys were shot at by Israeli forces. At least 53 United Nations buildings sustained damage.
23. According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 3,540 Palestinian homes were destroyed and 2,870 homes severely damaged during the Gaza offensive. Also, 10 schools and 8 kindergartens were completely destroyed, and at least 280 others were damaged. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Education and Higher Education, 164 students and 12 teachers from its schools were killed, and another 454 students and 5 teachers were injured.
24. On 12 January, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted resolution S-9/1 (A/HRC/S-9/L.1), condemning the Israeli military operation and calling for the immediate cessation of Israeli military attacks. In the same resolution, the Council decided to dispatch an independent international fact-finding mission to Gaza to investigate all violations of international human rights law during the Gaza offensive. On 3 April, the President of the Human Rights Council, Ambassador Martin Ihoeghian Uhomoibhi of Nigeria, announced his decision to appoint Richard J. Goldstone, former Chief Prosecutor of the international criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, to lead the four-member fact-finding mission to Gaza. The team visited the Gaza Strip and also held public hearings in Geneva in June. The mission submitted its report on 15 September, in which it concluded that there was evidence indicating that serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law had been committed by Israel during the Gaza conflict, and that Israel had committed actions amounting to war crimes, and possibly crimes against humanity. The report also concluded that there was evidence that Palestinian armed groups had committed war crimes, and possibly crimes against humanity, in their repeated launching of rockets and mortars into southern Israel.
25. On 11 February, the Secretary-General appointed a United Nations Headquarters Board of Inquiry to review and investigate nine specific incidents that had occurred in the Gaza Strip between 27 December 2008 and 19 January 2009 and in which death or injuries had occurred at, and/or damage had been done to, United Nations premises or in the course of United Nations operations. The four-member Board was headed by Ian Martin of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. On 11 April, the Board presented its report to the Secretary-General, who on 15 May submitted a summary of the Board’s findings, including its recommendations, to the Security Council (see A/63/855-S/2009/250).
26. On 30 July, the Government of Israel issued its own report on the factual and legal aspects of the operation, in which it stated, “Israel had both a right and an obligation to take military action against Hamas in Gaza to stop Hamas’ almost incessant rocket and mortar attacks upon thousands of Israeli civilians and its other acts of terrorism. … Israel has both the responsibility and the right under international law, as does every State, to defend its civilians from intentional rocket attacks.”
27. On 26 February, after a series of Egyptian-mediated reconciliation talks in Cairo, Fatah and Hamas agreed to work towards setting up a unity government, and created five joint committees on transitional Government formation, on issues of reconciliation, security, elections, and the PLO. In subsequent months, the Egyptian mediation continued. Another round of reconciliation talks was scheduled for the end of October.
28. On 2 March, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt hosted the International Conference in Support of the Palestinian Economy for the Reconstruction of Gaza. Representatives from some 80 countries and multilateral organizations welcomed the Palestinian National Early Recovery and Reconstruction Plan for Gaza, and donors pledged some $4.5 billion for humanitarian and economic relief.
29. Israel’s Gaza offensive caused the widespread destruction of homes, infrastructure and productive assets and added to an already devastating humanitarian, social and economic situation in the Gaza Strip caused by the blockade imposed by Israel on the entire territory following the Hamas takeover in June 2007. As of August, approximately 75 per cent of Gaza’s population — more than 1.1 million people — were experiencing food insecurity caused by the dramatic increase in poverty, the destruction of agricultural assets and the inflation in prices of key food items. There has been a gradual shift in the diet of people in Gaza from high-cost and protein-rich foods, such as fruit, vegetables and animal products, to low-cost and high-carbohydrate foods, such as cereals, sugar and oil, which could lead to micronutrient deficiencies, in particular among children and pregnant women. In addition, over 40 per cent of Gaza’s workforce, or more than 140,000 people, were unemployed. The desperate situation led to dangerous and, at times, fatal attempts to smuggle necessary goods through tunnels dug under the border with Egypt. Since 18 January, 47 Palestinians have been killed in various tunnel-related incidents.
30. Follow-up treatment for people suffering from complex injuries and permanent disabilities inflicted during the Israeli offensive has created an enormous burden for a health system weakened by the shortages of facilities, equipment and drugs caused by the blockade. In addition, patients in need of specialized treatment outside Gaza must go through an arduous and uncertain process of obtaining the necessary permits required to leave Gaza, which adds considerable anguish and stress to patients’ lives and often results in denial by Israel of requests to travel for treatment and dire consequences for many patients, including several instances of fatalities.
31. The ban on the import of building materials has prevented the much-needed reconstruction of most of the damaged or destroyed houses and other infrastructure. No new construction for 7,500 planned housing units for Gaza’s rapidly expanding population has been possible owing to the lack of building materials available in Gaza. More than 20,000 displaced residents are forced to continue living in rented apartments, in the houses of relatives or in tents next to the rubble of their damaged houses. A small number of families continue to live in tented camps. The lives of those displaced families have been disrupted, with children being among the worst affected.
32. Palestinian women and children suffered the most as a consequence of the Israeli occupation, in particular, during and in the wake of the military assault on Gaza. As of July, none of the 10 schools and 8 kindergartens destroyed during the Gaza offensive had been rebuilt or rehabilitated because of the lack of construction materials. Schoolchildren, thousands of whom lost family members and/or their homes, were still suffering from psychological trauma and anxiety and were in need of social support. The World Health Organization reported that the inadequate infrastructure, lack of equipment and shortage of hospital staff were contributing to the deterioration of hospital care for mothers and newborns in Gaza.
33. In fulfilment of its road map obligations, the Palestinian Authority continued efforts to restructure its security forces to assume responsibility in West Bank cities, which was met with donor appreciation. On the other hand, there has not been a significant reduction in incursions by the Israeli army into Palestinian cities or in the easing of closures in the West Bank.
34. Israeli forces have routinely conducted raids and arrests in towns and villages in the West Bank. During the reporting period, a total of 27 Palestinians, including 8 children, were killed by Israeli forces, and more than 2,900 were arrested in the West Bank. In the Gaza Strip, outside the context of Operation Cast Lead, some 70 Palestinians, including 7 children, were killed by Israeli forces. One Israeli soldier on patrol was killed in a bomb blast near the Gaza border.
35. On 15 December 2008, Israel released 227 Palestinian prisoners as a gesture of goodwill ahead of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha. On 23 June, Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Dr. Aziz Al-Dweik, was released after three years of detention. Ten Hamas members of the Palestinian Legislative Council were released on 2 September, while 23 others still remain in prison. In early October, Israel released 20 Palestinian women prisoners. There were no developments regarding the fate of some 11,000 other Palestinian prisoners, including children and women.
36. In the period under review, Israel continued illegal settlement activity in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. The occupying Power also carried out many demolitions of Palestinian homes and other infrastructure, destroyed and confiscated Palestinian-owned land and properties in order to expand existing settlements, and continued to carry out unlawful and provocative excavations in the area of Occupied East Jerusalem. In a report issued in March, an Israeli organization, Peace Now, stated that the Israeli Ministry of Construction and Housing was planning to construct 73,302 settlement units in the West Bank, 5,722 of which would be in East Jerusalem. A total of 15,156 units had been approved, 8,950 of which had already been built. If all the Ministry’s plans are realized, the current total number of settlers would increase by approximately 300,000. According to a report by the Civil Administration of IDF covering the first half of 2009, there were 304,569 residents living in settlements in the West Bank, an increase of 2.3 per cent since January. This figure does not include the more than 180,000 Israeli settlers in East Jerusalem.
37. In August, Peace Now stated in its semi-annual report that construction within the settlement blocks continued as usual, despite Israel’s announcement that it had stopped approving new building. According to the report, there were more than 40,000 settlement units in plans that had been approved in the past but not yet implemented, and the construction of 596 new structures had begun in the first half of 2009, 96 of which were in outposts.
38. Israeli activities to expand settlements in and expel Palestinian residents from East Jerusalem were of serious concern. On 12 December 2008, plans by the Housing Ministry and the Israel Land Administration to issue tenders in 2009 for 2,500 settlement units in Jerusalem, including 745 in the East Jerusalem settlement of Ramot, were reported. On 7 March, 88 houses were slated for demolition in the Al-Bustan neighbourhood of Silwan in East Jerusalem to make room for a park. On 19 March, the Israeli Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, said that he would press forward with a plan to raze the entire Palestinian neighbourhood of Al-Bustan in East Jerusalem and to relocate more than 1,000 of its residents to make way for a park. On 23 March, the High Court of Justice authorized the confiscation of 30 dunams of Palestinian land in the Shu’fat neighbourhood of East Jerusalem to expand a military checkpoint.
39. On 27 April, the construction of approximately 60 new units began on a new East Jerusalem settlement in East Talpiot near the as-Sawahira neighbourhood. The expansion of that settlement would create a belt around East Jerusalem, severing it from the rest of the West Bank. On 3 May, the Israeli Minister of Internal Affairs and Shas party leader, Eli Yishai, recommended expanding Ma’ale Adumim by 12,000 dunams. The expansion would include 6,000 new units in the area between the Ma’ale Adumim and Qedar settlements. On 4 May, Minister Yishai announced plans to develop a Jewish residential area, City of David, in Jerusalem. On 2 June, it was reported that the Ministry of Internal Affairs had approved the construction of a new hotel in East Jerusalem 100 metres from the Old City walls. The plan would see the demolition of a wholesale market and a Palestinian kindergarten.
40. On 2 August, following a decision by the Israeli High Court of Justice, Israeli security forces forcibly evicted nine Palestinian families — 53 refugees registered by UNRWA, including 20 children — from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in East Jerusalem, and their property was handed over to a settlement organization. The United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, issued a statement deploring those actions and stating that they were contrary to the provisions of the Geneva Conventions and to the calls of the international community, including the Quartet’s. On 7 September, Defence Minister Barak approved the construction of 455 new settlement units. Also on 7 September, the Israel Land Administration published tenders for the construction of 486 units in the Pisgat Ze’ev settlement.
41. There was a significant increase in settler-related violence in the West Bank, and a large number of settler attacks against Palestinian villagers were reported, such as shooting, damaging Palestinian property, uprooting of trees and burning farmland, and other forms of intimidation and harassment, including physical assault. The lack of adequate Israeli law enforcement, and even permissiveness, with regard to violent Israeli settlers remained a serious problem. In addition, two Israeli settlers, including a 13-year-old boy, were killed in Palestinian attacks during the reporting period.
42. Israel has continued to ignore the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice regarding the illegal construction of the wall on the Palestinian land it has occupied since 1967. As of July, approximately 58 per cent of the 709-kilometre-long wall was complete. A further 10 per cent was under construction, and 31.5 per cent was planned. When completed, most of the route, approximately 85 per cent, will run inside the West Bank, including in and around East Jerusalem. The total area located between the wall and the Armistice Line of 1949 (Green Line), amounted to 9.5 per cent of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the “no man’s land”.
43. The substantial donor contributions aimed at rehabilitating the Palestinian economy have been considerably less effective than the donors had anticipated, in part because they were spent to attenuate the economic damage resulting from Israeli restrictions on Palestinian trade and movement, rather than on development projects. As of August, there were 619 closure obstacles. In September, Israel announced plans to remove 100 obstacles in the West Bank.
44. The World Bank reported in April that water withdrawals per head of the Palestinian population in the West Bank were declining and that there were real water shortages. Water withdrawals per capita for Palestinians in the West Bank are about one quarter of those available to Israelis and have declined over the last decade. There has been little progress on wastewater collection and treatment, with negative environmental results. Only four towns have wastewater treatment plants, producing poor quality effluent, and there is no planned or regulated reuse of effluent. Settlements are also discharging raw sewage into the environment.
45. As of August, some 10,000 people in northern Gaza did not have access to running water owing to the lack of available building materials to maintain and upgrade the wastewater infrastructure. As a result, 80 million litres of raw and partially treated sewage are being discharged daily into the environment. This has led to a further pollution of the sea and underground aquifer, creating serious health concerns. Only 5-10 per cent of the water extracted from Gaza’s aquifer meets the safety standards of the World Health Organization. Also, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reported that the underground water supplies, upon which 1.5 million Palestinians depend for agricultural and drinking water, were in danger of collapse as a result of years of overuse and contamination that had been exacerbated by the recent Israeli offensive. UNEP also reported increased salinity from salt water intrusion caused by over-abstraction of the groundwater, as well as pollution from sewage and agricultural run off. Pollution levels are such that infants in the Gaza Strip are at risk from nitrate poisoning.
46. During the Israeli offensive in Gaza, the role of UNRWA in providing assistance to refugees and supporting the delivery of critical services to non-refugees became even more vital. Over 2,300 UNRWA staff remained on active duty throughout the war to ensure the provision of basic health care and emergency relief. In addition, more than 50,000 persons were sheltered in 50 UNRWA schools across Gaza, where they received food, water, blankets, mattresses, hygiene kits and medical care from staff of the Agency and local and international non-governmental organizations. UNRWA also offered logistical and material support to the Ministry of Health and public utility providers in Gaza.
47. Following the cessation of hostilities, UNRWA scaled up its emergency programmes to meet new and emerging needs. Generous donor funding allowed the Agency to respond effectively to emergency needs, although recovery and reconstruction efforts have not been possible owing to the continued blockade of Gaza, which precipitated an unprecedented socio-economic decline.
48. As the international community marks the sixtieth anniversary of UNRWA, the Committee reiterates its sincere appreciation for the vitally important and courageous work carried out daily by UNRWA in time of hostilities.
49. The Programme of Assistance to the Palestinian People of the United Nations Development Programme also responded to the destruction wrought by the Israeli military attacks in the Gaza Strip by providing food and cash assistance to victims and leading the early recovery group of United Nations agencies and civil society organizations in formulating projects to alleviate suffering in spite of the blockade of Gaza.
50. In the West Bank, the Programme of Assistance completed the construction of dozens of public buildings, including courthouses, schools and clinics, and worked with the Palestinian Authority to improve its administration. The Programme also focused on improving water management and the environment and on encouraging entrepreneurship in the poorest sectors of Palestinian society.
51. The Committee continued to express appreciation for the work of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. It noted that the consolidated appeal for 2009 focused on delivering humanitarian assistance, increased protection of civilians, enhanced monitoring and reporting on the humanitarian situation and the strengthening of United Nations humanitarian coordination structures.