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United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)
22 December 2008
Current Crisis in Hebron:
Effects on Palestine Refugees
The current crisis in Hebron city is having a particular effect on the population of refugees living there.
Why are refugees more vulnerable than others in Hebron?
• Refugees are one of the most vulnerable sub-groups in the West Bank population.
• There are more than 22,000 UNRWA registered refugees in Hebron and, due to poverty, many live in the areas most exposed to settler violence.
• Refugees, as is the case for all the population of the area, feel unprotected by any authority: the PA police cannot operate to protect them from settler violence and the Israeli army rarely acts to protect them.
What threats are faced by refugees?
• The ongoing risk to refugees in Hebron in recent years has included the threat of harm and harassment by the Israeli settlers who have moved into the city.
• Some of the families in Hebron have faced the initial displacement that made them refugees, and are experiencing displacement again by the threat of violence and the economic deprivation of the closed area of Hebron. Some families have already moved out of the Old City/H2 to agricultural land on the city outskirts and are facing demolition and displacement for a third time.
• Many settlers carry army-issued fire arms.
• Many of the incidents of violence are perpetrated by settler youth, and refugees who retaliate are often arrested.
• According to Israeli media, recruitment of child militants is a deliberate policy of the radical settler movement to avoid the full legal consequences of their violence.
• According to the Yesh Din civil rights group only a very small number of settlers are ever prosecuted as a result of complaints to the Police by Palestinians.
What is the situation in H2?
• The area of the city with highest vulnerability is the restricted area known as H2 which is under the full control of the Government of Israel. Within H2 there is a ‘severely restricted area’ comprising about 4.3 sq kilometers. This area has about 82 recorded closures (blocks, gates, checkpoints) according to OCHA figures.
• About 15% of the total Palestinian population of H2 are UNRWA registered refugees.
• UNRWA refugees in H2 have had houses occupied and houses damaged or burnt by violent settlers.
• Due to fear of injury by settlers and due to IDF restrictions, their movement is seriously impaired making it difficult for them to access services such as health and education, as well as meeting daily needs such as food shopping.
• Deprivation of livelihoods has been pronounced and the refugees in the H2 area have a high dependency on aid.
• UNRWA places services as close to vulnerable populations as possible but movement restrictions on UNRWA staff affect the quality of the services that can be offered.
Has there been an escalation of violent incidents?
• Yes. During the past year UNRWA has recorded an increase in the number of incidents of violence toward Palestinians in the West Bank.
• In 2007 there were 166 incidents; in 2008 to end November there were 303.
• There were 30 incidents in the first two months of 2008 but this has spiked to 91 incidents in October and November. On average more than 50% of these incidents are in the Hebron area.
How has the escalation of violence affected refugees?
• On 4th December, Israeli Security Forces began evacuating settlers from the Al Rajabi Building. In response; settlers took to the streets attacking Palestinians.
• 31 Palestinians, 20 settlers, and one Israeli journalist (female) were injured on the 4th December alone.
• A population of 10,000 people in the affected part of the H2 area were being terrorized with verbal abuse, threats and stone throwing.
• Two Palestinians were injured by fire-arms, both of whom were refugees, and one of these received a serious abdominal wound.
• Other refugees have been injured with stones, clubs, iron bars and other weapons.
• Houses have been set on fire, vehicles damaged or burnt, and other property vandalized.
• Over the period 29th November to 5th December 103 Palestinians were treated for conflict-related injuries in Hebron hospitals, and approximately 20% of those injured were minors. It is not possible with the preliminary information available to know exactly what proportion of the injured Palestinians are refugees.
• Some of the houses burnt were the homes of refugees.
How have UNRWA services been affected?
• UNRWA had to curtail operations including delaying opening of services in a health clinic in H2.
• Staff from the Relief and Social Services Department could not access their beneficiaries.
• An UNRWA doctor and RSS team was escorted by an Operations team into the area worst affected by the violence on 14th December and a team from the community mental health programme was escorted in on the 15th. Until then there had been no services in this area since the escalation in violence on the 4th.
• Refugees spoken to by UNRWA were afraid to leave their houses and UNRWA considered whether to undertake an emergency distribution of food to individual households. The need for this was reduced as ICRC had completed an emergency food distribution just before the latest outbreak.
What is the role of the IDF?
• UNRWA Operations and Hebron staff are coordinating with the IDF to ensure that UNRWA staff will have secure access to the Palestinians living in the most affected areas.
• UNRWA relies on the IDF, as the occupying force, to ensure the safety of its staff, to protect refugees from settler violence, and to facilitate the return to full humanitarian function.