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Source: United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)
30 April 2010


January - June 2009


The reporting period witnessed the most violent military assault in the recent history of the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). Between 27 December 2008 and 17 January 2009 Israeli forces engaged in an intense military operation in the Gaza Strip (“Operation Cast Lead”) during which almost 1,400 Palestinians, including 347 children and 209 women1, were killed and a further 5,300 persons were injured. Amongst the dead were seven UNRWA staff and 86 pupils at Agency schools.

An extensive relief effort was mobilized to meet critical humanitarian needs arising from the war, building on existing emergency programmes. For its part, UNRWA maintained critical services throughout and worked closely with a range of service providers to assist and protect the population. Over 2,300 of the Agency’s 10,000 Gaza-based staff remained on duty, providing health care to over 12,000 people per day and – from 1 January onwards, when the supply of food aid to Gaza resumed – food parcels to around 3,000 families on a daily basis. During the war more than 50,000 Palestinians sought refuge from the fighting in UNRWA schools and installations that served as temporary shelters.

UNRWA also gave material and logistical support to the Ministry of Health to move medical supplies into Gaza and re-supply hospitals managing the emergency caseload, and fuel to a range of service providers, including the Gaza Power Plant, Gaza municipalities, the Coastal Municipal Water Utility and the Jawwal network. The Israeli offensive caused massive displacement of the Palestinian population and unprecedented destruction of public and private infrastructure and productive capacity, further debilitating an already crippled economy. According to damage assessments conducted by UNRWA and partners, the homes of 59,779 families – comprising an estimated 325,300 individuals – were demolished or damaged during the war, representing around a quarter of all housing stock in Gaza. 2,300 shelters were destroyed, whilst 1,700 sustained major damages and 42,500 minor damages2.

According to the Private Sector Coordination Council in Gaza, direct losses to the private sector during the war, in the form of damages to equipment and premises, reached US$139m. An estimated 700 establishments were damaged or destroyed3, mostly during the last three days of the operation. Many of these enterprises were already lying idle because of the blockade.

Post war recovery and reconstruction efforts have been halted by the continued blockade of Gaza: exports remain prohibited and imports restricted to predetermined ‘humanitarian’ supplies. Meanwhile, fuel supplies have been severely curtailed, resulting in repeated power outages and cuts in basic water and waste water services, as well as shortages of cooking gas. The situation has been further aggravated by the lack of spare parts, leading to further degradation of Gaza’s environmental infrastructure and reduced quality of water and waste water services.

The blockade, which was imposed following Hamas’s takeover of Gaza in June 2007, continued to exact devastating impacts on all aspects of life for the residents of Gaza, of whom around two-thirds are refugees registered with UNRWA. According to OCHA, between January – June 2009 an average of 91 truckloads of goods per day entered Gaza, compared to 583 / day between January - May 2007. Despite announcements by Israel in March that all restrictions on the entry of food items would be lifted, by the end of the reporting period most restrictions were still in place.

As a result, living conditions in Gaza remained dire. Unemployment levels reached 41.8 percent during the first half of 2009, according to the relaxed definition of employment, amongst the highest in the world. Levels of food insecurity were also chronically high, with over 60 percent of households lacking adequate access to safe and nutritious food, based on the results of a recent WFP/ FAO food security survey4.

Despite marked reductions in casualty levels following the end of the war, the IDF continued to mount incursions into Gaza, with approximately 60 air strikes in February and a further 30 in March. Most of these targeted the tunnels which straddle the border with Egypt. Israeli naval patrol boats also continued to fire on fishermen who sailed close to the newly-imposed three mile nautical limit5, whilst border patrols targeted farmers in their fields in the extended ‘buffer zone’6.

In the West Bank, additional steps were taken by the Government of Israel to improve Palestinian movement between some Palestinian cities to the east of the Barrier, through the dismantling of some checkpoints and the removal of permanent staff from others. These led to significant reductions in travel time between Nablus, Qalqiliya, Ramallah and Jericho, and provided a much needed spur to domestic economic activity. However, in parallel, Israel consolidated and expanded its illegal settlement infrastructure and continued to exercise tight control over Palestinian movement. The Barrier, whose construction continued during the reporting period, remained the most visible manifestation of the closure regime. Additional ‘fabric of life’ roads were also built, designed to reconnect Palestinian communities isolated by the Barrier and checkpoints, but at the price of Palestinian exclusion from primary transport networks. In particular, Palestinian access to Area C, which comprises over 60 percent of West Bank territory and includes its main aquifers and most agricultural and grazing land, was severely restricted. Access across the Barrier, including into East Jerusalem, also remained constrained.

Although no updated poverty data was released during the reporting period, labour force surveys indicated slight reductions in unemployment in the West Bank compared with the parallel period in 2008. Based on the relaxed definition of unemployment, 23.1 percent of the West Bank labour force was out of work in the first half of the year. Due to high population growth rates the absolute number of unemployed persons continued to rise, holding real wages in check and reinforcing high poverty levels.

The reporting period saw further reductions in the number of conflict related casualties in the West Bank. According to OCHA, between January and June 2009 15 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces, compared to 19 from June to December 2008, with a further 562 Palestinians injured, down from 746 in the second half of 20087.

Incidents of settler violence continued, and 57 Palestinians were injured in settler confrontations during the reporting period, amid fears of an explicit strategy amongst some settlers to exact a ‘price’ for attempts to dismantle settlement outposts8. There was an increase in intra-Palestinian casualties, with six Palestinians killed during clashes between Palestinian Authority forces and Hamas in Qalqilya in May. The number of arrests of Hamas supporters by PA forces also rose significantly. The number of arrests in June – 527 – was the highest recorded figure since UNRWA began tracking such incidents in June 2007.

Palestinian house demolitions in Area C and East Jerusalem also continued. Several hundred Palestinians were displaced, with tens of thousands more considered ‘at risk’. According to OCHA, 29 homes were destroyed in East Jerusalem between January and June, with 170 Palestinians displaced, including 80 minors. This included seven refugee homes, and 26 refugees were displaced. A further seven non-residential structures were demolished. In all cases, structures were demolished due to a lack of building permit.

In Area C an average of 27 structures were destroyed each month, with 317 persons displaced, including 167 children, according to OCHA. Figures are around 25 percent higher than 2008 averages. In total, 29 refugee homes were demolished in area C, displacing 40 registered refugees.

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