Although encouraging, the general context in which this positive trend took place underscores the fragility of this progress. The deadlock of negotiations between the PLO and Israel and the related lack of political horizon, along with the ongoing fragmentation of the oPt as a result of settlement activities and the entrenchment of the separation between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, are key elements within that context. Compounded by the financial crisis affecting the Palestinian Authority (PA), these elements may result in an outbreak of violence and render the above-mentioned positive trend unsustainable.
This month also witnessed a marked rise in Israeli settler attacks resulting in Palestinian injuries or damages to their property, the most severe of which affected villages around Yitzhar settlement (Nablus). Although Israeli soldiers were present at the scene of some of these incidents, they failed to intervene and stop attacks. The lack of adequate law enforcement on violent Israeli settlers is particularly worrying given the potential of “price tag” settler attacks in response to the Israeli Supreme Court ordered evacuation of two settlement outposts in the Ramallah area (Migron and Ulpana) in the coming weeks.
In the Gaza Strip, the decrease in food insecurity is directly linked to the substantive increase in economic activity during 2011, reflected in a double-digit growth rate compared to 2010. The increase was largely concentrated in the service and construction sectors, and fueled by the influx of funds from abroad. At the same time, the productive capacity of Gaza has seen almost no reactivation, rendering recent economic growth highly volatile and unsustainable: the fact that Gaza’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew by over 26 per cent in the first three quarters of 2011, but only 0.5 per cent in the last quarter of the year, is a clear indication of that.
One of the primary reasons for the stagnation in the productive capacity (the industrial and agricultural sectors) is the ongoing ban on the transfer of goods from Gaza to its traditional markets in the West Bank and exports to Israel. In May, the 2011/2012 export season for agricultural cash crops destined for overseas markets came to a close. While the volume of exported fruit and vegetables increased in comparison with the previous season (along with a decrease in the volume of flowers), it constituted less than 20 per cent of the equivalent figure (for these commodities) during the 2006/2007 season, prior to the blockade. In 2011 less than one truckload of goods per day exited Gaza, less than three per cent of the average amount of exports (for all commodities) during the first half of 2007.
The fragile situation is worsened by the financial crisis affecting the PA. This has resulted in the highest number of essential medications out of stock in public hospitals in both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank since 2007, with 42 per cent of these items at zero stock in Gaza. The increase exacerbates the already chronic shortages of drugs due to poor coordination between the PA and the local authorities in Gaza. The poor, whose access to private medical treatment and pharmacies is the most limited, bear the brunt of this crisis.
The root of instability affecting the oPt will likely only be resolved at the political level, through an agreement. However, even under the current occupation, there are significant measures that could be taken to reduce humanitarian vulnerability. This should include ensuring accountability for settler violence, improving Palestinian access to land and resources in the West Bank, lifting the ban on the movement of goods and people between Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and improving the coordination between the PA and Hamas with regard to the provision of services, among others.
More than half of this year’s injuries were in ad hoc demonstrations, including those in solidarity with prisoners holding a hunger strike in protest against the Israeli practise of administrative detention, as well as demonstrations held on 15 May (“An Nakba” day). Roughly 43 per cent of injuries occurred during demonstrations held in protest against settlement-related activity, either access restrictions implemented to protect Israeli settlements and secure space for their development (39 per cent) or other measures allowing for their expansion.
Despite the high number of injuries, so far in 2012 there have been no reports of such injuries resulting in the opening of investigations by the IDF’s Military Police Investigation Unit (MPIU)—the only mechanism that can lead to the prosecution of a soldier. This in spite of the increasing number of injuries that have occurred as a result of demonstrators being hit with tear-gas canisters, the third highest contributor to injuries this year (92 injuries in 2012). Because high-velocity tear gas canisters are made of aluminum and are imprecise in nature, when fired directly into a crowd or at specific persons they can cause serious harm, or even kill.. While the Israeli military officially prohibits the targeting of people’s bodies, since 2009 two protestors have been killed in this manner. Since April 2011, Israeli military procedures require that an MPIU investigation will be automatically opened for incidents in which Palestinian civilians are killed by Israeli forces in the West Bank.
However, this requirement does not apply to incidents resulting in injuries, creating a significant concern about lack of accountability.
Demonstrations injuries by weapon, 2012
SETTLER VIOLENCE ON THE RISE
Concern over increased vulnerability of villages around Yitzhar settlement (Nablus)
The number of settler-related incidents in the West Bank was roughly 57 per cent higher in May 2012 than the monthly average of the previous four months (24 incidents), and 12 per cent higher than the monthly average in 2011 (34 incidents).
Of particular concern is the situation of six Palestinian villages in the Nablus governorate, located around the Israeli settlement of Yitzhar: ‘Asira Al Qibliya, Burin, ‘Einabus, Huwwara, Madama, and ‘Urif. Ten of the 38 attacks recorded in May occurred in this area, resulting in the injury of nine Palestinians (two with live ammunition) and damage to roughly 200 olive trees and 20 dunums of land, among others. This represents a significant escalation compared to previous months. Furthermore, these attacks have involved larger groups of settlers, and were more coordinated than in previous months.
In one incident of note, on 26 May, 150 olive trees in ‘Urif village were burnt and a Palestinian sustained serious injury with live ammunition when a large group of settlers raided the village. In another, on 19 May, a Palestinian was directly shot by a group of settlers and two others were wounded by stones when a large group of settlers raided the Palestinian village of ‘Asira Al Qibliya.
The increased violence originating from Yitzhar settlement occurs against a background of pervasive lawlessness and lack of accountability vis-à-vis settler violence in the West Bank. One of the key dimensions of this phenomenon is related to the inadequate response provided by Israeli troops, when present during a settler attack. Although Israeli soldiers were present in the two above-mentioned incidents in “Urif and ‘Asira Al Qibliya villages, eye witnesses, as well as video footage, suggest that little to no effort was made to protect Palestinians present, nor was there any attempt to disarm settlers of their weapons or arrest them.1 According to Israeli media sources, the Israeli authorities have opened investigations into the incidents.
Inadequate law enforcement and lack of accountability are key features underpinning the phenomenon of settler violence. Under international humanitarian law and international human rights law, as the occupying force in the West Bank, Israel is obliged to ensure public order and safety and protect the civilian population in the occupied territory, and the responsibility for implementing this obligation falls on the Israeli military. Without effective Israeli law enforcement, and in view of increasingly aggressive settler activity, there is concern that the situation may further deteriorate, resulting in increasing numbers of civilian casualties and property damage, along with the displacement of the most vulnerable from their places of residence.
Palestinian children targeted for arrest in the East Jerusalem Silwan neighborhood According to Defence for Children International (DCI-Pal), there was a six per cent increase in the number of children prosecuted in the Israeli military courts and imprisoned. This is the sixth consecutive month where the number of children in detention has increased. There has been a 73 per cent increase in the number of children held in military detention since December 2011.
One area of concern is the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem. Although the monthly average in 2012 is less than half that of 2011 (roughly 13 vs. 28 children arrested per month), almost 60 per cent of those arrested between January and May this year were children (56 of 94), and many of the arrested children reported being mistreated while in the custody of Israeli authorities.2
The arrests come in the context of ongoing Israeli-Palestinian friction in the Silwan neighborhood (pop 50,000), that has resulted from the continued presence of Israeli settlements, and the high risk of displacement of hundreds of its Palestinian residents, due to the Jerusalem municipality’s plans to demolish existing homes to make way for a ‘biblical park’.3 Tensions in the neighborhood have continued over the past three years, and intensified in recent months, with stone throwing from the Palestinians towards the settlers and police, and harsh responses from the Israeli authorities.
The Israeli civil legal statute, “the Youth Law”,4 applied by the Israeli authorities to East Jerusalem, requires that a child’s parents be present when they are interrogated and forbids nighttime child arrests as well as violent interrogation methods during detention. In practice, for years, there have been allegations of Palestinian children being questioned alone without being informed of their rights subjected to harsh interrogation methods including physical violence or threats of physical violence,including several accounts by previously detained children given to OCHA oPt. A study by Defence for Children International - Palestine Section (DCI/PS) based on the testimonies of 36 Palestinian children detained in the second half of 2011, and submitted to the UN Rapporteur on Torture in January 2012, found that the majority of Palestinian children detained in the West Bank suffer from ill-treatment, including 67 per cent who reported being subjected to physical violence during their arrest, transfer or subsequent interrogation. The study also indicates that 64 per cent of Palestinian children were arrested in the hours between midnight and 5:00 a.m. Since the year 2000, the Israeli authorities have detained and prosecuted between 500-700 Palestinian children each year, and 7,000 Palestinian children, some as young as 12 years of age, are estimated to have been detained and prosecuted since then. The most common charge is for throwing stones at Israeli military forces or settlers in the West Bank.5
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Israel is a State Party, stipulates that “State Parties recognize the right of every child alleged as, accused of, or recognized as having infringed the penal law to be treated in a manner consistent with the promotion of the child’s sense of dignity and worth, which reinforces the child’s respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of others and which takes into account the child’s age and the desirability of promoting the child’s reintegration and the child’s assuming a constructive role in society.”
HIGHEST LEVELS OF DRUG SHORTAGES IN FIVE YEARS
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), out of stock essential medications at the Ministry of Health (MoH) Central Drug Store (CDS), in both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, are at the highest levels seen since 2007. The MoH in Gaza reported that 58 per cent (253 of 480) of essential medications were at zero stock, with an additional 13 per cent at levels sufficient for less than three months, while the MoH Central Drug Store in Ramallah reported a shortage of 28 per cent (149 of 523).
The most recent increase is a direct result of the financial crisis affecting the Palestinian Authority (PA), which deteriorated sharply in 2011 and 2012.6 The PA is responsible for the purchase and funding of drugs for government hospitals and clinics, both in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and in April, its outstanding debt to suppliers was estimated at over $100 million. The financial crisis has deepened the already chronic shortages in essential medications at MoH hospitals in the Gaza Strip during the past five years due to the disputes and poor of coordination between the MoH in Ramallah and the MoH in the Gaza Strip.
According to WHO,7 the shortages have created a greater need for referrals, as some patients who normally would be treated in MoH hospitals must be now be referred to private health facilities at higher cost. In addition, the health system has coped with shortages by, for example, using alternative drugs, accepting items donated from the community businesses, or using petty cash reserves to purchase critical items on the private market. Patients may purchase their medication from private pharmacies or seek donations from charities. However, the shortages experienced this year have surpassed the coping abilities; in May some patient care procedures (e.g., elective surgeries) were postponed or suspended. Patients with life-threatening diseases or chronic illnesses who need maintenance medications, and poor and elderly patients, are especially affected by the shortages. Importantly, these patients face a high risk of complications from medical conditions that may deteriorate while they wait for drugs to be supplied, or for referrals and access permits to be approved. Patients who cannot afford private healthcare, within Gaza or the West Bank, and who are denied Israeli-issued access permits to East Jerusalem hospitals, have no other health care options.
IMPROVEMENT IN FOOD SECURITY LEVELS IN THE OPT
Food security exists within a society when people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. The 2011 Socio-Economic and Food Security (SEFSec) survey, jointly conducted by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the UN Refugee and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP), found that 27 per cent of Palestinian households (1.3 million people) were food insecure and unable to meet their basic food and household expenses. While high, this represents a nine per cent improvement from 2009 (36 per cent of the population) and six percentage points compared to 2010. A further 14 per cent of Palestinians, although able to cover their basic food and household expenses, remained vulnerable and at-risk of falling into food insecurity. Food security levels are primarily estimated based on economic access to food and essential non-food items, hence food prices and household income (i.e. employment, own production and external assistance) are key determinants of food security.
Other dimensions of food security, including food availability and food consumption, are generally less problematic in the oPt, although, given the high dependence on staple food imports and the small size of the local food productive sector, these remain vulnerable to ongoing Israeli access restrictions to international markets and volatile global food prices.
In the West Bank, post-assistance food insecurity stood at 17 per cent in 2011, five per cent lower than 2009. Food security levels also improved steadily between 2009 and 2011, to reach 45 per cent of West Bank households. Food security gains are most apparent in the northern and southern West Bank, where food insecurity levels have dropped by five per cent. The central West Bank continues to show the lowest levels of food insecurity (12 per cent), with a lower rate of improvement, as the private sector remains stifled due to movement and access restrictions within and outside the West Bank.
Food insecurity in Area C was estimated at 24 per cent, as compared to 17 per cent in Areas A and B. Vulnerability is higher in Area C, with only a third of the population classified as food secure, compared to 46 per cent in Areas A and B. As well, segments of the population face higher risks, with refugee population living in camps witnessing a deterioration in food insecurity levels, from 25 per cent in 2009 to 29 per cent in 2011. Food insecurity rates in the Gaza Strip also improved, although they remain significantly higher than in the West Bank. Post-assistance food insecurity decreased from 60 per cent in 2009 – when the Gaza population faced the highest peak in food insecurity following the war in Gaza, ‘Cast Lead’ – to 44 per cent in 2011.
Still, Gaza population remains highly vulnerable to food insecurity or marginal food security. Over the last three years, the level of those classified as food secure has been more or less stable and remains at 23 per cent. The Southern Gaza Strip has experienced the fastest rate of improvement, most likely due to the tunnel trade economy.
These improvements are partially the result of the recovery of the employment market (especially in the previously dormant construction sector), and the continuation of external assistance ensuring access to food, combined with the easing of some restrictions on entry of goods from Israel from mid-June 2010 onwards, and continuing imports from Egypt through tunnels – especially construction material.
While improving across the oPt, food insecurity levels still remain high, and are impacted by the Gaza blockade, movement and access restrictions in the West Bank, and recent and projected reductions of external assistance and extra-budgetary support to the PA. Because the current economic growth is led by the PA public sector, foreign assistance and the tunnel trade economy in the Gaza Strip, any reduction in these activities would likely have a negative impact on food security levels in the oPt. Further improvements depend on the growth of the productive private sector in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which would require the lifting of movement and access restrictions in the West Bank, and the complete lifting of Israel’s strict blockade in the Gaza Strip.
THE CASH CROP EXPORT SEASON ENDS WITH MIXED RESULTS
The ban on the transfer of goods to the West Bank and Israel continues
The 2011/2012 Gaza export season for agricultural cash crops (strawberries, cut flowers, sweet peppers and cherry tomatoes) came to a close this month with mixed results. Despite a 37 per cent increase in the volume of fruit and vegetable exported compared to the previous season, flower exports decreased by 18 per cent. While no reliable figures exist regarding the tonnage of pre-blockade cash crop exports, a comparison between the number of truckloads of strawberries and cut flowers shows an 81 per cent decrease in these commodities between this season and the 2006/2007 season, prior to the blockade.
The season harvest of strawberry, cherry tomato, and sweet pepper benefited from an unusually cold winter, which improved both yield and quality. Conversely, cold weather conditions combined with the fuel/electricity crisis adversely affected flower production; farmers were unable to regularly operate irrigation systems and cold storage facilities, which are critical for flower production.
Also this month, on May 14 the second non-agricultural export since the imposition of the blockade, consisting of one truckload carrying 2,000 sweaters, left Gaza to the UK.8 This follows Israel’s December 2010 commitment to allow exports of textiles, furniture and agricultural goods from Gaza to markets abroad.9 Efforts to organize this shipment began in late 2011. Implementation was delayed by the extended negotiations over product pricing, as well as discussions with Israeli authorities over verification of the input’s place of origin (i.e. via legitimate crossings or the Tunnel network). Textile exports have traditionally been an important part of the Gazan industrial and export sectors, and have been badly hurt since the imposition of the blockade. Out of a monthly average of 950 truckloads of exports in the first half of 2007, 45 consisted of textiles. The monthly average of exports in 2011 was just 23 truckloads—only 2.5 per cent of the early 2007 volumes.
While this month’s exports are a positive step forward that may facilitate further textile and other exports, this single garment sale does little to reinvigorate the debilitated Gazan export sector, the foundation of the local economy. A real and sustained improvement of the Gazan economy requires the lifting of restrictions on the import of construction materials and other inputs, currently defined by Israel as ‘restricted’ items, improved packing and processing procedures at Kerem Shalom, and market access to Israel and the West Bank, Gaza’s historical export markets.
2. Information provided by Wadi Hilweh Information Centre in Silwan of East Jerusalem.
3. Hundreds of other residents are at-risk of displacement if the Israeli authorities execute outstanding demolition orders in the area. See June 2010 and September 2010 issues of the Humanitarian Monitor for additional details on the current situation in Silwan.
4. Legal statute 5731, Youth (Trial, Punishment and Modes of Treatment) Law, 1971, with amendment No. 14, 2008. No Minor Matter, Violation of the Rights of Palestinian Minors Arrested by Israel on Suspicion of Stone Throwing, B’Tselem
5. On 21 January 2012, DCI-PS submitted 36 cases to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture (and others) for further investigation. percentages quoted herein are based on the report, which covers a six month period between July and December 2011. DCI/PS,“In their own Words: A report on the situation facing Palestinian children detained in the Israeli military court system,” January 2012. Available at: http://www.dci-pal.org.
7. WHO Update, Shortages of Essential Medicines and Disposables in Palestinian Ministry of Health Facilities, West Bank and Gaza, June 6, 2012.
8. This was made possible only after several months of negotiations between Israeli authorities and a range of international actors, including the British Government and its development office, and Office of the Quartet Representative
9. In January the first furniture shipment since 2007 and the 2010 GoI decision was exported from Gaza to Jordan.