The first month of 2014 provided a reminder about the pivotal role of access restrictions in generating humanitarian vulnerability among large parts of the population in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt).
During January, the border crossing with Egypt opened for only six out of 31 days, severely impairing the access of people to services, both within and outside Gaza, health in particular. By the end of the month, there were some 1,200 registered patients waiting to travel to Egypt for specialized medical treatments, which in many cases are not available in Gaza. The erratic opening of the crossing also halted the shipment of medical aid, which up until July 2013 had accounted for 30 per cent of the medicines supplied to the Ministry of Health, as well as the entry of medical missions.
The almost total halt in the smuggling of building materials through the tunnels since July 2013, together with the Israeli total ban on the import of these materials for the private sector, has led to a gradual depletion of the stocks available in the market and to the freezing of most construction activities. Consequently, it is estimated that over the past few months about 30,000 workers have lost their jobs bringing the unemployment rate by the end of 2013 to 41.5 per cent, the highest in over three years.
January also witnessed a worrying rise in incidents of live fire by Israeli forces at civilians in the access restricted areas (ARA) along Gaza’s fence with Israel, resulting in the killing of two civilians, including a boy, and the injury of another 22. This contrasts with the dramatic drop in civilian casualties observed in the ARA during 2013 (the lowest since 2000). The use of live fire to enforce access restrictions not only puts civilian lives at risk while the restrictions undermine already fragile agricultural livelihoods.
Access restrictions and security threats have been impacting agricultural livelihoods in some areas of the West Bank as well. A number of incidents this month highlighted the systematic nature of Israeli settler violence around two specific settlement areas in Nablus Governorate: Yitzhar and Bracha, and the Shilo settlement outposts. Of particular concern is the fact that one of the main measures adopted by the Israeli army to address settler violence in these areas has been the closure of private Palestinian land by military order, requiring farmers to apply for “prior coordination” to cultivate their land.
In the West Bank, access restrictions (movement and use) are also a main driver of displacement, particularly in areas designated as “firing zones”. These areas encompass nearly 30 per cent of Area C and are home to 6,200 people and source of livelihood (mainly grazing) of additional 12,000. This month the Israeli authorities demolished 92 structures in such areas along the Jordan Valley, displacing 160 people. The Humanitarian Coordinator for the oPt, James Rawley, expressed concern about these demolitions, as well as about the obstruction to the delivery of assistance to those displaced.
On the other hand, during January, the Israeli authorities declared a temporary lull in demolitions and an easing of access restrictions in another “firing zone” in southern Hebron, where a mediation process between the residents and the authorities is currently taking place.
Alleviating the impact of access restrictions, particularly on food security and access to services, is one of the main goals of the Strategic Response Plan (SRP), which began to be implemented this month by the humanitarian community in the oPt, appealing for US$390 million in 2014. While the SRP can mitigate some of this hardship, addressing its root causes requires policy changes, primarily the removal of current access restrictions, including relating to land and resources, to the fullest extent possible.