The Gaza blockade entered its third year this June. This blockade has been characterized by the UN’s most senior humanitarian official, John Holmes, as a form of collective punishment on the entire Gazan population. The blockade was imposed by Israel after the Hamas organization took control over the security apparatus in the Gaza Strip in June 2007. Since then, Gaza’s largest and best equipped commercial crossing, Karni, has been shut down; the amount of imports allowed in have been reduced to approximately 20 percent of the level before the imposition of the blockade and limited, to a large extent, to food, medical and hygiene products; exports were entirely banned, except for a few exceptional truckloads of flowers. These measures have devastated the private sector economy and resulted in the closure of 95 percent of the previously operating businesses and the loss of 120,000 jobs. Moreover, the ongoing ban on the import of construction materials is preventing the reconstruction of 6,300 homes, destroyed or seriously damaged during the “Cast Lead” military offensive, as well as dozens of schools and health facilities.
The supply of electricity also continues to be severely constrained by the blockade due to insufficient industrial fuel supplies and the inability to import parts to repair damage to the electricity network from “Cast Lead”. Since the beginning of 2009, the Gaza Electricity Distribution Company (GEDCO) received only a few of truckloads of electric items, which were used to rehabilitate a limited number of electrical networks; there are currently 150 electrical materials (e.g. high voltage cables, transformers, wires and switches) at zero stock level and approximately 400 others in short supply. During June, there were daily electrical outages ranging from 6 to 8 hours affecting 90 percent of the Gazan population, while the remaining 10 percent have not received electricity at all due to unrepaired damages incurred by the network during “Cast Lead”. With the heavy summer heat, these outages are directly affecting refrigerated foods and air conditioning supply in individual households, as well as the provision of essential services like water and sanitation, health care and medicine storage, and waste disposal. As a result, public institutions are forced to rely extensively on backup generators fueled by diesel, which for the last seven months has been imported only through the tunnels under the border with Egypt, due to a ban imposed on its import through the official crossings (except for small quantities for hospitals).
The severity of this situation led 38 humanitarian organizations to issue this month a unified statement calling for the free and uninhibited access of all humanitarian assistance to the Gaza Strip, in line with applicable international agreements. The statement described the atmosphere of deprivation and the deepening sense of hopelessness and despair among people in Gaza as unacceptable and concluded that the men, women and children of Gaza should be shown an alternative of hope and dignity before the situation deteriorates further.
West Bank, including East Jerusalem
Demolitions and resultant displacement in East Jerusalem and Area C continue
Area C: rise in closed military areas’ demolitions
OCHA recorded more demolitions in Area C in June than in any month since it developed its Protection of Civilians database in mid-2005. During the month, 109 Palestinian-owned structures, including 27 residential tents, were demolished, resulting in the displacement of 162 Palestinians. Of these, eight were self-demolitions of structures at-risk of demolition.
OCHA data suggests that demolitions and displacement in Area C are on the rise: in the first six months of 2009, there was a monthly average of 27 demolitions and 53 people displaced in Area C, 29 and 26 percent higher, respectively, than the 2008 monthly averages. Over 80 percent of the Palestinians recorded by OCHA as displaced in Area C in 2009 were residing in areas declared closed by the Israeli military. This trend was clear in June, when all of the displacement occurred in closed military zones.5 The majority of people (79 percent) were displaced after the Israeli authorities distributed evacuation orders to 18 families from Khirbet ar Ras al Ahmar, a herding community located in a closed military zone in the northern Jordan Valley. During the forced evacuation, the Israeli authorities demolished by bulldozer 15 residential tents, 30 animal pens and 18 traditional ‘taboun’ ovens. Some two weeks later, the Israeli authorities demolished 30 structures belonging to two other Jordan Valley communities, both also located in closed military zones.
Of particular concern are recent measures adopted by the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA), affecting two schools built in Bedouin communities in Area C. One school, located in the Jordan Valley north of Jericho City, is currently comprised of five classrooms: two cement structures, one tent, and two zinc extensions. During the last academic year it was attended by about 60 children from the Ka’abna Bedouin community, from the first to the seventh grades. Due to the acute shortage of space, the Belgium Corporation has funded the purchase of two additional caravans by the Palestinian Ministry of Education. The caravans have been waiting in storage in Nablus since February 2009 and could not be installed, because the ICA has refused to issue the required permit, citing an existing plan to re-locate the Ka’abna community, including the school, to another area.
The other school, located next to the industrial zone of Mishor Adumim settlement (on the side of Highway 1), received a stop construction order from the ICA. This school, which was only recently constructed, is planned to serve in the coming academic year as a kindergarten and school for approximately 100 children between 4 and 7 years old from the Bedouin community of Arab Al Jahalin. The construction of the school was triggered by the desire to prevent the drop out of children currently walking to PA schools located a few kilometres away from their community (in Jericho City and Al Eizarriya town) due to the lack of transportation means by their families.6 In addition, the new location will prevent the potential hazards facing the children while walking along the highway. According to a community representative, at least four children from the community were reportedly killed in road accidents on highway 1 in the past two years. The new building, which was constructed with the support of an Italian and Israeli human rights NGOs, is ecologically friendly and was built with mud and recycled materials.
The survey found that house demolitions are followed by long periods of instability; over 71 percent of surveyed families reported that they moved at least twice following the demolition of their home and over 60 percent took at least two years to find a permanent residence. According to the survey, in the immediate aftermath of a demolition children face gaps in education, a reduced standard of living and limited access to basic services, such as water and health. The survey found that emotional and behavioural problems persist even after the six month period immediately following the demolition. Symptoms of psychological distress found among children included: increased aggression; depression; difficulty concentrating and bedwetting problems, among others. Anecdotal information gathered during the survey suggests that longer-term affects on education occur, including lower academic achievement rates and early drop out.
Based on its findings, the report recommends that all stakeholders – Israel, the Palestinian Authority, the international community and donor governments – act immediately to respond to house demolitions in a way that fulfills their legal obligations and meets the needs of families displaced by the demolition of their homes.
First half of 2009: decrease in Palestinian casualties
In the West Bank, during June, one Palestinian was killed and 90 Palestinians and 14 Israelis were injured in the context of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. More than one-third (35) of all Palestinian injuries were due to Israeli-settler related incidents, 27 directly by settlers and eight by Israeli security forces; more than 70 percent of these injuries (25) occurred in unarmed clashes in the Silwan and At Tur neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. Most of the remaining Palestinian casualties occurred in the first two weeks of the month: one Palestinian was killed and 15 others were injured in anti-Barrier demonstrations, and 11 Palestinians were injured at or near checkpoints. In the last two weeks of the month, nine members of Israeli security forces, but no Palestinians, were injured in anti-Barrier demonstrations.
In the first six months of 2009 there has been an overall decrease in the number of Palestinian casualties compared to the previous six months of 2008. A total of 15 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces between January and June 2009, compared to 19 from July to December 2008. During this period, three Israelis, including one child, were killed by Palestinians, compared to two in the second half of 2008. The overall number of Palestinians injured from January-June 2009 is also approximately 25 percent (562) below the parallel figure for the second half of 2008 (746), with significant differences in the distribution of injuries across different types of incidents.
Organised violence: Israeli-settlers continue to “exact a price”
In West Bank areas not including East Jerusalem, despite relatively low numbers of Palestinian injuries by Israeli setters (7 injuries in June vs. average monthly 10 injuries Jan-May 09), property vandalism by Israeli settlers was widely reported in the northern and southern districts. Throughout the month, more than 1,500 trees were reported burnt or cut down and hundreds of dunums of other crops, including wheat and barley, were also burnt by Israeli settlers. These events come in the context of an explicit strategy among Israeli settlers to exact a “price” for every attempt to dismantle a settlement outpost. This strategy was implemented on several occasions in 2008, with settlers mobilizing in large groups to attack Palestinians and their properties following attempts to dismantle settlement outposts. The “price tag” strategy8 indicates that Israeli settler attacks against Palestinians are not isolated incidents, but are in fact highly organized and tactically used to achieve political ends.
The “price tag” strategy, compounded by lax law enforcement on settler violence, is a clear protection concern.9 During the month, the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem issued a statement protesting the closure of the police investigation file of an incident where Israeli settlers beat Palestinian shepherds near Susiya settlement (Hebron) with truncheons in June 2008, on grounds of “offender unknown”.10 B’Tselem also reported the Jerusalem District Attorney’s Office’s intention to withdraw the indictment against an Israeli settler who was filmed shooting a Palestinian at point blank range during the evacuation of the Rajabi House settlement in Hebron city in December 2008.11
As part of these measures one checkpoint controlling the southern route into Qalqiliya City (‘Izbat Jal’ud) was completely dismantled. Four other checkpoints controlling key routes into the above mentioned cities are no longer staffed on a permanent basis and some of their infrastructure was removed: ‘Asira Ash Shamaliya (north Nablus), Qalqiliya DCO (east Qalqiliya), ‘Atara (north Ramallah), and Jericho DCO (south Jericho). Since these changes were implemented, Israeli soldier have occasionally performed checks at all of these four checkpoints for short periods of times. Regarding Nablus, while six permanently staffed checkpoints around the city remain intact (including Huwwara, Awarta, Beit Iba, At Tur, Beit Furik and Shave Shomoron), the permit requirements for vehicles leaving the city, previously implemented on some of these checkpoints, were lifted, and checks began to be performed only on a random basis [on the impact on Nablus commercial life see next section]. In addition, during the month OCHA documented the removal of 19 unstaffed obstacles throughout the West Bank.
By contrast, access of Palestinians with West Bank IDs to East Jerusalem from the north was further constrained. As of 14 June, Palestinians holding special permits must register at the Qalandiya checkpoint when entering and leaving, by having their magnetic cards and hand scanned.
The above measures took place in the context of a wider process of entrenchment of some of the mechanisms used to control and restrict Palestinian movement. This process includes, among other elements, the expansion of the “fabric of life” road network and of key permanently staffed checkpoints.12 While in some cases these measures have eased access, they exact a price from Palestinians in terms of land loss, disruption of traditional routes, and deepening fragmentation of West Bank territory.
To date, following the latest changes, there are a total of 613 closure obstacles within the West Bank territory (excluding checkpoints located on the Green Line), which obstruct the internal movement of Palestinians, including access into East Jerusalem. Despite some definitional differences, this figure has been confirmed by the IDF Central Command and OCHA, following detailed crosschecking and a series of joint field trips. Out of the 613 closure obstacles, 68 are permanently staffed checkpoints (five fewer than one month ago). Thirty-eight (38) of these checkpoints are located on West Bank roads, eventually leading into East Jerusalem and Israel, most of them along the Barrier; these checkpoints block Palestinian access to West Bank communities and land on the other side of the checkpoint. In addition, there are 522 unstaffed obstacles (roadblocks, earthmounds, earth walls, road barriers, road gates and trenches), and 23 “partial checkpoints”, which are points of control staffed on an ad-hoc basis.
Not included in the 613 figure, but equally important, are 84 obstacles blocking Palestinian access and movement within the Israeli controlled area of Hebron City (H2), 63 crossing points along the Barrier, also known as “Barrier gates” which control Palestinian movement into West Bank areas on the west side of the Barrier, and an average of 70 random (“flying”) checkpoints deployed every week since the beginning of 2009.
The closure obstacles constitute only one of several layers of a complex system of access restrictions applicable to Palestinians, which include, inter alia, restrictions on the use of main roads, the Barrier and its permit regime, closed military zones and nature reserves, and Israeli settlements and adjacent “buffer zones”.
Nablus City: gradual revival of commercial activity following access easing
According to information provided to OCHA by the Nablus Chamber of Commerce (CoC), since the beginning of 2009, Nablus City has seen a slow, albeit significant, revival of the commercial activity that has been stunted by the closure of the previous eight years.13 This revival has been attributed, to a large extent, to the measures implemented by the Israeli authorities in the past few months, which have eased access to and from the city. Particularly significant in this regard are the lifting of the restrictions on the access of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship into the city on Saturdays and the revocation of the “back-to-back” and permit system imposed on commercial trucks.
Palestinians with Israeli citizenship generate considerable income for Palestinian cities located in the northern West Bank, due to the short distance between these cities and some of the main Palestinian towns inside Israel, the relatively high purchase power of this population, and the attractive prices offered in West Bank markets for some goods compared to prices in Israel. The prohibition on the entry of Israeli citizens into Area A, including Nablus City, has been enforced since the beginning of the second Intifada in September 2000. The Nablus CoC estimates that the number of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship who have entered Nablus City increased from a few hundred in April 2009 to a weekly average of 3,000 in June. The value of sales during Saturdays has increased accordingly from 1 million NIS a day to around 2 million NIS.
Since 2003 and until recently, commercial trucks entering or leaving Nablus City through the Awarta checkpoint were required to have either a special permit or the performance of the “back-to-back” procedure, which entailed offloading and reloading goods. In addition, a number of items, including fuel and wheat, could be transported without a permit only on Israeli-plated trucks. Overall, the “back-to-back” procedure considerably increased transaction costs, caused damages to goods, and reduced the competitiveness of Palestinian goods. Nablus traders reported incurring additional transaction costs ranging between 100 to 300 NIS per truck, as a result of the “back-to-back” procedure. While direct estimates on losses and damage of goods are not available, the CoC reports that truckloads of sugar, cement and furniture were the most affected by the system, incurring losses of an estimated 200-300 NIS per truckload.
The CoC estimates that following the removal of the restrictions at the Awarta checkpoint the daily average of trucks has increased from 250 truckloads to 700-750. Moreover, despite the increase in traffic volume, the lifting of the “back-to-back” procedure allowed a significant reduction in the average waiting time, from two hours in past years to a current average of 20 minutes.
Nablus City, which is the main economic and services hub in the northern West Bank, has the highest concentration of businesses vis-à-vis the rest of the governorate than any other West Bank city; one-third out of 42,884 businesses in the Nablus governorate are located in Nablus City, compared to, for example, Ramallah and Hebron cities, which host less than 10 percent of the businesses in their respective governorates.14 As a result, the impact of the tight closure on Nablus City and the resultant shrinkage of commerce activity have had a greater impact than similar restrictions imposed on other West Bank cities. Between 2002 and 2006, unemployment rates in the governorate fluctuated at around 25 percent of the labour force, up from 7 percent in the third quarter of 2000, before the outbreak of the second Intifada.15 From 2007 onwards, unemployment levels began to gradually decline, alongside a reduction in violent incidents and a slight relaxation on checks at some checkpoints, compared to previous years, and reached 13 percent in the first quarter of 2009.
Restrictions at checkpoints continue to hamper UN Operations
Access restrictions imposed by Israeli security personnel at checkpoints, those along the Barrier in particular, continue to hamper UN operations in the West Bank. During June, UN staff members reported a total of 71 incidents involving access delays or denials at checkpoints, resulting in the loss of 1,303 staff hours (or the equivalent of 173 UN staff days).16 While the number of incidents in June constitutes a mild increase of 18 percent compared to May (60), the increase in the number of lost hours is more than fivefold, reflecting the larger number of staff members involved in each incident (238).
Overall, the total number of incidents recorded in the first half of 2009 was 20 percent lower than the parallel figure during 2008 (542 compared to 676) and the total number of lost hours decreased by 72 percent (3,331 compared to 11,856).
More than half (56 percent) of the reported incidents in June involved Israeli security personnel demanding to search UN vehicles. The large majority of this type of incident occurred at the two main Barrier checkpoints controlling vehicular access into East Jerusalem from the north and the south - Qalandiya and Tunnels checkpoints respectively. According to the UN Convention on Privileges and Immunities (1946), of which Israel is a signatory, UN property and assets are immune from search; therefore, UN staff is instructed not to allow vehicle searches.
In addition, a number of other incidents were triggered by the demand of Israeli security personnel to UN national staff not holding an identification card issued by the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to exit their vehicle and undergo a physical check.
Water shortages in Ramallah and Jerusalem governorates
The increase in the water demand during June, mainly due to the beginning of the summer, coupled with the water shortage crisis ongoing for the last decades, has led to deterioration in the water supply to many communities connected to the water network throughout the West Bank.17
According to the WaSH (Water and Sanitation, Hygiene) cluster, the latter include communities in the Ramallah and Jerusalem governorates, which are served by the Jerusalem Water Undertaking (JWU), a Palestinian public utility distributing water purchased from the Israeli Water Company, Mekorot. The affected population served by the JWU is estimated at 70,000 out of 320,000 people residing in 58 communities, including relatively large towns and villages such as Birzeit, Abu Qash, Kobar and Beit Hanina. Most households in these communities are receiving water intermittently, with some of them being supplied only once every ten days.
As a result, affected households are forced to increasingly rely on the purchase of water from privately owned water-tankers. As noted by the World Bank, the price of water from non-network sources is about four times higher than the price of water supplied by network sources, thus severely impacting poor households.18
While these areas have been affected by discontinuous water supply during previous summers, the current situation constitutes a further deterioration. The main reason for this is the decision by Mekorot to cut the water supply to the JWU by 15 percent - from 34,000 to 29,000 cubic metres a day - implemented since November 2008.
The blockade entered its third year: 1.5 million people denied dignity due to the political Stalemate
The blockade imposed by Israel on Gaza, which has entered its third year, continued to undermine the livelihoods of Gaza’s population and prevent the reconstruction of houses and infrastructure destroyed during the last armed conflict. According to media reports, on 10 June, the Israeli security cabinet adopted a decision whereby any relaxation in the blockade regime would be dependant upon progress in the negotiations for the release of the captured Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit.19
During June, there was a 15 percent decline in the number of truckloads allowed into Gaza, compared to May 2009 (2,583 compared to 2,960). The total constituted only 21 percent of the monthly average of truckloads that entered Gaza in the first five months of 2007 (12,350), before the blockade. Truckloads imported by humanitarian agencies constituted 29% of the imports, while the rest were imported by the commercial sector.
Israel’s 22 March 2009 decision to enable the unrestricted entry of all foodstuffs, provided that the source is approved by the Israeli authorities, remains unimplemented. Therefore, while truckloads carrying food products made up 77 percent of all imports during June (1,989), some items, including baby formula, tea, some canned food and jam, remain barred.
This month, limited quantities of new items, including agricultural fertilizers, car tyres, house repair tools and cattle, entered Gaza, some of them for the first time since November 2008. In addition, 18 truckloads of cement and gravel, to be used for the expansion of the Palestinian side of the Kerem Shalom crossing, were allowed entry. While limited quantities of construction materials were allowed in during the previous months for public infrastructure projects, this is the first shipment directed at private enterprises allowed in since 4 November 2008.
Construction materials needed to rebuild and repair houses and infrastructure damaged in the last Israeli military offensive, including cement, gravel, wood, glass and steel bars, remained barred. The results of a joint UNRWA-UNDP housing survey indicate that 3,600 housing units were totally destroyed, 2,700 sustained major damage and 52,000 houses need minor repair. Other essential items, including clothing, school textbooks, livestock, raw materials for industries, steel pipes, and spare parts for the sewage, water and electrical networks, also remained severely restricted or entirely barred.
The amount of cooking gas which entered Gaza in June represented only half the amount that entered during May 2009. According to the Gas Stations Owners Association (GSOA), the shortage of cooking gas during June resulted in the 22 cooking gas distribution centres operating two days a week only. In contrast, there was a slight increase in the amount of industrial fuel to operate the Gaza Power Plant (9.5 million litres), in comparison with May (9.3 million litres). This amount, however, represents only around 70 percent of the monthly needs, as estimated by the Power Plant Authority. As a result of shortages of industrial fuel, combined with the lack of spare parts needed for the Power Plant, scheduled power cuts throughout the Gaza Strip have remained in place (See section on electricity below).
The total ban on the import of petrol and diesel for private use has continued since 2 November 2008. According to the GSOA, petrol and diesel have continued to enter through the tunnels located under the Egypt-Gaza border on a daily basis since mid-March 2009. Tunnels remain an important economic lifeline for Gaza’s population, supplying the market with goods barred from entering Gaza through the Israeli-controlled crossings.
During the month, no exports were allowed out of Gaza. Before the imposition of the blockade in June 2007, the average volume of exports was 1,380 truckloads per month or 60 truckloads per day, carrying a range of products, including furniture, garments, cash crops, vegetables, processed food, metal products and handicrafts.20 According to the November 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access (AMA) between the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Israel should allow the export of 400 truckloads per day from Gaza.
Increase in demand for electricity led to longer power cuts
The supply of electricity within Gaza continued to be severely constrained by the ongoing blockade, which has resulted in a reduction in the capacity of the Gaza Power Plant (GPP) and in the inability to repair damage incurred by the electricity network during the “Cast Lead” offensive.
Current production levels of the GPP are approximately three quarters of its full capacity (60 out of 80 MW),mainly due to the Israeli decision, implemented since November 2007, to cut the amounts of industrial fuel imported into Gaza. This cut followed a dramatic reduction in the previous 140 MW production capacity in June 2006, when the Israeli airforce targeted and destroyed six electric transformers at the GPP, immediately after the capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
In addition, since the beginning of 2009, the Gaza Electricity Distribution Company (GEDCO) received only a few truckloads of electrical items, which were used to rehabilitate a limited number of electrical networks; there are currently 150 electric materials (e.g. high voltage cables, transformers, wires and switches) at zero stock level and approximately 400 others in short supply.
GEDCO estimates summer demand to be 250 MW (megawatts), thus creating an electricity deficit of 53 MW, or 21 percent of the demand, compared to the current supply (197 MW). 21 As a result, 90 percent of Gaza’s population experienced daily power cuts of 6-8 hours during June, up from five hours during February-May 2009. The remaining 10 percent, who reside mainly in Jabalia, Beit Lahiya, east of Khan Younis and some areas in Gaza City, have been without electricity since the beginning of “Cast Lead” in late December 2008, following damage caused to the electricity network. The extension of the power cuts has increased the reliance of public institutions and service providers on electrical generators, the operation of which depend on the import of diesel and spare parts through the tunnels.
Violence continues to affect civilian lives
Sporadic incidents of violence, which include clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian factions, shooting incidents at people in restricted land and sea areas, and Israeli air strikes, continued to undermine the security and livelihoods of civilians inside the Gaza Strip.
During June, a total of six Palestinians died and 11 others were injured in the context of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, compared to four killed and six injured in May. Since the announcement of the unilateral ceasefires on 18 January 2009, a total of 30 Palestinians have been killed and 39 others injured. Palestinian armed factions fired sporadic rounds of rudimentary rockets and mortar shells towards southern Israel, resulting in no Israeli injuries.
Among this month’s fatalities, four were alleged armed militants killed in an armed clash with Israeli forces near the Gaza-Israel border. This was the deadliest incident since the announcement of unilateral ceasefires on 18 January 2009. The other two fatalities died of wounds sustained during the “Cast Lead” offensive, including an 11-year-old Palestinian boy. In addition to the six fatalities, two construction workers were killed this month while they were trying to demolish some of existing structure of a house that was damaged during “Cast Lead”.
Four fishermen and one farmer were injured this month, after Israeli forces opened fire in their direction, enforcing restrictions on access to sea and land. This practice not only endangers the lives of civilians but severely undermine the livelihoods of farmers and fishermen. Access restrictions to areas adjacent to the border with Israel and to deeper waters have been tightened in the previous months. On three separate incidents this month, Israeli naval troops damaged two Palestinian fishing boats, confiscated another two boats and arrested six fishermen. According to the Gaza Fishermen’s Syndicate, the main concern is the lack of consistent channels of communication between the fishermen and the Israeli patrol boats. In addition, on several occasions, Israeli tanks and bulldozers conducted land leveling operations in areas adjacent to the borders, next to Al Bureij Camp, East of Jabalia and Al Maghazi camp, causing further destruction of already damaged land during the recent Israeli offensive.
Civilian’s lives also continued to be jeopardized also by internal Palestinian violence. During this month, four Palestinians were killed and another seven were injured in various incidents, including family feuds, the reckless use of weapons and in unclear circumstances. Fatalities include: a 21 years-old woman hanged by her family after being accused of “immoral behavior”; a man killed when an explosive charge prematurely blew up east of Khan Younis; and two men found dead east of Deir Al Balah and Beit Hanoun in unclear circumstances.
Palestinian casualties resulting from tunnel-related incidents
During June, the import of goods into Gaza through the tunnels under the Egyptian-Gaza border around Rafah continued unabated with reports that more and deeper tunnels are in operation.
This dangerous activity continued to exact a heavy human price: during June three Palestinians were reportedly killed and 14 others were injured. The three deaths and ten of the injuries resulted from tunnel collapse and electrocution, while the remaining four were injured when the Israeli air force fired missiles targeting tunnels. In one of the collapse incidents that resulted in the death of one man, six Palestinians were trapped in a tunnel, but later rescued. Additionally, on 12 June, four Palestinians were injured when the Egyptian security forces reportedly destroyed 14 tunnels. This brings the total number of fatalities and injuries registered by OCHA in these circumstances in the first half of 2009 to 27 and 47 respectively, compared to a total of 46 fatalities and 69 injuries reported throughout 2008.
Increase in access of patients to specialized treatment outside Gaza
During June, the Referral Abroad Department of the Palestinian Ministry of Health issued 1,356 referral documents for patients in need of medical treatment unavailable in public hospitals in Gaza, of which 38 percent were for hospitals in East Jerusalem, Jordan and Israel, 27 percent for Egyptian hospitals, and 35 percent were for NGO hospitals in Gaza. The total number of referrals was one quarter above the parallel figure during May.
Of the 690 applications for permits submitted to the Israeli authorities during June (including for referrals issued in May) to leave Gaza through the Erez crossing, 68 percent were approved, two percent denied, and 30 percent were under review by the end of the month. About seven percent of the applicants, all of whom are included in the last category (“under review”), were requested to meet with representatives of Israel’s Security Agency (formerly the GSS) in order to have their applications processed. Overall, according to the Palestinian Liaison Officer at Erez, a total of 465 patients were able to leave Gaza through Erez during June, constituting a 53 percent increase compared to the parallel figure during the previous month (304) and an 11% decline compared to the monthly average of 524 patients in 2008 (524).
In addition, a total of 559 patients crossed to Egypt through the Rafah border crossing, 19 of them in the first two weeks of June and the rest during a three-day opening towards the end of the month. The table below shows the number of patients who crossed into Egypt through Rafah Crossing since the beginning of the year 2009:
This month, WHO confirmed the death of two patients who died as a result of their inability to cross Rafah, which was closed over the period in which they should travel, and another one who died after his permit request to exit through Erez Crossing was denied. This brings the total death toll of patients in these circumstances since the beginning of 2009 to 20.
A number of drug items and disposables remain out of stock
According to the Gaza Central Drug Stores, of the list of 416 essential drug items and 596 essential disposable items, 72 and 111 respectively were at zero level during June. While there has been an overall decline in the number of drugs out of stock since March, an increase has been observed in the number of disposables. Even though clearance procedures implemented by the Israeli authorities at the crossings have occasionally caused delays in the supply of drugs and disposables, these shortages are related mainly to the poor management and distribution of supplies available in Gaza, the unreliability of estimated needs, inefficiencies in the procurement process, and funding shortfalls.
As part of its fact finding efforts, public hearings were held in Gaza between 26 June and 1 July. The public hearings allowed victims, survivors and witnesses to submit information and speak for themselves before the public. This was the first time that victims in Gaza had had a chance to publicly express their experiences during the conflict to a UN fact finding body. Oral testimonies were accompanied by simultaneous interpretation in Arabic/English and broadcast on a live video link to the general public, journalists, radio stations, and media agencies at the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS). A second session of public hearings took place in Geneva on 6 and 7 July to address alleged violations in Israel and the West Bank and included the views of military experts.
Other oPt issues
New Israeli procedure deepens Gaza-West Bank separation
In the context of a number of petitions filed with the Israeli High Court of Justice by a human rights group (HaMoked), challenging the prohibition of Gaza residents from relocating to the West Bank, the State Attorney submitted a new procedure defining “humanitarian cases” eligible for exceptional permits.22
After the outbreak of the second Intifada in 2000, Israel froze the updating of addresses of Gazans who had moved to the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem, which is regulated by a separate regime) in its copy of the Palestinian population registry. As a result, thousands of Gazans living in the West Bank are considered by the Israeli authorities as “illegal aliens,” and risk being expelled to the Gaza Strip. Since November 2007 Israel has required Palestinians from the Gaza Strip to apply for temporary permits to stay in the West Bank.
According to the new procedure, family relations by themselves do not qualify as a “humanitarian reason” that would warrant the issuance of a permit to relocate to the West Bank. Only orphans, chronically ill people or elderly invalids – none of whom have relatives in Gaza who can care for them – may be allowed to move to the West Bank to join first-degree relatives living there. Applicants will be given temporary permits, first for six months and then for a year, and only after seven years will the Israeli authorities consider whether to allow the applicant to reside permanently in the West Bank.
The procedure’s stricter criteria mean that couples and families divided between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have virtually no chance of reuniting. The new restrictions affect the thousands of registered Gaza residents who live in the West Bank, many of whom have spouses and children there and who will continue to face constant risk of expulsion and displacement.
According to a joint position paper published by HaMoked and another human rights group, Gisha, the new procedure violates Israel’s commitment in the Oslo Accords to treat the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as a “single territorial unit,” and formalizes the separation between the two territories. The groups assert that the procedure also violates the rights of residents of an occupied territory to freedom of movement, to choose their place of residence, and to maintain family life – all recognized in international law.
Allegations of ill-treatment and torture of Palestinian detainees, including children
The UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture (26 June) was marked this month by a number of NGOs and UN agencies in the oPt and Israel. In related events and reports the organizations raised concerns related to the treatment of Palestinian detainees in Israeli and Palestinian detention and interrogation facilities.
The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) released a report charging the Israeli authorities with ill-treatment of Palestinian detainees.23 PCATI’s research indicates that Israeli security agencies, primarily the IDF and the Israel Security Agency (formerly the GSS), regularly shackle detainees in “painful and humiliating manners” that, at times, amounts to torture. Over the past year, PCATI documented 574 cases of painful shackling, including shackling for hours and, in cases, days. According to the report, while the Israeli authorities justify the shackling of detainees on security grounds, a significant part of the documented cases occurred over the course of interrogations and during the provision of medical treatment inside highly fortified security facilities.
Defence for Children International – Palestine Section (DCI), released another report claiming that Palestinian children detained by the Israeli military are regularly exposed to ill-treatment, amounting in some cases to torture.24 Forms of violence identified by DCI include: excessive use of blindfolds and handcuffs; slapping and kicking; painful position abuse for long periods of time; denial of access to toilets; solitary confinement and sleep deprivation; and physical and psychological threats to the child and his/her family. The report raises additional concerns related to the lack of respect to the right to due process of child detainees in the Israeli military court system. Issues of particular concern include: the trial and sentencing of 16 and 17 year old children as adults; restricted access to lawyers, especially during the interrogation stage; denial of family visits; and the trial of children in regular military courts, rather than juvenile justice courts. In DCI’s experience, which represents 30-40 percent of children brought before military courts, the primary evidence against most children is a confession extracted during a “coercive interrogation.” Because of a lack of faith in the military court system, DCI reports that these children’s cases are often plea bargained in order to avoid harsher sentences and lengthy trials.
The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the oPt organized two events marking the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, in collaboration with Palestinian partner organizations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The events brought together Palestinian Authority ministries, local and international human rights organizations, UN agencies and the donor community to discuss issues related to the torture of Palestinian detainees. In particular, discussions focused on the UN Committee Against Torture’s Concluding Observations on Israel, issued in May, as well as on means of providing better support through monitoring, investigating and following-up allegations of torture in Israeli and Palestinian facilities and providing psychological and other services to survivors.
By the end of June, the CAP (Consolidated Appeals Process) had received just over half of the funds required to meet needs identified by humanitarian actors. The funding for the CAP 2009 (following the Mid Year Review in June) is now at 51% with funding worth $412 million received to date out of $803 million requested.
There were a number of rises in levels of support for under-funded sectors during the month, including Shelter (up from 11% in May to 22% in June); Health (which in May was 23% funded and is now 43%); and agriculture (34% of funds required have been received, a rise of 9% over the previous month). These increases are welcomed, however the disparity between funding levels from sector to sector continues to be of concern to implementing agencies. Contributions worth $65m have yet to be allocated to sectors.
The discrepancy in funding between projects for the Gaza Strip and the West Bank continues (Gaza-only projects are 53% funded, support for activities in the West Bank stands at 43%).
Three projects were approved for support from the Humanitarian Response Fund (HRF) during June to the value of $340,000 to deliver emergency relief to the population of Gaza in a variety of ways, including the provision of fresh food produced by Gazan farmers to vulnerable families; rehabilitation activities for those left disabled by the conflict; providing repair of infrastructure and equipment to the Blood Bank service.
The HRF balance now stands at approximately $ 1 million, however two new urgent projects are due to receive funding in the coming weeks to the value of $500,000, leaving the capacity of the HRF very low. OCHA oPt is requesting fresh support for the pool fund from existing and new donor partners.