Overview - Key Issues
Government Workers' Strikes Escalate
During April further strikes, including amongst PA doctors, nurses, teachers and local municipal workers, continue to impact the provision of essential services. The strikes have continued in response to the non-regular payment of salaries.
Health sector strike:
The PA health sector remains on strike for the third month in the West Bank (a previous strike lasted for more than three months in 2006/07). The striking unions also announced an escalation in the strike from 28 April as no agreement was reached with the PA. The escalation calls for the closure of all Primary Healthcare Clinics (PHC), including for the limited immunisation services that until now had been provided every two weeks. Life saving treatment is only provided at hospitals.
Local municipalities strike:
In early April, local municipal employees in the Gaza Strip announced a reduction in services and two weeks later conducted a three-day strike (between 16 and 18 April) to protest the non-payment of their salaries. Strike action was suspended after the Palestinian (PM) Prime Minister agreed to provide USD 1 million in immediate cash assistance (however, staff salaries alone are estimated at USD 2 million per month). Striking workers demand payment of their salaries and for the PA to establish an emergency fund for municipalities.
The situation remains very volatile. A renewal of the strike could result in the accumulation of garbage and other hazardous waste on Gazan streets as well as impacting the functioning of the sewage and water networks. Over the course of the short strike in April thousands of tonnes of solid waste built up on Gaza city streets.
Threats of and rolling strikes in other sectors:
All PA employees held a one-day warning strike in the first week of April. In addition, PA teachers and Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MoEHE) staff conducted full and partial strikes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip throughout the month.
Rising poverty and declining access to services in the wake of the PA institutional crisis. A recent survey commissioned by Oxfam has found that 80% of the 667 households interviewed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip reported that their household income had been reduced in the year following the PA institutional crisis. (1)
More than half of the households surveyed said they had received allowances through the TIM. In Gaza, 53% said that their household income had fallen by more than half and 21% said their household income had stopped altogether (results were slightly less dramatic in the West Bank at 42% and 14% respectively).
The survey also found that households were resorting to negative coping mechanisms such as borrowing money, selling possessions, reducing healthcare and food consumption and taking children out of school. 88% of people interviewed also reported that their access to services had been affected, 52% stating that it had reduced by more than half. The survey also found that Palestinians are very pessimistic about their immediate future with 40% predicating that their situation would get worse.
Severe agricultural losses in Hebron Governorate
An unusual late frost this month in the Hebron governorate caused massive losses in the agricultural sector, particularly in the areas of Beit Ummar, Halhul, Hebron City, Sa'air and Wad Al Aroub, according to the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) (2). Grape vines were the worst hit, impacting approximately 4,000 hectares of vineyards (or 70% of the total cultivated area for grapes). At least 30% of almond groves (covering an area of 2,700 hectares) were impacted. In addition, an estimated 2,000 hectares of crops including wheat grains and legumes were affected while losses in irrigated vegetables have reached 100% in some areas, especially in Al Beqa' region, east of Hebron City.(3) An estimated 6,000 of the poorest farmers have been impacted by the losses, with their situation exacerbated with the limited response of the PA due to the ongoing institutional crisis. FAO and the MoA are currently conducting a comprehensive assessment on the losses, to determine the appropriate response.
Continuous closures in and around Nablus city: expansion of Huwwara checkpoint
Palestinian residents of Nablus city continue to face severe closures as Nablus is encircled by eight IDF checkpoints, six Israeli settlements, two IDF military bases and a network of roads reserved primarily for Israeli use.
During April, only 10% of Nablus buses (22 out of 220) and 7% of Nablus taxis (150 out of 2,250) had permits to access and use the checkpoints. Only 50 private Palestinian cars were permitted to go in and out of the city. Consequently, most Palestinians go through the checkpoints on foot, and depend on two different vehicles – one at each side of the checkpoint – for their transportation. The IDF state that the closures are necessary to protect Israeli civilians.
The two main checkpoints, Huwwara and Beit Iba face long queues and delays. The IDF have recently started extensive construction work to expand Huwwara checkpoint into a terminal that will handle 700 people per hour according to the Israeli DCL in Nablus. The project is scheduled to finish in late summer 2007 and will cost approximately USD 2.3 million.
According to the IDF plan, there will be four lanes – threeexit lanes and one entry lane – and a large parking lot on each side. Beit Iba checkpoint is also planned to be expanded although not to the same extent as Huwwara. According to the IDF, the upgrade to the checkpoints will reduce queues and delays. The UN remains concerned that IDF construction will make these internal checkpoints in the West Bank permanent.
1. Oxfam survey of household heads and other adults in West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza. Carried out by Palestinian Centre for Public Opinion, 12 – 19 March 2007, Available at www.oxfam.org. See also Oxfam. Poverty in Palestine: the human cost of the financial boycott, 1 April 2007. Donors' meeting held at WHO premises in Jerusalem on 1 March, 2007
2. Information provided by Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture situation report and OCHA.
3. Estimates of economic damage to production are underway by the MoA Technical Assessment Commission.