● The killing of six unarmed civilians by Israeli forces raises concerns about possible violations of the right to life, as well as regarding a lack of accountability.
● January recorded the largest number of demolitions in Area C of the West Bank in a single month in over two years, resulting in the displacement of 250 people.
● The situation of some already vulnerable communities was exacerbated as a result of a winter storm that struck the oPt between `7 and 10 January.
In six separate incidents during the month, Israeli forces shot and killed six unarmed civilians with live ammunition, including two minors and one woman. The fact that none of the victims appeared to have posed any threat that would justify a recourse to lethal force raises serious concerns about possible violations of the right to life. The Israeli army has opened military police investigations into only four of the six cases, raising additional concerns about a lack of accountability.
Two of this month’s civilian fatalities and 13 of the civilian injuries occurred in areas in the vicinity of Gaza’s perimeter fence, alongside almost daily incidents of ‘warning fire’ by Israeli forces. This happened despite the recent expansion of the accessible areas along the fence, as well as the almost complete absence of armed clashes. Therefore, while some farmers have resumed the cultivation of land in previously inaccessible areas, given the ongoing uncertainty and insecurity, agricultural activities in areas within less than 1,000 meters from the fence have remained largely limited to rain-fed crops, which require minimal care, but generate little income. In November 2012, following the ceasefire understanding, Israel extended the permitted fishing zone from three to six nautical miles (NM) from Gaza’s coast. While the volume of fishing catch has increased, the full impact of this easing remains uncertain. This is not just because of ongoing friction between fishermen and the Israeli navy, but also due to the fact that the majority of high value fish are found beyond 12 NM from shore, where the sea bed descends and becomes rocky.
Settler violence also continued during January, with at least 26 attacks resulting in injuries or damage to Palestinian property, a slight decrease compared to the monthly average of such incidents during 2012 (29). Half of these incidents affected the livelihoods of farmers owning land in the vicinity of Israeli settlements, mostly unauthorized outposts. The lack of adequate law enforcement by the authorities remains a key factor behind the persistence of settler violence. This situation is reflected not only in the failure to hold perpetrators accountable, but also in the lack of law enforcement regarding the takeover and subsequent cultivation of Palestinian private land by Israeli settlers.
In the West Bank, January also witnessed the demolition of at least 139 Palestinian structures, including 59 residential ones, displacing 250 people. This is the highest number of structures demolished in a single month in over two years, and represents an almost three-fold increase compared with the monthly average of demolitions in 2012 and 2011. Nearly 90 per cent of this month’s demolitions took place in Area C and the remainder in East Jerusalem.
The situation of some already vulnerable communities was exacerbated as a result of a winter storm that struck the oPt between 7 and 10 January. Approximately 12,500 people in about 190 communities in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip were directly affected by the loss of, or damage to, housing and agricultural infrastructure and assets (including greenhouses, animal sheds, livestock and field crops) due to flooding and strong winds, and some 650 people were temporarily displaced.
The above vulnerabilities underline the continuous need for humanitarian interventions. To fund the interventions planned for 2013, in January the Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) in the oPt launched an appeal requesting almost $402 million, aimed at providing protection and humanitarian assistance to more than 1.8 million Palestinians. While humanitarian interventions can alleviate some of the suffering of affected individuals and communities, addressing the underlying drivers of vulnerability requires fundamental policy changes, including effective measures to protect civilian life and property and to hold perpetrators of attacks accountable, the lifting of the Gaza blockade, and allowing Palestinian development in Area C and East Jerusalem.
STRONG WINTER STORM HITS THE OPT
The storm exacerbated pre-existing vulnerabilities stemming from restrictive policies
A winter storm, among the strongest recorded in recent decades, characterized by strong winds, heavy rains, low temperatures and snowfall, struck the oPt between 7 and 10 January. . The first 48 hours witnessed uninterrupted rains, with quantities reaching over 260 mm in some areas of the northern West Bank; overall, these two days accounted for more than 40 per cent of the average seasonal rainfall. Most streams and rivers reached their limits and some overflowed. Combined with the pre-existing precarious sewage and drainage infrastructure in many areas, the heavy rains resulted in unprecedented floods. The last two days of the storm brought below-average temperatures and heavy snowfall (up to 20cm) in areas above 700 meters above sea level.
Approximately 12,500 people in about 190 communities in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip were directly affected by the storm. Palestinian casualties included three people who drowned and one who died of burn injuries in the northern West Bank; in the Gaza Strip at least one person was killed and three were injured in tunnel collapses caused by the heavy rainfall.1 Approximately 650 people were temporarily displaced.
The impact primarily relates to the loss of, or damage to, housing and agricultural infrastructure and assets (including greenhouses, animal sheds, livestock and field crops) due to flooding and strong winds. Additionally, the extreme weather also resulted in prolonged electricity cuts, interrupted access to services due to the flooding of roads, and the suspension of school classes.
In the northern West Bank, those most affected included residents of urban areas in the Tulkarm and Qaliqiliya governorates, and farmers. In the Jordan Valley and the central and southern areas of the West Bank, the Bedouin and herding communities were most affected, reporting significant losses to property as well as displacement of some families. In the Gaza Strip, Rafah sustained the most damage to housing, primarily due to flooding, and many homes in Gaza city were damaged by the high winds. Large numbers of greenhouses were also reportedly destroyed, particularly in the northern West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, and thousands of chickens died due to the low temperatures and flooding of sheds.
For many people, the storm exacerbated pre-existing vulnerabilities stemming from restrictive policies imposed on Palestinian communities:
In the West Bank, Israeli rescue teams cooperated with Palestinian teams in the search for three missing Palestinians, as well as in the rescue of a bus transporting 30 passengers, which was swept away by flooding. The Israeli authorities also offered general assistance to the Palestinian Authority, and facilitated the passage of staff and vehicles of international humanitarian organizations through West Bank checkpoints.
Notwithstanding the efforts of local actors to respond rapidly to humanitarian needs, these extreme weather events have highlighted the need for increased investment in disaster risk reduction systems and capacities in communities and in local and central government.
SIX UNARMED CIVILIANS KILLED BY ISRAELI FORCES*
These cases raise concerns about the right to life and lack of accountability
During the course of January 2013, six unarmed civilians, including two minors and one woman, were killed by Israeli forces in six separate incidents in the oPt, including four in the West Bank and two in the Gaza Strip. These incidents follow an increasing trend in civilian killings recorded in the West Bank since 17 November 2012, and in the Gaza Strip since the ceasefire agreement of 21 November 2012, bringing the total number of civilian fatalities through the end of January 2013 to 12. According to the Israeli Ministry of Defense (MoD), the period between September and November 2012 witnessed a significant increase in the number of attacks by Palestinian civilians directed at Israeli forces, particularly incidents involving Molotov cocktails; however, December and January witnessed a gradual decrease in such attacks.3
This month’s incidents affecting Palestinian civilians raise serious concerns about violations of the right to life and unlawful recourse to the use of force against civilians. Initial evidence indicates that all of January’s victims were shot with live ammunition, two of them in the back and another two in the head. In none of the cases did the victims appear to have posed a threat that would justify the use of live ammunition or recourse to lethal force. Two of the incidents have also underlined existing concerns regarding lack of effective investigations.
Regarding the four West Bank incidents, the IDF Military Advocate General (MAG) announced that that it has ordered the opening of an investigation by the Military Police Investigation Unit (MPIU), which is a criminal investigation that could lead to prosecution.4 These decisions follow a policy change implemented since April 2011, under which the killing of civilians by IDF forces in the West Bank should automatically lead to the opening of MPUI investigations, unless they happened during “combat activity”.
While this policy change constituted a step forward relative to the prior situation, it leaves several types of incidents unaddressed in terms of accountability, including all cases of civilian killings in the Gaza Strip, cases of civilian killings during combat activity in the West Bank, and all cases of serious injury in both areas. Such cases usually trigger an IDF “operational inquiry”, based on which the MAG may decide to open an MPIU investigation. However, as pointed out recently by an official Israeli Commission (The Turkel Commission), the operational inquiry is an inadequate mechanism to inform about the need to open a criminal investigation.5
Legal obligations of Israel
Under international law, Israel is obliged to respect the right to life, and to protect the civilian population in the oPt. In a law enforcement context, Israeli security forces are bound by the general principles on the use of force by law enforcement officials, including the principles of necessity and proportionality.7 The intentional lethal use of firearms can only be made when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.
Independent, prompt and effective investigations into incidents causing death or injury are critical to ensure accountability. Investigations should seek to determine whether the soldiers involved acted in conformity with relevant internal regulations, as well as whether these regulations are consistent with international standards. If negligent or unlawful behavior is identified during such investigations, judicial and/or disciplinary proceedings should be initiated against those responsible.
INCREASE IN VIOLENT INCIDENTS ALONG GAZA’S FENCE AND SEA WATERS
Violence occurs amidst an expansion of the accessible areas
In the context of the 21 November 2012 ceasefire agreement and subsequent understandings between Israel and Hamas, the Israeli authorities extended the permissible fishing area from three to six nautical miles (NM) from the Gaza Strip coastline, and allowed civilian access on foot to areas up to 100 meters from the perimeter fence, for agricultural purposes only, and vehicular access to a distance of 300 meters.8 Despite these easings, violent incidents resulting in Palestinian casualties and property losses continued during January, further diminishing initial hopes for a safe and continuous access of civilians to these areas.
According to the Gaza Fishermen’s Syndicate, the Hamas police issued official instructions prohibiting fishing boats from sailing beyond the six NM limit for their own safety. By contrast, there has been no official announcement, by Israel or Hamas, specifying the parameters of the new access regime to areas along the fence, nor any kind of physical demarcation, resulting in confusion and lack of clarity among those living in 14 localities located in the vicinity of the Access Restricted Areas (ARA) on land.
During January 2013, OCHA and partners recorded 30 shooting incidents by Israeli forces positioned along the perimeter fence with Israel, which resulted in the death of two civilians (see Section above) and the injury of another 13 civilians, including three minors. The Israeli army also launched three land leveling incursions within the ARA and detained at least 13 civilians, including six minors, who were allegedly trying to illegally enter Israel.
Initial information indicates that three quarters of the deaths and injuries occurred in the no-go zone closer than 100 meters from the fence, and the large majority of the victims were demonstrators.10 According to the Israeli MoD, during this ten-week period it recorded a weekly average of 85 incidents involving Palestinians attempting to reach and damage the fence.11
Anecdotal information suggests that while some farmers have resumed the cultivation of land in previously inaccessible areas, most are still reluctant to make significant investments due to the uncertainty, the insecure conditions and the access constraints. Therefore, agricultural activities in areas within less than 1,000 meters from the fence have remained largely limited to the cultivation of rain-fed crops (primarily wheat and barley), which require minimal care, but generate little income compared with more labor- intensive crops (fruit trees and greenhouses).
In the sea, a total of 13 shooting incidents by the Israeli Navy were recorded during January, none of which resulted in deaths or injuries, alongside the detention of three fishermen and the confiscation of one fishing boat. Similarly to the situation on the farming areas along the fence, by sea the post-ceasefire period was characterized by an increase in shooting incidents, detention of fishermen and confiscation of boats (see chart). The Israeli MoD reports that during this period it recorded dozens of cases where fishermen exceeded the permitted fishing areas, including to the west (the new 6 NM limit), as well as to the north and south (along the maritime border with Israel and Egypt); in January
alone, it recorded more than 5,500 such cases.12 The Israeli MoD also stated that the navy confiscates fishing boats only when a boat significantly exceeds the permitted area, or if the boat has been repeatedly involved in violations of the permitted area.
The expansion of the accessible fishing area has had a positive, albeit limited, impact on the livelihoods of fishermen. The total fishing catch reported in November 2012 represented a 46 per cent increase compared to the equivalent figure in November 2011; however, the following month recorded a modest 8 per cent increase from the previous year.13 According to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the UN, the majority of high value fish are found farther than 12 NM from shore, where the sea bed descends and becomes rocky, thus limiting the potential impact of the easing. An expansion of the accessible area to 12 NM would allow fishermen to further increase their catch, exploit high value bottom-fish, and enjoy higher economic returns.
During January, OCHA recorded 26 attacks perpetrated by Israeli settlers that resulted in injuries or damage to Palestinian property, a slight decrease compared to the monthly average of such incidents during 2012 (29 incidents). A total of nine Palestinians were injured (including by Israeli forces during settler attacks) and at least 673 trees were damaged during this month’s incidents. Also in January, Palestinians injured two Israeli settlers, including a boy, and damaged at least three vehicles belonging to settlers.
Approximately half of the incidents recorded in January affected the livelihoods of farmers owning land in the vicinity of Israeli settlements and settlement outposts, including incidents of intimidation and physical assault, shooting, vandalizing of trees and damaging other agricultural properties. Such attacks are often followed by settlers taking over land in the area of the incident starting to cultivate it; while precise figures are not available, there are hundreds of land plots privately owned by Palestinians, which are currently cultivated by settlers. In some areas, where settler attacks are recurrent, or where Palestinian land has been fenced off by settlers, the Israeli authorities allow farmers access to their land only after ‘prior coordination’. This has reduced access to these areas to a few days a year, undermining agricultural practice and productivity.
Two of this month’s most serious incidents took place on 10 January in the Nablus governorate, when groups of armed settlers from Yitzhar settlement and Esh Kodesh settlement outpost raided agricultural areas next to ‘Urif and Qusra villages, respectively, and clashed with local residents. In the case of Qusra, settlers opened fire with live ammunition, injuring one Palestinian. In both instances Israeli forces arrived at the scene and fired tear gas canisters, rubber coated bullets and live ammunition towards the Palestinian residents who threw stones at them, injuring one Palestinian in ‘Urif and four in Qusra. A total of 285 olive trees were vandalized and damaged during these incidents.
The livelihoods of farmers in the vicinity of Yitzhar and Esh Kodesh settlements have been severely undermined in recent years due to the systematic nature of settler violence. In 2012, OCHA recorded 33 attacks involving residents of these settlements that resulted in injuries or property damage (including by Israeli forces during settler attacks), in addition to dozens of other incidents of intimidation, access prevention and trespass. Multiple plots of land around these two settlements have been taken over in past months and are currently cultivated by settlers (see Box and Map on the case of Qusra village).
Intense settlement activity also took place during the month in the western Bethlehem governorate, around the Sde Bo’az (also known as “Neve Daniel north”) settlement outpost. On 8 January, settlers leveled an uncultivated plot of land belonging to the nearby Al Khadr village and installed a number of structures there. The following week, they uprooted 190 olive saplings, 45 olive trees and 50 grape vines, while completing the opening of a 700 meter-long road connecting the outpost to a southern extension of it established over the course of 2012.14
The establishment of this outpost in 2002 severely impaired the access of farmers from Al Khadr to about 5,000 dunums of cultivated land around the outpost, since the blockage of most agricultural paths into the area impeded the use of tractors and agricultural vehicles. As in other areas of the West Bank, in recent months residents of this outpost have begun to cultivate a number of plots already taken over from Palestinians.
According to Qusra’s mayor, recent attempts by farmers to recover access to various plots of land in the vicinity of Esh kodesh outpost have been unsuccessful: in one case, farmers coordinated their access with the Israeli DCL office in Nablus to plough the land, however soldiers on the ground prevented their entry claiming that the application should have been filed with the Ramallah DCL office; in another case, following a complaint filed by an Israeli human rights group, the Israeli authorities ordered the evacuation of a plot of land taken over by settlers and currently cultivated with grape vines; however, the order remains unimplemented.
During the settler attack on 10 January 2013 on an olive grove area of Qusra village (see above), Ammar Masamir, 19 years old, was shot with live ammunition in his leg, and sustained three fractured bones . “I run a barber shop in Qusra and my father used to work in a settlement. These were the only sources of income for my family, which includes eight people. After the attack my leg was operated on and since then I can’t move. The doctors said that I need at least three months before I can start physiotherapy. My father had to quit his job to keep the shop running. The incident directly worsened our economic situation”.
In the case of Jalud, following a petition to the Israeli High Court of Justice (filed by two Israeli human rights groups), the Israeli authorities declared a strip of land between Esh kodesh and Ahiya outposts as a closed military zone, where the entry of settlers is prohibited. Following subsequent coordination, farmers were allocated one day to access this area for ploughing and planting. On that day, settlers from Esh kodesh tried to prevent the farmers’ access and set fire to some crops; however, Israeli soldiers deployed in the area arrested some of the assailants and secured the completion of the agricultural work. That night, Israeli settlers raided the village, stoned several houses and cars and injured three people, including a child.
SHARP INCREASE IN AREA C DEMOLITIONS
Aid organizations face serious constraints when trying to assist displaced families
January witnessed a sharp increase in forced evictions and demolitions by the Israeli authorities of Palestinian-owned structures in the West Bank. At least 139 structures, including 59 homes and other residential structures, were destroyed in 20 separate incidents. This is the highest number of structures demolished in a single month in over two years,15 and represents an almost three-fold increase compared with the monthly average of demolitions in 2012 and 2011 (50 and 52 respectively). Nearly 90 per cent of this month’s demolitions took place in Area C and the remainder in East Jerusalem.
More than 250 Palestinians, including over 150 children, lost their residences and were forcibly displaced in January as a result of these demolitions. Almost 240 others, including over 120 children, were otherwise affected, for example due to the destruction of animal shelters or other livelihood-related structures. The largest incidents this month included the destruction of 11 structures in the community of Al Mashru, east of Jericho, on 16 January, which resulted in the displacement of 31 people; the destruction of 46 structures, displacing 60 people, in Hamamat al Maleh in the northern Jordan Valley, on 17 January; the destruction of seven structures, displacing 29 people, in Khirbet ar Rahwa, in the Hebron Governorate on 21 January; and the destruction of eight structures, displacing 33 people, in Al Jiftlik, in the Jordan Valley, on 24 January.
The demolitions were carried out on the grounds that the structures lacked Israeli-issued building permits. However, in most communities across Area C, such permits are nearly impossible to obtain. Under the planning regime applied by the Israeli authorities, virtually all public land (also known as “state land”) in Area C has been placed within the jurisdictional boundaries of Israeli settlements (local and regional councils), making it unavailable for Palestinian use. The authorities also prevent construction in most private land in Area C, on the grounds that it was zoned as agricultural land in the regional master plans approved in the 1940’s.16
The planning schemes currently in force in Palestinian communities in Area C, which enable people to build legally, only encompass about a half per cent of the land in Area C. Over the past two years, Palestinian village councils, in collaboration with civil society organizations, submitted to the Israeli authorities approximately 30 new planning schemes which reflect the needs and preferences of the affected communities. So far, however, none of these plans was given final approval.
The devastating impact of forced evictions, demolitions and displacement on families and communities has been well documented. Such actions deprive people of their homes, often their main asset, disrupt their livelihoods and obstruct access to basic services and assistance, leading to entrenched poverty and aid dependency. Such actions also raise serious concerns under international law, which prohibits the destruction of private property and the displacement or transfer of civilians in occupied territory.17 The humanitarian community has repeatedly called on the Israeli authorities to immediately halt demolitions of Palestinian homes and other property, and to establish a fair and equitable planning system to ensure that the needs of Palestinian communities in the West Bank are met.
On 29 January 2013, Fuheidat’s residents received 16 stop-construction orders targeting 12 inhabited and 3 uninhabited homes, nine animal structures and a water well, which placed 71 people, including 36 children, at risk of displacement. This is the first time a structure in this neighborhood receives such an order. Community representatives report that no home expansions or other new construction has taken place in the neighborhood since 2007, with the exception of a water well completed in December 2012.
The orders were issued on grounds that the structures lack building permits. While in the past the Israeli authorities have issued a master plan covering a part of the Area C section of Anata, this plan excluded the Fuheidat neighborhood, making its residents ineligible for building permits. A failure to reverse the stop-construction orders through legal action would result in the issuance of final demolition orders, which the Israeli authorities could implement immediately.
Family members reported that their historical origin is in the Jericho area and that their ancestors purchased land in Anata during the Ottoman era and have lived continuously in the area from 1942 to the present day. The Israeli authorities have gradually requisitioned the majority of the Fuheidat family’s land for the asserted purposes of building a nearby Israeli military base (1978), roads and the Barrier. The family asserts that it currently controls only 83 out of approximately 1,200 dunums to which it historically held title, and where their current homes, newly threatened by the stop-work orders, stand.
In addition, humanitarian actors, including both UN agencies and NGOs, face serious constraints when trying to access and provide much needed emergency assistance todisplaced families and communities. For example, on 21 January Israeli authorities demolished and confiscated 32 emergency shelters from displaced families in the Hamamat al Maleh area, in the northern Jordan Valley, who had suffered a demolition a few days earlier. Such practices run counter to international law, which requires all parties, including Israel, to allow, facilitate and protect the rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian assistance, if unable or unwilling to provide such assistance themselves.
INCREASE IN GRAVEL IMPORTS TO GAZA FOLLOWING EASING OF RESTRICTIONS
Volumes remain below both local demand and crossing capacity
The recent easing by Israel and Egypt of import restrictions to Gaza allowed for the largest volume of aggregate (gravel) imports since the intensification of the blockade in June 2007; however, despite the increase, current volumes meet only a small portion of the private sector’s demand, rendering it dependent on materials transferred to Gaza via the tunnels with Egypt.
In the last week of December, Israel began allowing into Gaza, via the Kerem Shalom crossing, a daily quota of 20 truckloads of aggregates for the private sector. At the same time, Egypt authorized the entry through the Rafah crossing of aggregates for a range of Qatar-funded projects. Over the course of January, 327 truckloads for the private sector entered via Kerem Shalom (a daily average of 15) while 1,232 truckloads entered via Rafah (a daily average of 37). Together with aggregates for projects being implemented by international organizations (an additional 1,075 truckloads), this represents a 28 per cent increase in aggregate imports through the crossings compared to the monthly average for 2012 (2,634 compared to 1,900), the highest volume since the start of the blockade in June 2007.
Following the easing of the blockade in June 2010, Israel began allowing basic construction materials into Gaza – including aggregates, concrete and steel bars – only for international projects pre-approved by the PA and Israel. Similarly, no cargo has entered Gaza through the Rafah crossing since the signing of the Agreement on Movement and Access (AMA) in November 2005, except for a limited number of humanitarian goods, primarily medical supplies. As a result, despite the recent easing on the import of aggregates, the overall volume of construction materials imported through the crossings during January (for international organizations and the private sector) was only half the equivalent amounts that reportedly entered through the tunnels. The Israeli quota of 20 truckloads of aggregates (800 tonnes) per day is far below both the actual demand and the crossing’s capacity. It constitutes about 15 per cent of the estimated demand (5,000-6,000 tonnes a day)18, and less than 10 per cent of the average volume that entered Gaza in the first five months of 2007. Additionally, while the Kerem Shalom crossing has the capacity to process some 350 imported truckloads per day, the daily average this month was just 220 truckloads. Likewise, in 2004-05, prior to the AMA, an average 390 daily truckloads of goods were imported to Gaza from Egypt via the Rafah crossing.19 However, since December 2012, Egypt has limited imports to goods for the Qatari projects, defined as humanitarian rather than regular cargo goods.
As a result of the ongoing import restrictions, civilians in Gaza continue to rely on the dangerous trade of such goods through the tunnels beneath the Gaza-Egyptian border. This dependence on tunnel goods comes at considerable risk: over the course of the month, five civilians died and eleven others were injured in tunnel related accidents due to torrential rains.
The ongoing import restrictions on construction materials, and the associated approval process for international reconstruction projects, have led to significant delays in project implementation, which in turn have unnecessarily prolonged the hardship of Palestinian families in need of shelter rehabilitation or construction and other essential infrastructure.
HUMANITARIAN PARTNERS LAUNCH APPEAL FOR OVER $400 MILLION TO ASSIST VULNERABLE PALESTINIANS IN 2013
On 23 January 2013 the Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) launched a Consolidated Appeal Process (CAP) seeking almost $402 million to address the high levels of vulnerability arising from the ongoing conflict and occupation, as well as last November’s hostilities in Gaza and the latest extreme weather events.
The HCT, which includes UN agencies, NGOs and the Red Cross movement, has developed a strategy that will support more than 1.8 million Palestinians in need of protection and humanitarian assistance. Of the total funds requested:
The safety and sources of livelihood of many Palestinians across the West Bank remain highly vulnerable due to Israeli settler violence and the risk of displacement related to demolitions in Area C and East Jerusalem. Humanitarian agencies will work together to ensure provision of emergency shelter to those displaced, legal assistance to those at risk of displacement, access to psychosocial care for families affected by violence, and to ensure their continued access to basic education and health services.