THE IMPACT OF THE ISRAELI OCCUPATION OF PALESTINE ON HUMAN DEVELOPMENT IN ARAB COUNTRIES
The first AHDR concluded that the Israeli occupation of Palestine constitutes a severe impediment to human development. This occupation distorts policy priorities, retards human development and freezes opportunities for growth, prosperity and freedom across the region, and not in the Occupied Palestinian Territories alone. The harsh indignities arising from occupation extend to all the Arab people, yet the worst repercussions are borne by the Palestinian people themselves.
Occupation denies Palestinians freedom and human dignity and aborts their internationally recognised right to self-determination. Occupation squanders Palestinian resources, undermines Palestinian human capabilities and destroys individual and communal security and human lives.
The occupation of Palestinian and other Arab lands exerts a direct and continuous burden on the economies of affected countries and diverts resources from development to military and security objectives. The threat of Israeli domination also creates a pretext for deferring political and economic reforms in Arab countries in the name of national solidarity against a formidably armed external aggressor5.
Israel's believed possession of a large arsenal of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), which Arabs consider represents a double standard because it is not subjected to an international watch or a regional or international deterrent, drives the Arab region and surrounding countries into an intense arms race that diminishes resources that could otherwise be applied to development.
In April 2003 the UN Commission on Human Eights, with a majority of 33 out of 53 votes, strongly condemned "the violations by the Israeli occupation authorities of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem", including "the practice of 'liquidation' or 'extrajudicial executions'", and expressed its grave concern "at acts of mass killing perpetrated by the Israeli occupying authorities against the Palestinian people" (Commission on Human Rights, Resolution 2003/6, Geneva). The resolution "reaffirms the legitimate right of the Palestinian people to resist the Israeli occupation. " Occupation forces opened fire on ambulances that month.
The human costs of Israeli occupation
The number of Palestinian deaths resulting from Israeli action in the past two years is, in proportional terms, comparable to the death of about a quarter of a million people in the US.
Israeli occupation has wrought death and destruction in the West Bank and Gaza. By April 2003, 2,405 Palestinians had been killed, and 41,000 injured as a result of Israeli actions since September 2000. These are not mere statistics but people whose lives have been destroyed, their hopes dashed, their futures aborted and their families bereaved. Most of those killed were civilians (85%) and a significant proportion were children (20%). UNICEF estimates that 7,000 children have been injured.
The conflict has also claimed Israeli casualties. Over the period (September 2000-May 2003), the Israeli defense forces reported a total of 781 Israelis dead and 5,468 injured (http://www.idf.il) including soldiers, settlers and civilians. The loss of innocent lives is always an unacceptable human tragedy.6
Given that the population of the West Bank and Gaza is about one hundredth the population of the US, the number of Palestinian deaths resulting from Israeli action in the past two years is, in proportional terms, comparable to the death of about a quarter of a million people in the US. The number of injuries is comparable to four million in the US.
In addition to considerable casualties, Palestinian human development has suffered from the loss of freedom, livelihoods, destruction of basic infrastructure and an alarming decline in health conditions. Palestinians were subject to blatant violations of basic human rights, including the right to life, freedom, food, education and employment.
It is very difficult to find a historical equivalent to the division of the occupied territories into clusters. While it shares a few similarities with past segregation policies in the US, it resembles most the Bantustan policies enforced by the former apartheid regime in South Africa.
Collective punishment through closures and curfews affects nearly three million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Israeli checkpoints and roadblocks divide these territories into 300 separate clusters. Most occupied towns, villages and refugee camps have suffered from extended curfews and closures. Nablus, for example, has been virtually under continuous curfew during the past two years. About 15,000 Palestinians have been denied freedom of movement through detention with 6,000 still in prison, including 350 children.
Closures and curfews have also deprived people of basic services and supplies, creating a major humanitarian crisis. They prevent access to medical care and restrict the movement of medical personnel and supplies. Heart, cancer and renal patients cannot obtain treatment or cannot afford it. Pregnant women are cut off from antenatal care and are forced to give birth at home or even at checkpoints. Forty-three women delivered babies at checkpoints, nine of whom were stillborn.7 Parents cannot have their children immunised just as health risks are multiplying. Children and teachers cannot go to school. Malnutrition is rampant with 30% of children under 5 suffering from chronic malnutrition and 21% from acute malnutrition.8 Psychological trauma is widespread, particularly among children. Families, friends and communities find themselves physically isolated, unable to meet and support each other.
While Israeli construction of settlements and a separation barrier, "the wall", further tightens Israel's stranglehold on the Palestinian people, Israeli destruction of Palestinian property and infrastructure undermines hope for a viable Palestinian economy. Between October 2000 and April 2002, physical damage amounted to US $ 305 million. In mid-May 2002, after Israeli incursions into several West Bank towns that left almost 260 Palestinians dead, an international donor survey assessed physical damage at more than US $361 million.9 It was one of these incursions (into Jenin) that Terje Roed Larsen, UN Special Coordinator in the Occupied Territories described as "horrific beyond belief" and "morally repugnant." His outcry and that of the international community did not restrain the destruction. By September 2002 the damage had nearly doubled to US $728 million.
Israeli actions have deprived large segments of the population of job opportunities and income. GNP has been more than halved and total income losses to the Palestinian economy are estimated to be between US $3.2 and US $10 billion (in addition to the cost of destroyed public and private property). About three fourths of Palestinians are now living in poverty (measured at under US $2 a day). The number of poor people has tripled since September 2000. Two thirds of the workforce in Gaza, and half of the workforce in the West Bank, are unemployed. Palestinians are now more dependent on food aid than ever before. The World Bank estimates that if the conflict is resolved and the closure lifted, it will still take at least two years for the Palestinian economy to restore pre-September 2000 per capita income.
About three fourths of Palestinians are now living in poverty measured at under US $2 a day.
Current unemployment rates in the West Bank and Gaza are more than double those that prevailed in the US during the Great Depression. The decline in GNP in the Palestinian territories is also significantly greater than the GNP decline during that period.
5Israel's might in the region is not to be underestimated. For example, Israel is among the few countries that very likely own nuclear weapons, even if this is not usually acknowledged (US State Department, from infoplease.com). Israel has refrained from ratifying the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. The Centre for Non-proliferation Studies affiliated with the "Monterey Centre for International Studies" categorises Israel's ownership of chemical weapons as "probable", and its ownership of biological weapons as "possible", given that Israel has not ratified treaties on banning chemical and biological weapons.
6Other nations also suffered casualties in the conflict: the crushing of the young American peace activist, Rachel Corrie, by an Israeli bulldozer is just one example.
7The Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS)
8Report by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and Johns Hopkins University, 2002
9Physical and Institutional Damage Assessment - West Bank Governorates, March-May, 2002 by the Donor Support Group, Local Aid Coordination Committee, May 2002