One year on, people in Gaza struggle to cope with loss
July marked one year since the outbreak of hostilities in the Gaza Strip and Israel, which resulted in an unprecedented number of civilian casualties and homes destroyed among Palestinians. One year on, most people in Gaza are still struggling to cope with the immense losses they experienced and attempting to reconstruct their lives. This Humanitarian Bulletin highlights the case of 19-year-old Ala', from Jabaliya refugee camp, who survived an airstrike that killed his entire family of 11 members in the building to which they had relocated. Over the course of hostilities at least 142 Palestinian families had three or more members killed in the same incident for a total of 742 fatalities.
Since the temporary ceasefire of 26 August 2014, violence across the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) has declined gradually. Palestinian and Israeli casualties during the first half of 2015 were significantly lower than in the previous six months, even after excluding the Gaza hostilities, with June 2015 recording the lowest number of Palestinian injuries in more than three years. However, in the absence of a permanent ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, and with the peace negotiations to end the longstanding occupation stalled, the situation remains inherently fragile and the risk of a new cycle of violence is ever-present.
The fragility of the situation is exacerbated by the slow pace of reconstruction and the dire socioeconomic conditions in the coastal enclave. Approximately 100,000 people whose homes were destroyed or severely damaged are still displaced, most of them in precarious conditions. After months of delay, the Israeli and Palestinian authorities reached an agreement in July on a new mechanism to allow imports of restricted building materials into Gaza for the reconstruction of homes that were completely destroyed. This will enable the start on the ground of the first housing project to house some 1,000 displaced families. However, enormous funding gaps may delay the launch of additional projects.
In the West Bank, Israeli restrictions on the use of land by Palestinians in Area C and the related vulnerability continue to be a significant source of tension. During July there were heightened threats of demolition and forcible displacement of two herding communities in Area C: Susiya in Hebron and Abu Nwar in the Jerusalem periphery. This triggered the engagement of many UN member states and other stakeholders in response to these threats, which so far did not materialize. Humanitarian organizations continue to provide critical support to increase the resilience of some 30,000 Palestinians living in herding communities in Area C, including the regular distribution of food assistance, as highlighted in this Bulletin.
Also in Area C, this month the Israeli authorities approved plans for the construction of over 900 new housing units in Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law. Furthermore, following the implementation of an Israeli High Court ruling ordering the demolition of two buildings erected without permit on private Palestinian land in the Beit El settlement, the Israeli Prime Minister ordered to advance the approval of 300 housing units in this settlement, and another 500 units in East Jerusalem, according to media reports.
In a positive development, the Israeli authorities relaxed restrictions on the movement of Palestinians within the oPt, including East Jerusalem, and between the oPt and Israel during the month of Ramadan. These measures had a positive impact on the right of Palestinians to freedom of movement, to freedom of worship and to family life. Some of these access easings were progressively revoked in response to several Palestinian attacks, raising concern about collective penalties imposed on the wider population.
In his first visit to the Gaza Strip, Robert Piper, the incoming Humanitarian Coordinator for the oPt, highlighted the urgency of accelerating reconstruction. He called on member states to disburse pledges they had made and on the Israeli authorities to review current import restrictions. “Palestinians in Gaza need to be lifted out of this self-perpetuating cycle of crisis,” said Mr. Piper. He also visited the community of Susiya in the West Bank and emphasized that, “the destruction of private property in an occupied territory is prohibited under international humanitarian law, [calling] on the Israeli authorities to suspend all demolitions of Palestinian structures in Area C and to provide its residents with a planning and permit regime that allows them to meet their needs.”
* Due to variation in the reporting periods of specific sections, from July 2015, the month indicated in the Humanitarian Bulletin’s title will reflect the month of issuance rather than the reporting period of the contents.