This report is based upon a study commissioned to Al-Sahel Co. for Institutional Development and Communications, and supplemented with further research by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA - oPt) and the World Food Programme (WFP).
For information about WFP in the oPt, please visit: www.wfppal.org
For information about OCHA in the oPt, please visit: www.ochaopt.org
Unless otherwise stated, all photos were taken by WFP/ Shareef Sarhan
Front cover photo: Land levelled in the area of Juhor ad Dik. Back cover photo: Aneesa Moamar in her home in Fukhkhari area, east of Khan Yunis, next to Sofa crossing
WFP and OCHA wish to thank the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) for their feedback on this report.
Over the past ten years, the Israeli military has gradually expanded restrictions on access to farmland on the Gaza side of the 1949 ‘Green Line’, and to ﬁshing areas along the Gaza Strip coast, with the stated intention of preventing attacks on Israel by Palestinian armed factions, including ﬁring projectiles.
This study aims at assessing the scope of these restrictions, as well as their impact on physical security, livelihood and access to services. The information and analysis presented is based on over 100 interviews and focus group discussions carried out during March-April 2010, and complemented with analysis of quantitative data available from other sources.
Since late 2008, Palestinians have been totally or partially prevented from accessing land located up to 1,000-1,500 meters from the Green Line (depending on the speciﬁc area), and sea areas beyond 3 nautical miles from shore. Overall, the land restricted area is estimated at 17 percent of the total land mass of the Gaza Strip and 35 percent of its agricultural land. At sea, ﬁshermen are totally prevented from accessing some 85 percent of the maritime areas they are entitled to access according to the Oslo Agreements.
An estimated 178,000 people - 12 percent of the population of the Gaza Strip - are directly affected by the access regime implemented by the Israeli military. This includes approximately 113,000 people affected by such measures in land areas, and 65,000 people affected by restrictions to maritime areas.
Access restrictions are primarily enforced by opening live ﬁre on people entering the restricted areas. While in most cases it is ‘warning shots’ that force people from the area, since the end of the “Cast Lead” offensive in January 2009, the Israeli army has also killed a total of 22 civilians and injured another 146 in these circumstances. Despite the potential for civilian casualties, the Israeli authorities have not informed the affected population about the precise boundaries of the restricted areas and the conditions under which access to these areas may be permitted or denied.
Additional risks to the affected population stem from military activities of Palestinian armed factions in the restricted areas and their confrontations with the Israeli military. Since the end of the “Cast Lead” offensive 41 Palestinian militants and four Israeli soldiers were killed in the restricted area or its vicinity in these circumstances and another 26 Palestinian militants and ten Israeli soldiers were injured.
A complementary method used by the Israeli military to discourage access is the systematic levelling of farm land and the destruction of other private property located in restricted areas. Given that levelling operations usually target fruit trees and greenhouses, some farmers have re-planted previously levelled areas with rain-fed crops, which demand less care and have better chances of survival. However, the ability of farmers to harvest these crops is limited and the income is only a fraction of the income of the original crops.
The value of agricultural and other property destroyed in the past ﬁve years in the land restricted area is conservatively estimated at USD 308 million (replacement cost). Agriculture-related assets include fruit trees, greenhouses, chicken and sheep farms and water wells, and account for 90 percent of this cost.
It has been further estimated that access restrictions and the related destruction of agricultural assets results in a yearly loss of approximately 75,000 metric tons of potential produce. The market value of this produce is conservatively estimated at USD 50.2 million a year. Most farmers interviewed for this study indicated that since the expansion of the restricted area in 2008, their income from agriculture has been reduced to less than a third of its previous amount. Others reported having their income wiped out. In the ﬁshing sector, the potential ﬁshing catch lost as a result of access restrictions is estimated at approximately 7,000 metric tonnes, with a related income loss of some USD 26.5 million over a period of ﬁve years.
The erosion of livelihoods has forced affected families to develop a variety of coping mechanisms aimed at generating alternative income and reducing expenditure. Some of these practices raise signiﬁcant concerns, including reductions in the quantity of food consumed; gradual shifts in diets (from vegetables and animal products to low-cost and high-carbohydrate items); reductions in the length of school enrolment for children; and increased inclination of parents to marry off daughters earlier.
The current regime also affects access to schools, seven of which are located within the restricted areas. The safety of students and staff attending these institutions (4,600), the quality of education provided and the level of educational achievement have been seriously undermined by the frequent exposure to Israeli ﬁre targeting people present in open areas, be they farmers or armed militants.
Finally, access restrictions have signiﬁcantly impeded the maintenance and upgrade of existing wastewater and electricity infrastructure, negatively impacting the provision of services to the entire population of the Gaza Strip. In particular, the prolonged delay in the construction of three wastewater treatment plants has contributed to the daily release of some 80 million litres of raw and partially-treated sewage into the sea and streams, thus adding a signiﬁcant environmental and health hazard.
To start addressing the dire situation of one of the most vulnerable segments of Gaza’s population, the current restrictions on civilian access to Gaza’s land and sea must be urgently lifted to the fullest extent possible. All parties must abide by their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law, including full implementation of Security Council Resolution 1860.1
The ﬁndings of this study also indicate that larger and better targeted humanitarian assistance is required to mitigate the impact of the ongoing erosion to livelihoods and to prevent further deterioration.
• The “high risk zone”: covers the area located between 500 to 1,000-1,500 meters from the fence, depending on the area. Opening ﬁre at people accessing this area, as well as land levelling and property destruction, are common and widespread practices; however, they are carried out irregularly and unpredictably. As a general rule, the deeper one enters these areas in the direction of the fence, the more likely one is to receive warning or direct ﬁre. Some sections of this zone have been levelled in the past two years (some more than once) and subsequently re-cultivated with rain-fed crops, primarily wheat and barley.11
Participants of the interviews and focus groups indicated that incidents of warning ﬁre and land levelling have occurred in areas beyond the 1,0001,500 meters from the fence, and as far as 3,000 meters. However, due to the lower frequency of such incidents and the relatively regular access of Palestinian farmers to these areas, for the purpose of this study, these areas were not considered part of the calculations of estimates pertaining to restricted areas.
In sum, the land restricted areas - combining the “no go” and “high risk” zones - is estimated to cover approximately 62,600 dunums (62.6 sq. kilometres) representing 17 percent of the Gaza Strip’s total land mass (365 sq. kilometres).12
After measuring the size of areas used for non-agricultural purposes, it has been further estimated that approximately 95 percent (59,500 dunums or 59.5km2) of the restricted area is arable land.13 On the basis of 2004/5 PCBS data on the size of cultivated land in the Gaza Strip (168,506 dunums), it can be estimated that approximately 35 percent of Gaza’s cultivable land is located within the restricted area.14
Restricted sea areas
Under the 1994 Gaza-Jericho Agreement between Israel and the PLO, areas within 20 Nautical Miles (NM) off Gaza’s coast should be open to Palestinian use for ﬁshing, recreation and economic activity. Since the beginning of the second Intifada in 2000, there has been a progressive restriction of ﬁshermen’s access to the sea. In 2002, Israel committed to allow ﬁshing activities in sea areas up to 12 NM from shore (‘Bertini Commitment’); however this commitment was never implemented and more severe restrictions were imposed during most of the time subsequently. Khan Yunis wharf, for example, was entirely closed by Israel during 2003 and 2004 and open for only 95 days in 2005, making adjacent sea areas totally inaccessible.
Based on interviews and focus groups, the latest expansion of the restricted sea areas can be dated to late 2008, on the eve of the “Cast Lead” offensive. Along most of Gaza’s coast, the restricted areas begin at 3 NM from shore. In the north, Palestinians are totally prevented from accessing a 1.5 NM-wide strip along the maritime boundary with Israel, and a 1 NM-wide strip in the south, along the maritime boundary with Egypt, as established in the 1994 Gaza-Jericho Agreement.15
Overall, Palestinians are totally prevented from accessing 85 percent of the sea areas on which they are entitled to carry out maritime activities, including ﬁshing, according to the 1994 Gaza-Jericho Agreement.
Similar to the restricted areas on land, Palestinian ﬁshermen entering the restricted sea areas are regularly exposed to warning ﬁre by Israeli naval forces, and in some cases, directly targeted. Fishing
Farmers in the Fukhkhari area, east of Khan Yunis, July 2010
boats intercepted by the Israeli military in these areas are regularly conﬁscated, along with their ﬁshing equipment, and ﬁshermen are detained.
For the purpose of estimating the scope of the population directly affected by access restrictions to land areas, as deﬁned above, the following types of households were considered:
• the family owns land in the restricted area;
• at least one of its members works or used to work in the restricted area in agriculture or in the collection of scrap metal;
• the house is located within 100 meters from the boundary of the restricted area;16
• the family was displaced and relocated elsewhere as a result of the destruction of its house and assets within the restricted area;
• at least one of its members studies or works in an affected school.
The total population meeting these criteria is estimated at approximately 113,000 people, or 7.5 percent of Gaza’s total population, distributed across 14 main localities (see Table 1).17
Moreover, on at least one occasion, the Israeli military provided the affected population with clearly misleading information: in May 2009 the Israeli Air Force dropped thousands of leaﬂets along the affected areas warning people not to access areas closer than 300 meters from the fence; in reality however, access restrictions were and are being enforced on areas up to 1,000-1,500 metres from the fence.
The lack of clarity and unpredictability associated with this access regime makes it highly arbitrary, thus signiﬁcantly increasing the level of risk to thousands of civilians who depend on access to the restricted areas for their livelihoods. A key factor increasing the arbitrariness of this regime is the relatively high frequency in which some of the main parameters of the regime appeared to be modiﬁed, primarily the depth of the restricted areas.
In the absence of accurate information, civilians are forced to assess the risks before every entry, based on their individual and collective experience. Participants in interviews and focus groups agreed that, in the land areas, the following factors increase the risk of being shot at:
• Proximity to the fence
• Proximity to watchtowers and crossings
• Being a man
• Being in a small group (4-6 people)
• Wearing a veil
• Entering with a donkey cart
• Entering between dusk and dawn
• Foggy weather
Fishermen reported that sailing in a single ﬁshing boat (rather than with a group of boats), as well as in boats without registration plates, increase the risk of being shot at. In both land and sea areas, times of tension between Palestinian factions and Israel are perceived as most dangerous.
Conversely, presence of staff from international organizations in a given area, particularly ICRC staff, is perceived by the affected population as a signiﬁcant factor diminishing the chances of being shot at.
Land levelling and property destruction
The other method used to prevent or discourage access to the restricted areas is the levelling of farm land and the destruction or damaging of private property. The gradual elimination of the means of production and the housing located in the restricted areas, in and by itself, reduces the number of people willing to access these areas. Moreover, the expectation of further destruction and land levelling in the future reduces the incentive to re-cultivate and reconstruct.
Most land in the ‘no-go zone’ located primarily within 300 meters from the fence has been gradually levelled since the beginning of the second Intifada in the year 2000, including the destruction of structures (residential and agricultural) that existed there. Areas between 300 and 500 meters have been the main focus of levelling since 2006. Due to the threat to life of those attempting to access, most agricultural land in this area has been gradually abandoned and structures never reconstructed.
In the ‘high-risk zone’ (i.e. 500 to 1,000-1,500 meters from the fence), land levelling and destruction of trees and ﬁeld crops is carried out more or less regularly since late 2008, during the weekly incursions conducted by the Israeli army. A typical incursion involves between four to ten military vehicles (tanks, bulldozers, military jeeps), frequently accompanied by helicopters, drones and heavy bursts of ﬁre. During the ﬁrst ﬁve months of 2010, OCHA recorded 72 incursions into the restricted areas, averaging over three every week.
Farmers interviewed indicated that trees and crops growing higher than 80cm are systematically levelled. On the basis of this understanding, many farmers have planted wheat and barley in areas previously levelled, as these crops generally do not reach that height and have therefore better chances to evade destruction (see also section on ‘Coping Mechanisms’). In contrast to the gradual elimination of crops and trees, the bulk of the structures that existed in these areas were destroyed after the expansion of the land restricted area since the end of 2008, and in their vast majority during the three weeks of the “Cast Lead” offensive.
Activities by armed factions and clashes
The restricted areas are regularly used by Palestinian armed factions for carrying out various military activities against Israeli targets, including against Israeli military vehicles patrolling the fence or carrying out levelling operations inside Gaza; the planting of explosives on the routes used by the army during incursions; and the ﬁring of mortars and rockets towards Israel and the border. Sea areas along the coast are also used by Palestinian armed factions to smuggle weapons into Gaza and to deploy explosive barrels along routes used by the Israeli Navy. While these activities are cited launched by the Israeli army against militants, some of which evolve into prolonged armed clashes in the vicinity of residential, agricultural or ﬁshing areas.
The Israeli military-enforced regime of access restrictions has had a negative effect on the livelihoods of the affected population. Increased rates of poverty and food insecurity, as well as the adoption of negative coping mechanisms (see following section), are some of the ways in which the deterioration to livelihood is reﬂected. This section attempts to assess the economic impact of this regime by estimating the value of property destroyed in the restricted areas over the course of the past ﬁve years, along with the value of potential income from agricultural and ﬁshing activities lost annually due to the destruction of productive assets or the loss of access to them.
Loss of assets
For the purpose of this assessment, assets located in restricted areas on land can be divided into four types according to their use: agricultural, industrial, residential and services.
The number of structures destroyed since 2005 in each of these categories is calculated by aggregating ﬁgures collected in interviews and focus groups across the affected localities.37 By contrast, due to limitations in data collection techniques used in this study, the amount of destroyed orchards, greenhouses and ﬁeld crops was estimated by extrapolating PCBS data from 2004-5 on the use of agricultural land at the governorate level, to the affected localities.38 Additionally, it was assumed that in the ‘no-go zone’, 100 percent of agricultural land was leveled, while a conservative assumption of 70 percent destruction of the areas cultivated with fruit trees or greenhouses-crops was applied to the ‘high-risk zone’.39
The above ﬁgures are conservative estimates. For example, while in the ‘no-go zone’, land levelling operations have been taking place since the year 2000, due to methodological difficulties only losses incurred since 2005 were considered. Other unaccounted loss stems from the sharp depreciation in the value of agricultural land. Available estimates indicate that current land prices in the ‘high- risk zone’ are one third of what they were ﬁve years ago. In addition to the obvious reasons related to the access regime enforced by the Israeli army, farmers also link this decline in value to the degradation of Gaza’s soil quality as a result of the frequent leveling operations; during these operations, the most fertile upper soil layers are usually buried beneath originally deeper soil layers, with poor soil structure and little organic matter content.
Compared to areas on land, losses due to the implementation of the access regime at sea are relatively limited. As noted in the previous section, since 2007 more than 130 shooting incidents resulted in damage to boats and ﬁshing equipment (including a few vessels that were entirely burned). Estimate of these losses however was unavailable. Additionally, according to the Fishermen’s Syndicate, a total of 83 boats docked at wharfs along the coast were damaged during the “Cast Lead” offensive, together with ﬁshing lightening equipment, and whose combined estimated value is USD 342,000.
Loss of agricultural yield and related income
The destruction of agricultural assets in restricted areas on land necessarily results in the loss of potential agricultural output and corresponding income. Using the same methodology outlined above, it is estimated that some 75,000 metric tons of potential produce are lost per year due to the levelling of land and access restrictions.41 The potential market value of this produce is estimated at approximately USD 50.2 million a year. Some 54 percent of this value stems from fruit orchards (27 million), 45 percent (22.6 million) from greenhouses and less than two percent from field crops (0.7 million).
Most of the interviewed farmers indicated that following the expansion of the restricted area in 2008, their income from agriculture was reduced to less than a third of what it was previously, while others report even larger losses.