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Source: Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)
31 October 2011

The Monthly Humanitarian Monitor

October 2011

October overview

Two important events relating to the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) garnered widespread media coverage in October. The first of these occurred on 18 October, when the Israeli authorities released 477 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, in the context of a swap agreement between Israel and Hamas, mediated by Egypt. The second occurred on 31 October, when UNESCO Board Members voted to admit Palestine as a member state of the organization, a development that followed the Palestinian bid for full UN membership, submitted in September 2011 to the Security Council. While many of the media images surrounding the events depicted an atmosphere of hope and euphoria, the ongoing hardships and vulnerability facing significant segments of the Palestinian population were obscured by the coverage.

One such segment is comprised of the Bedouin and herding communities located throughout Area C of the West Bank, which face home demolitions, access restrictions, and threats of forcible transfer. Twenty of these communities (approximately 2,300 people) located to the east of Jerusalem, in an area planned for settlement expansion,1 were recently informed by the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA) that they must leave the area or be forcibly removed, possibly as soon as January 2012. This month, humanitarian aid organizations conducted a rapid assessment of the site, where the ICA intends to relocate these communities, and found it unsuitable. This was due to its close proximity to a large garbage dump, which constitutes a major health and environmental hazard, and the shortage of grazing land needed to support the communities’ herding livelihoods.

The sharp rise in settler violence in recent months continues to undermine the physical security and livelihoods of many other Palestinians across the West Bank. Many of this month’s settler attacks targeted seasonal activities related to this year’s olive harvest. As in previous years, the Israeli authorities made efforts to prevent farmers from being attacked by Israeli settlers, many of whom are armed, primarily by arranging a coordination system that allows Palestinians to access their olive groves, located in the vicinity of some Israeli settlements, during limited time periods when the Israeli military could be present to protect them. While this system has indeed reduced the scope of violence, it puts the onus on Palestinian farmers, who must comply with the military’s scheduling, rather than on the Israeli authorities, who are responsible for enforcing the rule of law on the threatening settlers. Moreover, this system is ineffective in preventing vandalism of olive trees during other times; this month, 1,400 such trees were uprooted, killed with chemicals or otherwise damaged, bringing the 2011 total of damage to nearly 10,000 since the beginning of 2011.

Palestinian children arrested and prosecuted by Israeli military courts represent another vulnerable group. Not one child held in Israeli detention was released in the context of the prisoner swap. However, during the month, the Israeli army issued a military order amending a few provisions related to Palestinian children facing detention or trial. One of the amendments entails the inclusion of children 16 and 17 years old under the category of “minors”, as required by international human rights law. While these amendments are welcome, there remain significant gaps in the protection of Palestinian children detained by the Israeli authorities. For example, the amendment does not ban the incarceration of children 16 and 17 years old with adults, and leaves ample room for the non-notification of parents about the arrest of their child, among other gaps. Other unaddressed concerns include repeated reports of abuse and the lack of effective investigations into allegations of ill-treatment during interrogations of children, the lack of procedures promoting transparency, including the videotaping of interrogations, and the holding of child prisoners in facilities outside the oPt. These shortcomings occur in the context of other serious concerns for both children and adults alike, including the Israeli military court system’s lack of due process.

In the Gaza Strip, the prisoners’ deal generated hopes of a possible relaxation of the blockade, but this has so far not materialized. Despite commitments made by the Israeli authorities several times in recent months to the contrary, ongoing restrictions on exports remain in place. Although a few cash crops were exported last winter to European markets, they constitute only a fraction of the agricultural products that used to be exported before the blockade, the bulk of which was marketed in the West Bank and Israel. For hundreds of farmers employed in date farming, the pressure on their livelihoods has been further exacerbated by the outbreak of a pestilence, which if left untreated could devastate the growing date industry.

To alleviate the hardship facing some of the most vulnerable segments of the Palestinian population, measures to protect the civilian population are needed, including the immediate cessation of demolitions and other types of forced displacement, the implementation of measures to ensure children’s rights, the ending of impunity for Israeli settler violence, and the lifting of the blockade on Gaza.

20 Palestinian communities at imminent risk of forcible transfer

Assessment finds the proposed relocation site highly unsuitable

Approximately 2,300 residents, 80 percent of whom are 1948 refugees, of some 20 Bedouin and other herding communities, located to the east of Jerusalem, remain at high risk of forcible transfer, having been informed by the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA) that they must leave the area.2 This comes in the context of the ICA’s plan to ‘relocate’ Palestinian Bedouin and herding communities from Area C, where Israel retains control over security as well as planning and zoning. The committee representing the Jerusalem area communities has reported, at this stage, barring a full return to their ancestral land in the Negev, the residents do not want to move and have requested any possible support to prevent the current threat of displacement from materializing. However, the ICA has indicated that there is no option but to move. The ICA has also indicated that ‘relocation’ to a proposed site near the town of Al Eizariya may begin as early as January 2012.

In October 2011, humanitarian actors conducted a rapid assessment of the proposed relocation site, known as Al Jabal, and found it unsuitable for human habitation.3 Some of the key concerns stem from the proximity of the site to a landfill serving the Jerusalem municipality and Ma’ale Adumim settlement. The estimated distance of the area allocated for housing the displaced population is less than 250 meters from the dump site, less than half the minimum health safety standard of 500 meters, adopted by WHO. The Israeli Ministry of Environment has recently referred to the landfill as “a source of environmental pollution, risk of fire and even explosions…,” due to the build-up of methane gas in the rubbish, as well as pollution of underground water sources.4 In addition to the associated safety and health risks, the location would clearly undermine the quality of life of the residents, who would have to endure constant foul odors.

An additional concern is the deterioration, and potential loss, of the herding livelihoods of the population at risk of transfer, due to the shortage of grazing land in the proximity of the proposed site. This may result in overgrazing and extreme strain on natural resources for everyone in the area.

There exists a precedent of this relocation. In the late 1990s, a group of approximately 200 families were forcibly transferred to the same site to make way for the expansion of the Ma’ale Adumim settlement. These families experienced a severe social and psychological shock due to the rapid changes in the living conditions, which forced them to abandon, almost totally, their traditional Bedouin and herding lifestyle. The cultural loss, combined with the forced process of urbanization, has undermined tribal cohesion and generated social tensions and violence.

Pressure on communities currently being targeted for relocation is increasing: on 31 October, the ICA demolished nine structures in the communities of Khan Al Ahmar Mihtawish and Al Jabal, displacing 29 people. The structures in the latter site were located in the proposed relocation site, and following their demolition, the ICA confiscated the debris from the site.

The 20 communities at risk of displacement are located in an area that holds strategic significance for further expansion of Israeli settlements. This includes the E1 plan, which foresees the expansion of Ma’ale Adumim and its linkage to Jerusalem. If implemented, these plans, along with Barrier construction in the area, risk preventing Palestinian growth and development and disrupting the territorial contiguity of the West Bank.

International law prohibits the forced transfer of civilians, regardless of the motive or means used, unless required for their own security or military necessity in times of hostilities. The intentional destruction or confiscation of private civilian property, including homes, as well as the transfer of settlers into occupied territory, is similarly prohibited. As the occupying power, Israel has an obligation to protect the Palestinian civilian population and to administer the territory for the benefit of that population. Any move of civilians must meet international standards, including relating to a free and informed choice.5

The humanitarian community will accelerate assistance to these and other communities at high risk of being displaced from their homes to stabilize communities where they are and to give communities the opportunity to develop their futures.

Upward trend in Israeli settler violence continues

More than 3,600 Palestinian-owned trees damaged or destroyed during 2011 olive harvest

During the month, OCHA recorded a total of 52 violent incidents perpetrated by Israeli settlers that resulted in either Palestinian injuries or damage to Palestinian property, down from 68 in September, but still well above the 2011 monthly average of 36 incidents. This is in addition to dozens of incidents involving intimidation, denial of access, and trespass. In total, 22 Palestinians were injured this month in these incidents, including six children. Two Israeli settlers were also injured in October by Palestinians in two separate incidents in East Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The weekly average of settler attacks resulting in Palestinian casualties and property damage has increased by 40 percent in 2011 compared to 2010 (eight incidents per week), and by over 165 percent compared to 2009 (four incidents per week).

As the annual olive harvest season began earlier this month, Palestinians harvesting olives in groves near some Israeli settlements and settlement outposts in Area C suffered from repeated acts of intimidation, physical violence, and property damage inflicted by Israeli settlers. As in previous years, the Israeli authorities made efforts to prevent settlers from attacking Palestinian farmers. This was primarily done by arranging a coordination system that allows Palestinians to access their olive groves, located in the vicinity of some Israeli settlements, during limited time periods when the Israeli military could be present to protect them. While this system may have prevented some attacks, it puts the onus on Palestinian farmers, who must comply with the military’s scheduling, rather than on the Israeli authorities, who are responsible for enforcing the rule of law. Moreover, this system is ineffective in preventing vandalism of olive trees during other times .

In spite of such measures, over 60 percent (32 incidents) of settler incidents recorded by OCHA in October resulting in casualties or property damage were related to olive harvest activities. Thirty-two (32) of this year’s incidents involved Israeli settlers picking and stealing olives from trees belonging to Palestinians, uprooting or damaging a number of olive trees, and physical assault of olive pickers. Moreover, some of the incidents occurred during the specific times allocated by the Israeli authorities to access olives groves next to settlements. For example, on 18 October, during coordination hours, a Palestinian farmer from Beit Furik village (Nablus) fell and broke her leg as she was being chased by Israeli settlers in the vicinity of Itamar settlement. In the vicinity of Brukhin settlement (Salfit), Israeli settlers set fire to over 700 olive trees belonging to farmers from Bruqin village.

Although the number of these incidents were fewer in comparison with the same types of olive harvest incidents in 2010 (40), there was a significant increase in the number of trees damaged or destroyed in October 2011. Overall, some 1,400 olive trees were uprooted, killed with chemicals or otherwise vandalized during the month, compared with 61 trees damaged in the previous year. Settler attacks targeting olive trees through the end of October 2011, have damaged or destroyed nearly 10,000 trees.

Another 25 incidents of settler violence leading to property damage or injuries during the month were unrelated to harvest activities. Of note, for the first time since May 2009, on 17 and 19 October, settlers attacked Palestinians with toxic liquid and gas substances in two separate incidents in the Nablus governorate; as a result, three Palestinians, including one female, suffered from facial swelling and nausea and had to be taken to the hospital. In another incident, settlers attacked a house in the village of Beit Furik, (Nablus) and set ablaze a residential room and a vehicle, causing serious damage to the property.

The phenomenon of continued settler violence is deeply rooted in impunity – i.e. the Israeli authorities’ failure to adequately enforce the rule of law in response to Israeli settlers acts of violence against Palestinians and their property. Israeli forces often fail to stop attacks and follow-up afterwards is inadequate or poorly conducted. Measures of the current system, including requiring Palestinians to file complaints at police stations located inside Israeli settlements, actively work against the rule of law by discouraging Palestinians from filing complaints. Recent official efforts to retroactively legalize settler takeover of privately-owned Palestinian land actively promotes a culture of impunity that contributes to continued violence.

Israeli military amendment re-categorizes
definition of Palestinian minors

The ongoing detention of Palestinian children by Israeli security forces and their treatment in the military justice system continues to raise serious concerns about violations of basic due-process rights. Most of these concerns have remained in place despite a recent amendment of a few related provisions to Israeli military legislation.

Every year, approximately 700 Palestinian children between the ages of 12 -17 are arrested and prosecuted by Israeli military courts in the West Bank. In 2011, more than 200 children were held in detention, on average, every month.6

Under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), to which Israel is a State Party, those below the age of 18 are defined as children.7 Although Israeli domestic legislation adopted this standard with regard to all Israelis, including those living in the West Bank settlements, under the Israeli military legislation applied to Palestinians in the West Bank, those 16 and 17 years of age were considered adults. However, on 27 September 2011, the Israeli military amended the relevant provision in the military legislation to include those under 18 within those categorized as children.

An additional amendment introduced in the same military order shortened the statute of limitations for the prosecution of some offenses committed by minors, from two years to one (i.e. a child could not be prosecuted after a year from the alleged commission of the offense). However, this amendment will not apply to the vast majority of minors being held for security offences, which includes those held for stone-throwing, and participation in demonstrations, in addition to other more serious offenses.

While these amendments are a welcome step forward in ensuring children’s rights, there are still significant challenges concerning the treatment of children under the Israeli military court system. Although in September 2009, the Israeli military established a special military court for juveniles, in practice there is very little difference between these courts and their staff, and those trying adults.8 The amendment also does not adequately address longstanding practices of incarcerating children over the age of 16 with adults.9 In addition, in most cases, children are interrogated without the presence of their parents or an attorney.10 Although the amendment stipulates that parents should be immediately notified of their child’s arrest, several exceptions to the rule are allowed: if the child refrains from providing information identifying his or her parents, the authorities are not obliged to obtain details of the parents’ identity or whereabouts, and therefore the parents would not be notified. Also, while authorities are required to make a “reasonable effort” to locate the parents, because there are no guidelines as to what such an effort would entail, the rigor of this effort is open to interpretation and left to the discretion of the authorities. In addition, notification may be withheld if the authorities consider there to be “reasonable suspicion” that such notification would obstruct the interrogation process or otherwise “harm the security of the region.” The lack of transparency during interrogation sessions is cause for concern and is documented in hundreds of affidavits and testimonies facilitated by lawyers and human rights organizations working with children who underwent interrogations. In most cases, children have testified that ill-treatment occurred during arrest and interrogation, in some cases amounting to torture.11 In numerous cases children report being forced to sign confessions in Hebrew, a language that most do not understand.

Furthermore, although the authorities are also required to inform arrested minors of their right to privately consult with an attorney, there is no assurance of this because the arrested party must provide the details of the attorney to the Israeli authorities, and, even then, the attorney may not be notified if the interrogator considers that such notice will delay the interrogation.

Other concerns: 12

Most children continue to be arrested during Israeli military raids of their homes in the middle of the night.

Most children continue to be painfully tied with a single plastic cord in violation of Israeli army procedures introduced in April 2010.

Interrogations are not video-recorded.

Children continue to be denied bail in approximately 90 percent of cases.

Many children continue to be detained in prisons outside of the occupied territory, in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention (Art 76).

Under international law, Israel has an obligation to protect and respect the rights of children, without discrimination of any kind, including on grounds of national or ethnic origin. The arrest and detention of children should be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time. Children should, at all times, be treated with humanity, dignity and worth, and in a manner that takes into account their age, needs and circumstances.

New pestilence threatens agricultural sector in Gaza

The Red Palm Weevil (Rhynchophorus ferrugineus) was first discovered in Gaza in September, and poses a severe threat to Gaza’s 120,000 date palms. Unchecked, the insect could devastate the expanding date industry, which is worth more than $4 million to Gaza’s economy. The livelihoods of more than 500 people directly employed in date farming are under threat, and thousands of other families, who rely on additional income from a few palms, could also see their incomes reduced.

To monitor the spread of the weevil, FAO is providing pheromone traps, which will be placed throughout Gaza’s 6,000 dunums of date palms. Partially-infected trees will be treated with pesticides, but severely infected specimens must be uprooted and burnt. Strict quarantine measures have been put in place by the local authorities, preventing the movement within Gaza of any date palm material (apart from dates themselves), and banning its import through the tunnels. NGOs with projects involving date palms have been advised accordingly, and an information booklet for farmers and other stakeholders has been produced and widely distributed. On 3 November, a workshop was held in Gaza City to discuss the situation and disseminate information to sector stakeholders.

Sectoral coordination is particularly vital in cases of pests and diseases and this effort is greatly facilitated by a steering committee composed of FAO, the Ministry of Agriculture, PNGO (represented by UAWC), the ICRC, and the Ahliyeh Society for the Protection of Palms and Dates, a specialized Gazan NGO. This group was first established to coordinate the response to Tuta absoluta (the tomato pest which arrived in Gaza in 2010), and now meets once a week to monitor developments and coordinate activities.

Although the outbreak was discovered too late to be addressed in the 2012 Consolidated Appeals Process, in the next year, funding will be required to enable NGOs to assist date farmers. The new pestilence exacerbates already difficult conditions that Gazan farmers face, including Israel’s ban on exports, as well as the inability to safely access restricted areas near the Gaza-Israel border fence. The agriculture sector requires assistance to improve yields and incomes through improved irrigation, propagation, grove management and post harvest production. Poor farmers who lose their trees to the pest may also need compensation or to be provided with alternative agriculture livelihoods.


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