Barriers continue to afflict Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), impeding efforts to improve the humanitarian situation. The 9th of July marked the fifth anniversary of the International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion on the West Bank Wall. In this first legal opinion on the oPt issued by the Court, the route of the wall running inside the West Bank was declared illegal and contrary to international humanitarian and human rights law. While the Court recognized Israel’s obligation to protect its citizens from attacks, including from the suicide bombings which had prompted Israel to build the Wall, the Court stated that Israeli steps must be in compliance with international law. It advised that Israel should freeze construction in the West Bank and dismantle or re-route the Wall to the Green Line. The Court also called for reparations to Palestinians harmed by the construction. The Advisory Opinion was overwhelmingly reaffirmed by the UN General Assembly.
Five years later, construction of the planned 705 km long route continues, with approximately 200 km built since the issuance of the Advisory Opinion in 2004. Fifty-eight (58) percent of the route has been constructed thus far. When completed, approximately 85 percent of the route will run inside the West Bank, separating Palestinian urban and rural communities from each other and from Palestinian land. OCHA has issued a new report highlighting the dramatic humanitarian impact of the Barrier. The report finds that 125,000 Palestinians will be surrounded by the Wall on three sides when the route is completed. Already, access to East Jerusalem, the major health, economic, religious and education center has been cut off by the Barrier, as well as access to agricultural land in the rural areas.
In protest of the Barrier’s continued construction, Palestinians in the central and southern West Bank continue to conduct weekly protests. More than a third of all recorded injuries in the West Bank since 2005 occurred in these demonstrations. In July, the Israeli Border Police reintroduced the “skunk” bomb, a foul-smelling liquid first used in 2008, which induces nausea and vomiting, and causes anti-Barrier demonstrators to disperse in order to escape the smell. The Barrier has also affected UN operations, with agencies experiencing the majority of their access incidents at crossings in the Barrier.
The Barrier is but one element of Israel’s West Bank closure regime, which is made up of multiple barriers to Palestinian movement and access, such as earth mounds, road gates and checkpoints, among others. While there were no significant improvements in Palestinian movement and access in July, the IMF announced that macroeconomic conditions in the West Bank had improved, in part, as a result of recent relaxation measures taken by the Israeli authorities. If such measures continue during the year, the West Bank economy could see its biggest growth in 2009 in years – up to seven percent. If not, the real GDP per capita would further decline.
The Barrier around the Gaza Strip, built in 1995, facilitates the ongoing Israeli blockade, which is collectively afflicting the lives of a million and a half Gazan residents. This month experienced the lowest amount of imports of basic supplies allowed into the Gaza Strip since the beginning of 2009. A new Paltrade report indicates that the blockade has lead to the closure of 95 percent of private sector enterprises and the unemployment of 120,000 workers. According to the IMF, unless the blockade is substantially relaxed, real GDP per capita in Gaza will continue its downward trend, with further increases in poverty and unemployment.
The blockade has led to the proliferation of a large tunnel economy with disturbing reports about the use of child labor to build and operate these very dangerous tunnels. Over 250 schools and kindergartens destroyed or damaged by the Israeli military during operation “Cast Lead”, have yet to be rebuilt or repaired for the upcoming school year. In addition, according to the Ministry of Education and Higher Education, 105 new schools need to be built to accommodate the growing student body. Construction materials needed for repairing “Cast Lead” damage alone include 25,000 tons of iron and 40,000 tons of cement. The right to learn and be educated is a fundamental child right that is central to every child’s ability to realize his or her potential - and by extension, that of their communities. In the context of protracted conflict and occupation, safe schools also offer an unparalleled means of restoring a sense of normality and hope for children and their families.
As Barrier construction continues in the West Bank, so too does displacement of Palestinian civilians from their homes. Of particular concern are recent events in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem: on 2 August 2009, Israeli forces forcibly evicted nine families from their homes in two buildings, displacing 53 Palestinians, including 20 children. The buildings were immediately handed over to an Israeli settler organization, while the families’ belongings were loaded on a truck and dumped in the street near UNRWA’s headquarters in East Jerusalem. These events come in the context of settler attempts to construct hundreds of housing units in the heart of this Palestinian neighbourhood, placing hundreds of other Palestinians at-risk of future displacement.
West Bank, including East Jerusalem
Sharp decrease in Palestinian casualties
In July, there were fewer Palestinian casualties from Israeli military activities in the West Bank than in any month since February 2005; there were no Palestinian fatalities and injuries comprised roughly one sixth of the monthly average since the beginning of 2005. A total of 19 Palestinians were injured in July: twelve in confrontations with Israeli forces during demonstrations, including seven in anti-Barrier demonstrations; four, including three children, were shot and injured in the Nablus governorate after allegedly throwing stones at an IDF military jeep. One Palestinian was physically assaulted during an IDF search operation in Hebron, and the remaining two were injured at checkpoints: one was shot and injured with live ammunition, and the other was physically assaulted. Overall, four members of the Israeli security forces were injured in July during anti-Barrier demonstrations in Ni’lin and Bil’in.
An overall downward trend in Palestinian injuries has been observed since April 2009, in part due to a decrease in the number of injuries in anti-Barrier demonstrations beginning in the following month. Since 2005, anti-Barrier demonstrations have accounted for nearly one third of all Palestinian injuries in the West Bank, and resulted in more injuries than any other incident type.
Last month, on 5 June 2009, an unarmed Palestinian demonstrator was killed by Israeli security forces in Ni’lin village after being hit by a high powered tear-gas canister. This incident followed the 17 April 2009 killing of another demonstrator in Bil’in village, who was directly hit by a tear gas grenade. Both incidents have triggered Israeli military police investigations, as well as public protests by human rights organizations. According to various sources in Bil’in and Ni’lin villages, following the second killing, a change in crowd-control tactics used by the Israeli forces has been observed. This entailed a reduction in the use of live ammunition, and a change in the manner in which teargas canisters are being used: rather than firing teargas directly into crowds of demonstrators, teargas canisters are fired from greater distances into empty areas between the Israeli forces and the demonstrators, creating an almost impenetrable teargas “barrier”.
The Israeli Border Police have also reintroduced the “skunk” bomb, a foul-smelling liquid first used in 2008, which induces nausea and vomiting, and causes demonstrators to disperse in order to escape the smell.
Settler violence on the rise
Data recorded by OCHA suggests that settler violence against Palestinians and their property is on the rise, for the third consecutive month. Though the number of Palestinian casualties resulting from settler violence decreased considerably in July, from 27 injuries in June1 to seven in July,widespread reports of settler vandalism of Palestinian property continue, particularly in the northern West Bank. In total, OCHA recorded 43 settler-related incidents affecting Palestinians, up 43 percent from incidents recorded in June. Since the beginning of 2009, OCHA has recorded 188 incidents, a monthly average of 27 incidents, down 18 percent from the 2008 monthly average.
The majority of July incidents involved settlers’ trespass onto Palestinian property (18) and damage to Palestinian property and land (14). Many of the July incidents are part of the “price tag” strategy announced by settlers, whereby they will retaliate against Palestinian civilians and their property for attempts to dismantle settlement outposts. For example, on 20 July, Israeli forces removed several structures from three settlement outposts.2 In response, Israeli settlers launched multiple attacks on Palestinian communities that continued for a week. According to the Nablus governor’s office, settlers set fire to at least 1,500 olive trees in the villages of Tell, Madama, Burin, Asira al Qibliya and Jit. Settlers also threw stones at Palestinian cars and blocked several junctions, affecting movement to and from Nablus, Tulkarem and Qalqilya. Two Palestinian motorists were lightly wounded and six vehicles were damaged. Of particular concern was an incident on 23 July, when more than 20 armed Israeli settlers from an outpost close to Yitzhar settlement attacked the nearby village of Asira al Qibliya with stones, after which the Palestinian villagers responded with stone throwing. The Israeli army arrived at the scene, but rather than dispersing the settlers, IDF troops fired sound bombs and teargas at the villagers.3
Also in July, the Israeli State Attorney decided to drop all charges against an Israeli settler who shot and wounded two Palestinians in the West Bank city of Hebron in December 2008, during the Israeli army’s evacuation of the Rajabi House settlement. The charges were dropped after the defendant’s attorney challenged the Prosecutors’ decision to withhold classified evidence related to the case; in its ruling on the matter, the Israeli Supreme Court found that the defendant’s right to a fair trial outweighed the harm to national security, if the evidence is disclosed. Though the shooting was captured on film, the State Attorney decided to drop the indictment altogether, stating that the benefit of protecting classified information for national security reasons was greater than that of proceeding with the case. Classified, or “secret” evidence, is regularly used by the IDF Military Prosecutor to hold Palestinians under administrative detention
for prolonged periods of time.4
July’s attacks give rise to serious concerns about the continued lack of adequate protection for Palestinian civilians from settler violence. In spite of clear legal obligations, the relevant Israeli authorities have consistently failed to adequately enforce the rule of law when it comes to Israeli settlers’ attacks on Palestinians. According to the Israeli human rights group Yesh Din, over 90 percent of investigations into settler violence are closed without an indictment filed against the suspect.5 By contrast, when Israeli civilians are the target of Palestinian violence, the IDF actively pursues Palestinian suspects; thousands of Palestinians are arrested and prosecuted through Israel’s military court system each year.6
The ongoing failure by the Israeli authorities to enforce the law on Israeli settlers, along with media reports about Israel’s intention to dismantle over 20 settlement outposts in the near future, in partial fulfillment of its Road Map obligations, raises concerns that settler violence may escalate.
Demolitions and displacement in the
In July, OCHA recorded the demolition of a total of 24 Palestinian-owned structures, five in East Jerusalem and 19 in Area C, displacing a total of 24 Palestinians, all living in East Jerusalem. Since the beginning of the year, OCHA has recorded the demolition of a total of 221 Palestinian-owned structures, including 90 residential structures, in the West Bank, which have displaced 513 people and affected a further 489. The monthly average of demolished structures in 2009 (32) is 11 percent higher than the parallel figure for 2008, while the 2009 monthly average of persons displaced (73) is roughly the same as the monthly average in 2008. Eighty-two (82) percent of demolished structures and 62 percent of persons displaced in 2009 were located in Area C.
Tense situation in East Jerusalem following settler takeover
of Palestinian homes
Tensions in East Jerusalem escalated considerably in July as Israeli settlers, accompanied by Israeli security forces, moved into an uninhabited home in the Ibn Haroun section of Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood. The affected property is the subject of a court case currently before the Israeli Supreme Court. The incident sparked protests by Palestinians, international and Israeli activists, resulting in multiple arrests.
In an adjacent section of Sheikh Jarrah, on 28 July, previously issued eviction orders against residents of two homes were extended until 10 August. The residences are home to two families, and are at the centre of a protracted legal dispute over ownership of the land on which the homes are built. The homes are part of a group of 28 buildings constructed in 1956 as a result of an agreement between UNRWA and the Jordanian government (which earmarked the land for the project) to house Palestinians refugees.7
The blockade continues; imports
reached the lowest level in 2009
This month, the number of truckloads allowed into Gaza (2,231) declined by 14 percent compared to June (2,583), reaching the lowest level since the beginning of the year. This amount constitutes only 18 percent of the monthly average of truckloads that entered Gaza in the first five months of 2007 (12,350), before the imposition of the blockade. Truckloads imported by humanitarian agencies constituted 18 percent of the imports, while the rest were imported by the commercial sector.
Similar to previous months, truckloads carrying basic food supplies have comprised the highest proportion of total truckloads (72%). Israel’s 22 March 2009 decision to enable the unrestricted entry of all foodstuffs, provided that the source is approved by the Israeli authorities, remains unimplemented. Therefore, many market food items have remained restricted from entering Gaza, including, but not limited to, powdered milk, tea, beverages, jam, several types of canned food and coffee. The remaining truckloads consisted of fuel supplies (10%), hygiene/cleaning materials (7%), agricultural raw materials (4%), and others (7%).
Other oPt issues
Thousands of students affected
by the shortage of educational facilities
As the 2009 – 2010 academic year begins, tens of thousands of Palestinian students in the West Bank and Gaza Strip will face a significant shortage of educational facilities due to restrictive policies implemented by the Israeli authorities.24 This shortage has a negative impact on the educational opportunities available to these students.
In Area C of the West Bank, improved learning conditions are an increasingly urgent priority in marginalized and vulnerable communities. Many structures currently being used as schools, including tents, tin shacks and crude cement buildings, fall far short of basic safety and hygiene standards, and offer little protection from the elements. While the Palestinian Authority (PA) is responsible for the provision of educational services in Area C of the West Bank, its ability to adequately fulfill this role is severely curtailed by the restrictive policy implemented by the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA) regarding issuance of building permits.25 There are at least 10 Area C schools that are currently facing difficulties because they were prevented from expanding their facilities due to the lack of permits, or they carried out construction without a permit and have subsequently been served stop work or demolition orders by the ICA. Among those affected are marginalized communities who have accomplished the difficult task of securing international funding to improve or build school facilities (e.g. Jahalin school in Jerusalem governorate, Ka’abneh school in the Jordan Valley).26
As a result of these difficulties, hundreds of children living in Israeli-controlled Area C will return to over-crowded, substandard schools. For remote communities without a suitable educational facility nearby, families must choose between housing their children with relatives in another area, or having their children, frequently girls, drop out of school altogether. Others must walk long distances to reach school.27
In East Jerusalem, the responsibility for the provision of public education lies with the Jerusalem Municipality and the Israeli Ministry of Education. Similar to Area C, Palestinian children are affected by the lack of sufficient and adequate educational space. According to a recent Israeli media report, an internal forum at the Jerusalem City Hall revealed that the Jerusalem municipality budgets five times more for each Israeli Jerusalemite student than a Palestinian East Jerusalem student.2 The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) reports that there is currently a shortage of 1,500 classrooms for East Jerusalem students.29 With too few classrooms, many Palestinian parents are forced to secure spaces for their children at private, UNRWA or Islamic Waqf schools or have their children drop out of school. According to ACRI, an estimated 9,000 students are not enrolled in any type of educational framework.30 These factors contribute to the high drop-out rate among the East Jerusalem population, which stands at around 50 percent.31
In the Gaza Strip, the ban on the entry of construction materials, in the context of the blockade imposed by Israel in June 2007, has prevented the reconstruction, rehabilitation or expansion of schools, particularly those destroyed or damaged during Israel’s “Cast Lead” military offensive. Over the course of the offensive, at least 280 schools incurred minor or severe damage, including 18 schools that were destroyed. More than six months after the declaration of ceasefires, none of the schools have been rebuilt or repaired. Construction materials needed include 25,000 tons of iron and 40,000 tons of cement. However, since the end of “Cast Lead”, only 10 truckloads carrying 471 tons of cement have entered Gaza, while no truckload of steel bars was allowed entry.33 Due to the damage to educational facilities, many students had to be re-located to other facilities, worsening already overcrowded conditions; during the past academic year, around 88 percent of UNRWA schools and 82 percent of government schools operated on a shift system to accommodate the high number of students.
In government schools, school attendance and performance have declined as a result of aging education infrastructure, overcrowding, and frequent disruptions caused by military operations. During the first semester of the 2007-2008 scholastic year, only 20 percent of 16,000 students enrolled in the sixth grade in Gaza passed standardized exams in math, science, English and Arabic, compared to around 50 per cent of their peers in Nablus and Jenin in the West Bank.