September witnessed a serious escalation in Israeli settler violence resulting in one Palestinian killed and 68 others injured, a family of twelve displaced, and nearly 2,500 trees burnt, cut down, or otherwise vandalized. Other developments in September related to settler activities highlighted the long-standing and pervasive lawlessness underlying the phenomenon of settler violence. These include the closure without indictment of an investigation into a serious settler attack that was video-recorded in 2008, as well as the official announcement by Israeli authorities of their intention to “legalize” one large settlement in the Ramallah area (Ofra), which was built without building permits, mostly on private Palestinian land.
In the northern West Bank, the livelihoods of hundreds of Palestinian families in three villages were also undermined due to the demolition by the Israeli authorities of six water wells, on the grounds that the wells were dug without permission by the Israeli-Palestinian Joint Water Committee. The wells were used for the irrigation of approximately 3,000 dunums of farmland. To cope with the water shortfall, some affected farmers have resorted to the use of storm water runoff and untreated raw sewage for irrigation, creating an environmental health hazard. Of additional concern, the demolished the wells were located in Area B, where under the Interim Agreement of 1995, planning powers has been under the auspices of the Palestinian Authority.
The severe funding deficit facing UNRWA, which supports more than two-thirds of Gaza’s population, has had a detrimental effect on the already severe humanitarian conditions in that part of the oPt. The funding shortfall, estimated at USD 36 million, has forced UNRWA to reduce or suspend a number of programmes related to job creation, food assistance, education and counseling. Beyond the immediate impact, Gaza, given that UNRWA employs some 9 percent of Gaza’s workforce, the cuts are expected to negatively affect unemployment rates in the coming months, increasing the risk of humanitarian vulnerability.
As the occupying power, the Government of Israel is ultimately responsible for the protection and wellbeing of the Palestinian population in the oPt. Exercising this responsibility requires serious action to enforce the law on Israeli settlers, who reside illegally in the West Bank according to international law. Unilateral actions targeting the property and livelihoods of protected civilians, such as the destruction of water wells, must also stop.
Settler violence on the rise
September’s events highlight the absence of the rule of law
September witnessed a sharp escalation in Israeli settler violence, reflected both in the number of incidents and their increasing impact. During the month, OCHA recorded a total of 73 incidents that resulted in either Palestinian injuries or damage to Palestinian property. Excluding March 2011,1 this was the largest number of settler attacks resulting in casualties or property damage recorded in a single month since January 2006, when OCHA began systematically recording settler-related incidents. Moreover, September’s escalation followed an upward trend in settler violence: since the beginning of 2011, a total of 335 such incidents was recorded, constituting a 63 and 205 percent increase, compared with the equivalent period in 2010 and 2009 respectively.
Many of the attacks during the month were perpetrated in the context of the so-called “price tag” strategy, in connection to the demolition of a few structures in two unauthorized settlement outposts (Migron and Ramat Migron) in the Ramallah governorate by the Israeli authorities.2 The submission of the Palestinian request for UN membership also triggered a number of attacks.
Overall, during the month one Palestinian was killed and 68 others were injured either by Israeli settlers or by the Israeli military in the course of incidents involving Israeli settlers, and nearly 2,500 trees were vandalized, among other incidents. In the same context, one Israeli settler and his 18-month-old son were killed this month in a car crash, after the driver was hit by stones thrown by Palestinians, and another three settlers were injured by Palestinians in other incidents. Also this month, an 8-year-old Palestinian child resident of Hebron City was hit and killed by a vehicle driven by an Israeli settler when crossing Road 60.
The displacement of vulnerable communities as a result of settler violence is an issue of increasing concern. In one of the incidents this month (9 September), Israeli settlers set fire to a residential tent in the herder community of Susiya in the Hebron governorate, injuring one Palestinian and displacing a family of twelve. Earlier this year (July), an entire herder community in the Ramallah governorate (Al Baqa’a) was forcibly displaced due to recurrent settler attacks.
The surge in settler violence in recent months has taken place against the background of a long-standing and pervasive lawlessness and impunity vis-à-vis settler activities. This is reflected in the failure to prevent attacks; even though most of September’s incidents occurred in areas that are regularly targeted by settlers, at times when violence could be reasonably expected to occur (during outpost demolitions and around the time of the UN bid), measures adopted on the ground by the Israeli army were largely insufficient and/or inadequate to prevent or reduce the scope of attacks.
A third element is the attempt to retroactively “legalize” blatantly illegal acts. On 15 September, the Israeli State Attorney informed the High Court of Justice of its intention to prepare a “demarcation map” for the settlement of Ofra (population over 3,300) in the Ramallah Governorate. Since the majority of the settlement was built on privately-owned Palestinian land, officially registered in the land registry in the name of residents from the neighboring villages of ‘Ein Yabrud and Silwad, no master plan could be issued. Therefore all the settlement’s houses lack building permits.3 The recently announced step has the explicit aim of initiating the process of “legalizing” both the settlement (under Israeli law) and the seizure of privately owned Palestinian land.
Israeli authorities carry out
demolitions of water infrastructure
Hundred of Palestinian families affected in the northern West Bank
More than two thirds of Gaza’s population severely affected
Currently, UNRWA has more than 167,000 outstanding Job Creation Program (JCP) applicants seeking temporary employment assistance. After an initial 30 percent decline in the number of rolling contracts (from 10,000 to 6,500) in June 2011, on 1 September the new contracts ceased altogether. Given that JCP’s employees make a significant share of UNRWA’s staff, including half of the staff in health centers, 1,500 remedial teachers, and more than 2,000 garbage collectors, the recent cuts have affected the capacity of the agency to deliver services. As UNRWA accounts for some 9 percent of the total employment in Gaza, the recent developments are likely to be reflected in the overall unemployment rate for the second half of 2011, after it showed a significant decrease (from 37.4 to 25.5 percent) in the first half of the year.
UNRWA provides 240,000 abject poor who live on less than 1.60 USD per day with three quarters of their basic daily caloric needs and over 400,000 additional living on less than 4 USD per day with rations that met 40 percent of their basic daily caloric needs. An additional 220,000 children are provided with nutritional supplementary school feeding. Unless the funding gaps are filled, these programs will be suspended as of January 2012.
The reduction in food assistance will require already extremely vulnerable households to fill the deficit in their household budgets at a time when food prices continue to soar, further exacerbating their food insecure situation and ability to cope.
Dependency on humanitarian aid in Gaza has been exacerbated as a result of the economic collapse that resulted from the Israeli blockade of Gaza, imposed since 2007. While the easing of the blockade since June 2010, along with increasing tunnel activity, has triggered some economic recovery, ongoing restrictions on imports and exports, as well as on access to farming land and fishing waters have continued to undermine the livelihoods of the population and render a significant part of the population dependent on humanitarian assistance.
Impediments to education in Jerusalem area
With the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year, there are ongoing concerns that Palestinian children living in East Jerusalem are not being afforded adequate resources to meet their educational needs. Education in East Jerusalem remains under the direct responsibility of the Israeli authorities. Widespread classroom shortages and substandard conditions in schools remain of high concern.5 The municipal school system is unable to absorb all school children in East Jerusalem, and every year thousands of Palestinian children are turned away. For those students who do have a spot, double shifting is common, and schools are often forced to hold classes in rented houses that do not meet basic educational and health standards.6 Currently, six schools in East Jerusalem have structures with outstanding demolition orders.
And yet, community attempts to address the insufficient resources allocated to the Palestinian student population by the Jerusalem Municipality are often met with numerous bureaucratic and other systemic obstacles, preventing them from filling the gap in educational needs.
Under international law, all children are entitled to receive education in a safe and adequate learning environment. As the occupying Power, Israel has an obligation to protect civilian infrastructure, including schools, and to facilitate the proper working of all institutions that are devoted to the care and education of children. The demolition, closure or raiding of schools and kindergartens run counter to this obligation.