Some 18 per cent of the West Bank has been designated as firing zones where a Palestinian presence is formally prohibited without permission from the Israeli authorities, which is rarely granted. Palestinians who reside in or near the firing zones (roughly 5000 people) are among the most vulnerable in the West Bank, with limited access to services and no service infrastructure. Their living conditions are compounded by the difficulties which humanitarian organizations face obstacles in providing aid: since the beginning of 2011, more than 150 structures funded by international donors have been demolished by the Israeli authorities.
Their vulnerability is underscored by a recent water scarcity assessment carried out in Southern Hebron which reveals that despite the above average rainfall in the winter months of 2011-2012, 65 per cent of unserved communities would require water trucking by the start of July 2012 to meet their basic water needs.
In the Gaza Strip, the access of patients to specialised medical treatment unavailable within Gaza was of concern during the month. This was due to the temporary closure of the Referral Abroad Department (RAD) in Gaza following a dispute between the health authorities in Ramallah and Gaza. The closure delayed the processing of applications for several hundred Gaza patients who had been seeking medical care outside the Strip. During the crisis, the Palestine Human Rights Center (PHRC) in Gaza facilitated the exceptional approval of urgent cases. Following the intervention of a number of stakeholders the RAD office reopened on 26 July. The need to refer patients to hospitals outside Gaza, follows decades of neglect in the development of adequate medical infrastructures and services and has been compounded since June 2007 by the blockade, as well as by the political rift between the respective authorities in Gaza and Ramallah. This ongoing dispute has also affected the regular supply of drugs and medical disposables to Gaza, which is closely related to the demand for referrals, particularly chemotherapy for oncology patients.
Also this month, Israel allowed the direct transfer of construction materials into Gaza for the private sector, via the Sufa crossing, for the first time since October 2008, The import of basic building materials (aggregates, cements and metal bars) into Gaza has been effectively banned since the imposition of the blockade, with these materials instead being transferred to Gaza via the tunnels under the border between Gaza and Egypt. Although since the easing of the blockade in June 2010, an exception has been made for the limited entry of construction materials for approved international projects, these transfers require strict controls regarding user-end verification. By contrast, for July’s transfer, Israel did not seek the user-end verification required for international projects. This exemption, together with the continuing flow of construction materials through the tunnels, calls into question the rationale for such ongoing import restrictions.
In an encouraging development this month, the Gaza Power Plant (GPP) was able to increase electricity production following the installation of two new power transformers, donated by UNDP, along with an increase in fuel from the tunnels and other sources. As a result, power outages were reduced from 12 to 10 hours per day by the end of the month, when demand was high due to the summer heat and Ramadan. The effect of the chronic multi-year electricity deficit on Gaza has been significant, disrupting the delivery of basic services and undermining already vulnerable livelihoods and living conditions. Despite the improvement, the supply of fuel to Gaza and the GPP is too unpredictable and insufficient in volume to meet the current and long-term electricity needs of the Gaza population.
EIGHT COMMUNITIES IN THE HEBRON GOVERNORATE AT HEIGHTENED RISK OF DISPLACEMENT
The area has been closed by the Israeli military for training purposes
Concern over the fate of twelve Palestinian communities located in the south Hebron hills was heightened this month when on 22 July the Israeli Minister of Defense (MoD) submitted to the Israeli High Court of Justice (HCJ) its position on a petition against their forced eviction on grounds that the area is designated as a “firing zone”. The position holds that eight of the 12 communities (Majaz, Tabban, Isfey, Fakheit, Halaweh, Mirkez, Jinba, and Kharuba), with an estimated population of 1,126, should be evicted from the area. The remaining four communities (Tuba, Mufaqara, Megheir Al-Abeid, Sarura) will be allowed to remain, but will not be able to construct additional infrastructure.
According to the MoD’s position, the firing zone will be off-limits to the displaced communities, with exceptions made for land cultivation and grazing of livestock on weekends or Jewish holidays, when no military training takes place. All twelve communities, including the eight displaced communities, will only be able to use the firing zone for limited, one-month periods, twice per year, for agriculture and herding.
The Israeli Defense Minister’s submission to the HCJ comes in the context of a more than decade-long legal struggle between the Israeli military and the Palestinian residents of the affected area. The area, which encompasses some 30,000 dunums, was designated by the Israeli military as a closed military area in the 1970s, and named “Firing Zone 918”. Under Israeli military legislation, when areas are closed for military needs, people living these areas are recognized as “permanent residents”, and are not required to relocate.1 In 1999, the Israeli military issued evacuation orders to the Palestinian residents of “Firing Zone 918”, claiming that they were living there on a seasonal basis and therefore do not qualify as permanent residents; over 700 residents were evicted.
A few months later, following two petitions filed by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) and Rabbis for Human Rights on behalf of the communities, the Israeli HCJ issued an interim injunction allowing the residents to return to their homes; the injunction remains in force until the present.
Most of the affected communities existed in the area prior to 1967.3 Traditionally, residents have lived in caves and have relied on farming and animal husbandry for their livelihood. According to a number of multi-year community profiling surveys by OCHA as well as other international organizations,4 there is little cross-year variation in population numbers. This indicates that only a small minority of those under threat of displacement relocate seasonally, contrary to Israel’s assertion.
In its recent position submitted to the HCJ, the Ministry of Defense argued that since 2009 many unauthorized structures, including cisterns, schools, and other development structures had been erected, in violation of the Court's interim injunction, which called for the preservation of the status quo in the area. According to the petitioners, however, it would be unreasonable and inconsistent with international humanitarian law to interpret the Court’s injunction as allowing the villagers to return while denying them their most basic means of subsistence.
Some 18 per cent of the West Bank has been designated as firing zones, where approximately 5,000 Palestinians, mostly Bedouin and herders, live. Those who reside in or near the firing zones are among the most vulnerable in the West Bank. Due to military restrictions, they have limited or difficult access to services (such as education and health) and no service infrastructure (including water, sanitation and electricity infrastructure), with over 90 per cent of the communities being water scarce. 5 In addition, because they are predominantly herding communities, reduced access to grazing lands has resulted in increased dependency on bought fodder and the overgrazing of some areas, both of which contribute to diminished livelihoods. At 34 per cent of the population, food insecurity levels of Area C herders are among the highest in the West Bank.
On 9 August, the Israeli HCJ ruled against the two joint petitions (against the evacuation) that were filed in the year 2000, on the grounds that due to the long time period that has passed since its submission, the petitions are outdated. The injunction against the evacuation, however, will remain in force until 1 November 2012, to allow the affected people to file a new petition.
Over the past two years, humanitarian organizations have faced obstacles in providing aid to vulnerable communities in the West Bank. Since the beginning of 2011, more than 160 structures funded by international donors have been demolished by the Israeli authorities. Roughly 44 per cent of these structures were basic residential shelters (e.g. tents), while the majority of the other structures were intended to support livelihoods or improved access to basic services. Dozens of other aid projects are currently under demolition threat.
On such project, an initiative funded by the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO), and implemented by an international organization aims to erect a solar panel system to provide electricity for 19 families and one school in the communities of Al Fakhit and Al Tabban in Firing Zone 918. The solar panels would generate enough electricity to provide light for children to study and charging cell phones as the only link to the outside world, which be especially important for medical and other emergency cases. Currently, these communities depend on oil burning lamps as their main lighting source.
The project has faced threats of vehicle confiscation by the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA), and in one case an implementing partner was forced by the Israeli military to abandon their vehicle on the grounds of illegal driving in a restricted firing zone. The solar panels that have already been erected received demolition orders; the Israeli military maintains that structures such as solar panels need to have permits to be erected, but these would not be given due to the status of the area as closed for military purposes.
If the status of the firing zone is not changed, the establishment of humanitarian projects and other structures could be banned altogether, restricting access of residents to clean water, basic sanitation and education, which could result in further deterioration of humanitarian conditions on the ground.
HISTORICAL ENTRANCE INTO JERICHO OPENED ON THE OCCASION OF RAMADAN
Severe access restrictions to the northern Jordan Valley remain in place
On 20 July, the Israeli authorities removed an earthmound blocking the historical entrance to Jericho City from the north, via Road 90, which has been in place since the start of the second Intifada, over 10 years ago. The opening was introduced by the authorities as an easing on the occasion of the month of Ramadan; it is currently unclear whether the junction will remain open after the end of that month.
This opening has restored direct access to Jericho City for the Palestinian residents of the northern part of the Jericho governorate, as well as the rest of the northern Jordan Valley. As a result, these residents are not required to use detours via either Al Auja town and Yitav partial checkpoint (almost 5 additional kilometers) or via Road 1 and the southern entrance to the city (over 20 additional kilometers). This follows the replacement in May 2012 of another earthmound that blocked a route into the city from the west, with a road gate that has remained since open. This has allowed residents of two Bedouin communities (Wadi Al Qilt and Deir Al Qilt) to access Jericho directly, avoiding a 16 km long detour through Road 1, as well as facilitating the access of tourists from to Wadi Al Qilt nature reserve.
At the same time, other restrictions on the access of Palestinian vehicles to the Jordan Valley have remained in place. This area is separated from the rest of the West Bank by dozens of physical obstacles, including almost 30 kilometers of trenches and earth walls. As a result, all traffic to and from it has been funneled to six routes, four of which are controlled by checkpoints. While Palestinian registered as Jordan Valley residents are allowed to cross with their vehicles through the two northern checkpoints (Tayasir and Hamra), provided that the vehicle is registered in the Jordan Valley in the name of the driver, such crossing is perceived by Palestinians as particularly difficult and unpredictable.6 Non- Jordan Valley residents are only allowed to cross these checkpoints as pedestrians or if traveling via registered public transportation. The movement restrictions through these two checkpoints have undermined the access of already vulnerable communities in the northern Jordan Valley, mostly Bedouins and herders, to services and livelihoods on the other side of the checkpoints.7
While the restriction on the entry of non-Jordan Valley vehicles applies also to the other two checkpoints (Ma’ale Ephraim and Yitav), they are only occasionally enforced due to the fact that in 2011 these checkpoints became partial checkpoints, staffed on an irregular basis. This situation, along with the recent openings of the two routes into Jericho City, calls into question the need to maintain the severe restrictions applied at the two other checkpoints controlling access to the northern section of the Jordan Valley.
APPROXIMATELY 50,000 PALESTINIANS REQUIRE WATER TANKERING OVER THE NEXT FOUR MONTHS
Despite above average rainfall in the winter months of 2011-2012,8 parts of the West Bank are still experiencing water scarcity. According to a May 2012 water scarcity assessment in Southern Hebron governorate that was carried out by Action Against Hunger (ACF), 65 per cent of the un-served communities in that area, which usually rely on rainfall and cisterns for water, require water trucking by the start of July 2012 (when the water cisterns were depleted) to meet their basic water needs, the process of which has already begun. Another assessment, conducted in mid-July by the WASH Cluster, confirmed that water tankering is needed for 50,000 Palestinians living in vulnerable communities in areas surrounding Jericho, east of Bethlehem, south of Hebron, and Jordan valley, at the cost of approximately 1.2 million USD.
During the assessments, some community leaders reported having to purchase water from private tankers at a cost of approximately 20 - 25 NIS per cubic meter of water in comparison to less than 5NIS/cubic meter if connected to the water network. Other communities, such as those in Massafer Yatta, are paying approximately 60NIS per cubic meter of water. The gains in the use of the price cap system from the 2011 water scarcity response, in which the water supply was subsidized by international funding to all beneficiary by 10NIS/ cubic meter has been strongly endorsed by the Palestinian Authority (PA) and partners, as it provided economic relief to the vulnerable communities. As such, the PA has pledged to continue in 2012, but is hampered by massive financial constraints and is dependent on donors and international community for assistance.
Perennial water scarcity in the West Bank is partly due to insufficient rainfall, as well insufficient infrastructure development, caused by the restrictive permit system implemented by the Israeli authorities in Area C, which hampers the development of long-term, sustainable solutions. Herding communities are especially vulnerable: without adequate planning and development, their livelihoods are at risk as a result of decreasing grazing pastures and water levels of cisterns, increasing reliance on expensive fodder and tankered water to sustain flocks.
GAZA: ACCESS TO SPECIALIZED MEDICAL TREATMENT INTERRUPTED DUE TO THE INTERNAL POLITICAL RIFT
The situation further compounded by the ongoing financial crisis of the PA
The referral of patients out of Gaza for specialised medical treatment was suspended for a nine-day period (between 17 and 25 July) following a disagreement between the health authorities in Ramallah and Gaza over the management of the Referral Abroad Department (RAD) in Gaza. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the closure delayed the processing of applications and created hardship and confusion for several hundred Gaza patients who had been seeking support for medical care.
Referrals have become a significant expense for the MoH, representing 40 per cent of the MoH annual budget, second only to salaries. The latest crisis began after the MoH in Ramallah decided to replace the Gaza director and the medical review committee with new personnel. The next day the Hamas-run Ministry of Health in Gaza closed the RAD office.
Over the course of the crisis, the Palestine Human Rights Center (PHRC) in Gaza intervened to facilitate the submission of urgent RAD applications directly to Ramallah. The PCHR submitted a total of 181 cases during the nine days, of which 163 cases received RAD approval for financial coverage, and ten critical cases for immediate transfer out of Gaza for urgent treatment. Following negotiations between the sides and local health leaders, facilitated by WHO in Gaza, the RAD office was reopened on 26 July. The dispute, compounded by an ongoing financial crisis affecting the PA, resulted in a substantial decrease in the total number of applications approved by the RAD, from a monthly average in 2012 of 1340 applications, to just 833 during July. (In a previous dispute in 2009, the RAD shut down for 33 consecutive days.)
The gaps in medical services in Gaza are a result of decades of neglect in the development of adequate health infrastructure, planning and services under occupation, and the more recent impact of the Israeli-imposed blockade of Gaza since 2007. The political rift between the Gaza and Ramallah authorities, and the financial crisis of the PA, has also resulted in shortages in the supply of drugs and medical disposables to Gaza, which in turn increases the demand for referrals, particularly for chemotherapy for oncology patients. MoH referrals of Gaza patients to Jordan and Israel have been recently declining as a result of the financial crisis of the PA, which forced it to reduce costs by reducing referrals to the most costly destinations. In July 2012, only two referrals were made to Jordan, compared to a 2012 average of 38 referrals per month.
Since January 1991, Israeli movement restrictions on Gaza residents, including medical patients, have made exit from the Gaza Strip dependent on individual permits. In the past 10 years, permits have been tightly restricted for even those needing to access hospitals in the West Bank, Jordan or Israel. According to WHO, permit approval rates have improved in recent years, from 80 per cent in 2010, 90 per cent in 2011 and currently 94 per cent, due in part to advocacy efforts. However, hundreds of patients are still denied and delayed access, and can be subjected to interrogation and arrest at Erez checkpoint.
BUILDING MATERIALS EXCEPTIONALLY ALLOWED INTO GAZA FOR PRIVATE SECTOR
The ongoing ban called into question
This month, Israel allowed the direct transfer of construction materials to the Gazan private sector, for the first time since October 2008. Over the course of several days in July, Israeli authorities facilitated the transfer of roughly 20,000 tons of aggregates (gravel) via the Sufa crossing directly to the Gazan local market. The transfer represented the last of some 80,000 tons of aggregates purchased by the private sector in Gaza but stuck at Sufa after being prevented from entering since the imposition of the blockade in mid 2007.
The Sufa crossing was officially closed in September 2008, when the aggregates were still being stored at a facility next to it. In order to clear the goods from the crossing, in March-April 2011, Israel allowed 60,000 tons of these aggregates to be transferred to Gaza; however, at that time Israel insisted that the aggregates could be used only for an approved international project. Accordingly, an arrangement was made with UNRWA and other international organizations, which would purchase the aggregates from the Gazan traders to be used in their projects.
The import to Gaza of basic building materials has been banned since the imposition of the blockade in June 2007 (except for a brief period between June and October 2008).9 From June 2010, in the context of the easing of the blockade, Israel has allowed the limited entry of construction materials for approved international projects, with strict controls regarding user-end verification. By contrast, in the context of this month’s transfer, Israel did not seek any user-end verification required of international projects.
Despite the Israeli restrictions, basic construction materials (aggregates, cements and metal bars) are being transferred to Gaza via the tunnels under the border between Gaza and Egypt. In the two years since the easing of the blockade, roughly twice as many construction materials have entered Gaza via the tunnels compared to the Kerem Shalom crossing.
In addition to the private sector, these materials have been used by the de-facto authorities to implement a range of infrastructure projects, as well as to increase their revenues by ‘taxing’ the tunnel trade.10 However, given their commitment to use legitimately sourced materials, international organizations did not benefit from tunnel materials and have remained constrained by the system of approvals implemented by the Israeli authorities.
This system has proven problematic and led to significant delays, impeding the ability of agencies to respond to urgent needs and unnecessarily prolonging the hardship of the affected population. At present, 17 per cent of the UN programme of work submitted to the Israeli authorities, valued at USD 85 million, is still pending approval and have been for an average of 20 months. Pending projects include 525 housing units, 23 schools and a range of electricity, water and sanitation projects. A further five per cent of the UN programme, valued at USD 40 million, has been rejected by Israeli authorities, including over 300 housing units.
This month’s unregulated import of construction materials for the Gazan private sector via the Sufa crossing, together with the flow of such materials via the tunnels, calls into question the rationale for the ongoing import restrictions.
GAZA POWER PLANT CAPACITY INCREASED TO 120MW BUT ELECTRICITY CRISIS CONTINUES
The Gaza Power Plant (GPP) was able to increase electricity production this month following the installation of two new transformers and an increase in fuel from the tunnels. However, the current situation is still insufficient to allow for a sustainable solution to the Gaza electricity crisis. As a result of the new installations, the total capacity of the plant increased from 80MW to 120MW. This is the first time since 2006 that the GPP has been able to operate at such a capacity, when the plant’s transformers were destroyed in an Israeli airstrike. The new transformers and additional electronic equipment were donated by UNDP, and were allowed to enter through the Kerem Shalom crossing following coordination with the Israeli authorities.
The increased capacity increased Gaza’s electricity production levels to 110MW by the end of July.11 This was mainly due to an increase in diesel fuel imports through the tunnels, which provided roughly 4.5 million litres for the GPP. The GPP also benefited from an additional three million litres of fuel donated by the government of Qatar, which for the last two months have been transferred to Gaza via the Nitzana and Kerem Shalom crossings between Egypt, Israel and the Gaza Strip. A further 720,000 litres of fuel for the GPP was also purchased by the PA in the West Bank and transferred via Kerem Shalom. As a result of the increased electric production, towards the end of the month, power outages were reduced from 12 to 10 hours per day, a small but important improvement given the summer heat and increased needs during the month of Ramadan.
Despite the improvement this month, the supply of fuel to Gaza and the GPP is too unpredictable and insufficient in volume to meet the current and long-term electricity needs of the Gaza population. The GPP needs a regular supply of roughly 3.5 million litres per week to operate at full capacity, however the plant only received an average 2.2 million litres per week. Even if the plant did to receive a consistent and sufficient supply of fuel to produce 120MW regularly, this would still not meet the existing electricity demand in Gaza. In addition to the potential 120MW from the GPP, Gaza receives 120 MW from Israel and 22 MW from Egypt, bringing the total capacity to 262MW. However, the estimated demand in Gaza is roughly 350MW, leaving a gap of 25 per cent in the best case scenario.
The effect of the chronic multi-year electricity deficit on Gaza has been significant, disrupting the delivery of basic services and undermining already vulnerable livelihoods and living conditions. A long-term solution for the supply fuel or natural gas is needed for the GPP to reach its current capacity and expand operations to meet Gaza’s future energy needs, which would be necessary to transition from reliance on humanitarian assistance to recovery and sustainable development.
1. According to Israeli military orders, permanent residents of closed military areas are allowed to remain living the restricted areas, but no new persons can relocate to these areas.
2. HCJ proceeding 1199/99 and 517/00, HCJ proceeding 805/05
3. See for example Ya'akov Havakuk, LIFE IN THE CAVES OF SOUTH HEBRON (1985, Israel Ministry of Defense)
4. Population tallies by local FAO partners (and the WASH cluster) that were done in preparation for agricultural and water needs assessments
5. Over 90 percent of the communities access less than 60 litres per capita per day (l/c/d), compared to the 100 l/c/d recommended by the World Health Organization; over half access less than 30 l/c/d.
6. Vehicles are allowed to approach these checkpoints only after being called by the soldiers; all passengers (except the driver) must exit the vehicle and pass through a pedestrian lane, at the end of which they pass a metal detector and their documentation and belongings are checked. At Hamra checkpoint, passengers’ belongings are also checked using an X-ray machine. Cargo loaded on commercial vehicles is subject to visual inspection, with occasional requests to unload it for further inspection. Delays at these checkpoints vary depending on the volume of traffic, the type of vehicle and the intensity of inspection, normally ranging between 5 and 45 minutes. When an incident or a security alert occurs, delays lasting up to two hours are common.
For further details see OCHA, West Bank Movement and Access Update, August 2011.
7. The West Bank had 110 per cent more rainfall in the winter of 2011-1012 than the historical average.
8. The ban on the import of building materials was imposed from the start of the blockade in June 2007, however it was partially lifted in the context of a ‘calm’ or cease-fire agreement reached in June 2008, which held until November of that year.
9. Hamas authorities currently charge 10 NIS per ton of aggregates, 20 NIS per ton of cement and NIS 50 per ton of steel bars in taxes on tunnel construction materials. Based on the estimated volumes of tunnel construction materials since mid-2010, the de-facto authorities could have collected as much as NIS 26 million in taxes on these items alone.
10. Although the GPP’s capacity levels increased to 120MW, production levels were at 110MW.
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