6. During the reporting period, new hope for the achievement of a peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine emerged, with the launch of the Annapolis process and regular bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. The Quartet, the League of Arab States, several Arab countries, as well as Turkey, contributed to regional efforts to advance peace (see A/63/368-S/2008/612, paras. 6-9).
7. The situation on the ground in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, remained difficult and hampered political efforts to achieve the vision of two States living side by side in peace and security. In the Gaza Strip, in particular, prolonged violence and a deepening humanitarian crisis prevailed (ibid., para. 5). Despite the efforts to bring about peace, deaths and injuries resulting from the occupation and the internal conflict increased during 2007 and continued to rise in the first months of 2008.1 In 2007, some 412 Palestinians were killed, including 10 women. Approximately 345 people were killed between the beginning of 2008 and 21 April 2008, 89 per cent of them in the Gaza Strip, including 31 women and 80 children.2
8. Within the framework of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security, peacebuilding efforts by Palestinian organizations continued despite the difficult political circumstances. Civil society organizations, such as The Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH) focused efforts on linking the political and social agendas of the Palestinian women’s movement at the grass-roots level. In addition, the International Women’s Commission for a Just and Sustainable Palestinian-Israeli Peace engaged in policy dialogue at the international and national levels, to increase women’s participation in peace negotiations. The Commission included 20 Palestinian women leaders, working within governmental and non-governmental Palestinian organizations.3
9. Internal conflict in the Occupied Palestinian Territory compounded existing hardships. After the Hamas takeover of Gaza, additional restrictions on the movement of goods and people into the Gaza Strip, led to deteriorating conditions and shortages of basic commodities, including food, electricity and fuel. Increased restrictions on the operations of humanitarian agencies hindered the delivery of humanitarian aid in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank (see A/63/74-E/2008/13, summary).
10. The Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories expressed serious concern about the continuing deterioration of the human rights and humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (see A/63/273, paras. 114-118). In particular, the Committee noted that isolation of the Gaza Strip had the most dramatic impact on women and children (ibid., para. 45).
11. The right to freedom of movement continued to be obstructed in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. In January 2008, the Human Rights Council expressed grave concern about “the continued closures of and within the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the restriction of the freedom of movement of people and goods, including the repeated closure of the crossing points of the Gaza Strip, which created an extremely precarious humanitarian situation for the civilian population and impaired the economic and social rights of the Palestinian people”.4 In September 2008, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported 630 obstacles blocking Palestinian movement, including 93 staffed checkpoints and 537 unstaffed obstacles in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.5
12. The conflict continued to negatively impact the Palestinian economy as restrictions were tightened in the West Bank and Gaza’s primary border crossings remained closed, thus constraining development projects.6 The International Monetary Fund reported that the macroeconomic environment had been less favourable than envisaged, unemployment and poverty remained high, especially in Gaza, and real incomes in the West Bank and Gaza were reduced by the sharp rise in inflation.6 The World Bank noted that as the Palestinian economy declined, the Occupied Palestinian Territory was steadily becoming more aid dependent.7
13. Based on the Palestinian Expenditure and Consumption Survey for 2007, about 79 per cent of households in Gaza and 46 per cent in the West Bank lived below the poverty line.8 In 2008, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs found that previously self-reliant families progressively were falling into poverty owing to the deteriorating Palestinian livelihoods.9 In fact, nearly two thirds (62.5 per cent) of female-headed households live in poverty.10 To cope with poverty and food insecurity, many parents reduced their food intake to allow their children to eat.11
14. Poverty and the global rise in food prices greatly affect Palestinian living conditions.7 Owing to inadequate income and employment, 80 per cent of households in Gaza (1.3 million people), and 33 per cent in the West Bank (0.7 million people), are dependent on international food assistance.12 A joint FAO/WFP/UNRWA rapid survey on food security found that despite humanitarian aid, food insecurity was on the rise and almost two thirds of household income was spent on food only.13 Moreover, the study found that women and children continued to be disproportionately affected by food insecurity. Food insecurity was found in households where the percentage of female residents was 50 per cent or higher.11 This was explained by unequal employment rates between men and women with almost equal education levels, and the lack of integration of women in the formal labour market.11
15. During the period under review, the employment and labour situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory continued to deteriorate. ILO reported a much degraded employment and labour situation owing to continuing impediments to the movement of persons and goods in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. Only one in three persons of working age was employed; enterprises were either closing or operating well below their capacity and new investments were deferred.12
16. Women were more likely not to participate in the labour force than men. For the second quarter (April-June 2008), the labour participation rate of women was 16.0 per cent compared to 66.3 per cent for men.14 Some 64.4 per cent of men with 13 or more years of schooling participated in the labour force, compared to 42.1 per cent of women with the same number of years of schooling.14 For young women aged 15 to 19, the participation rate was 2.1 per cent compared to 25.4 per cent for young men of the same age group.15
17. The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics reported that for the second quarter of 2008 (April-June), the percentage of women in agriculture, fishing and forestry was higher than that of men — 30.7 per cent of women and 11.0 per cent of men.16 An ILO study found that 60 per cent of female workers and only 16 per cent of male workers were located in the informal economy.17 The high percentage of women in informal employment was attributed to the lack of an adequate and affordable social infrastructure and services that placed the burden of caring for the young, elderly, and the sick on women, thus limiting their employment options and steering them into informal work arrangements often performed from home.17
18. Movement restrictions negatively affected women’s health. In the period under review, 69 pregnant women were forced to give birth at Israeli military checkpoints. Thirty-nine babies and five women died as a result.18 Since childbirth facilities are located in urban-based hospitals, some pregnant women moved to the homes of relatives living in towns a few weeks before the expected delivery (see A/HRC/7/44, para. 7 (d) and (e)). The attendance rate for newly pregnant women at maternal and child health-care clinics decreased from 4.8 visits per pregnant woman in 2005 to 3.7 visits per pregnant woman in 2006.19 The Ministry of Health collaborated with international agencies, including UNICEF, to secure vaccines for newborn babies, children and mothers.20
19. WHO reported that the health conditions of female prisoners in general were extremely difficult and poor.21 At the end of July 2008, it was reported that 77 Palestinian female security prisoners were held in Israeli prisons and detention centres.22 Approximately 25 per cent of Palestinian female prisoners suffered from treatable illnesses, including excessive weight loss, general weakness, anaemia and iron deficiency owing to poor quality food and the lack of essential nutrients.23 In addition, they were exposed to harsh treatment from male and female prison officers, with no regard for their condition or their special needs in pregnancy.21
20. Recent assessments of the psychosocial well-being of the Palestinian population showed that severe stress and other mental health problems had increased. The prolonged tension, lack of physical security, mobility restrictions and limited educational and leisure opportunities were identified as some of the causes of psychological strain for many Palestinians, especially women, children and adolescents.10
21. Incidents of violence against women, including domestic violence, continued during the period under review. Results of a UNFPA survey and a UNRWA qualitative study associated the increase of domestic violence rates with the rising political violence in 2007.11 The UNRWA study also indicated that rates of domestic violence had risen since the commencement of the second intifada in September 2000, with men using women as outlets for their anger, frustration and powerlessness.11 UNFPA found that the majority of married (61.7 per cent) and unmarried (53.3 per cent) women were exposed to psychological violence.10 Poverty, low education levels, lack of decision-making power, violent childhoods, conflict in the community, drug abuse and lack of access to divorce were all viewed by refugee women as causes of domestic violence. A link was also made between little or no income in female-headed households and domestic and gender-based violence.11
22. The right to education continued to be seriously affected by the occupation.11 Although girls outnumbered boys in primary and secondary enrolment for the academic year 2007/2008 (548,781 women versus 548,314 men), the female dropout rate continued to surpass the male dropout rate at the secondary level — 3.8 per cent versus 3 per cent.24 The school dropouts were attributed to early marriage, the economic situation and travel restrictions.11 In the period under review, UNICEF also reported that young Palestinian girls continued to have few opportunities for development, recreation and participation. There were few safe spaces for them to go, and most of the 300 youth clubs across the Occupied Palestinian Territory lacked funding and were poorly managed and equipped. UNICEF also indicated that adolescence was often compromised by household demands and early marriage of young women and girls.25
23. The percentage of women in decision-making remained low. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, women accounted for 12.6 per cent of the members of the Legislative Council; 7.4 per cent of ambassadors; 11.2 per cent of judges; and 12.1 per cent of general prosecutors.26