Israel + 1 more

Activities in Israel, the occupied territories and the autonomous territories - ICRC update 12 Dec 2001

Executive summary
November 2001 saw a continued spiralling of the violence in Israel, the occupied and the autonomous territories, culminating in a dramatic escalation in the first week of December. The toll of victims on both Israeli and Palestinian sides continues to grow. Meanwhile, the closures and curfews imposed on Palestinian towns and villages, widely considered to be the harshest yet, continue to paralyse everyday life for the civilian population.

Following the renewed outbreak of violence in September 2000, the ICRC has been running a three-pronged relief programme involving:

  • material assistance for Palestinians whose houses have been demolished
  • mainly food assistance for people worst affected by the closure of towns and villages in the West Bank
  • the distribution of food parcels provided by the Kuwaiti Red Crescent to the in habitants of Hebron.

The ICRC supports Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) emergency medical services. As lead agency in this context, the ICRC is coordinating the relief response of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. The ICRC backs the ongoing efforts of the Magen David Adom (MDA) and PRCS to spread knowledge of IHL.

General situation

Fourteen months since the renewed outbreak of fighting in the occupied and autonomous territories the violence continues to spiral. Since the beginning of December, a series of Palestinian suicide bomb attacks in West Jerusalem and Haifa has killed 29 Israelis and wounded many more. This was followed by increased Israeli military offensives against positions linked to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Gaza and incursions into autonomous Palestinian territory. A state of emergency was subsequently declared by the Palestinian Authority in the territories under its administration. At the same time, the Israeli army has tightened even further its closure of the Palestinian territories and the blockage of West Bank towns, reoccupying some autonomous areas of the West Bank from which it had withdrawn in November.

The stranglehold on Palestinian civilian life has been steadily tightening over the past months. In October 2001, the assassination of an Israeli minister in Jerusalem sparked an intensification in armed confrontations, following which the Israeli army occupied six West Bank towns under Palestinian control ("zone A") for most of November, and tightened the closures of Palestinian towns and villages, thus making living conditions for the Palestinian population even more difficult.

Indeed, for weeks at a time, tens of thousands of residents of cities and villages are locked in their homes, prevented from going to work or to school. Medical emergencies and vital supplies such as fuel and food still too frequently encounter difficulties in passing checkpoints. Increased incursions by Israeli Defence Force (IDF) tanks and bulldozers into Palestinian autonomous territory in the Gaza Strip have caused more damage to or destruction of houses and the levelling of land. In November alone, the delegation assisted 108 families whose homes had been destroyed.

Schools, too, have come under shellfire. In mid November an UNRWA school in Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip was hit and the American School in Beit Lahia in northern Gaza came under heavy fire, causing significant damage. The effect of the conflict on children is a growing source of concern. It is estimated that 194 children under the age of 18 have been killed since the start of the violence over a year ago, the vast majority of them Palestinians, while an estimated 7,000 Palestinian and 50 Israeli children have been hurt. On 22 November, five Palestinian schoolchildren died when an explosive device went off in Khan Yunis. According to UNICEF reports, many children are suffering considerable psychological stress as a result of what they have experienced or seen.

Humanitarian response

In Israel, the occupied and the autonomous territories, the ICRC works towards ensuring faithful application of and respect for international humanitarian law (IHL), mainly the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the protection of civilians in time of war and occupation. It monitors the situation of the civilian population, visits detainees and makes representations to the relevant authorities, both Israeli and Palestinian. It frequently plays the role of neutral intermediary, for instance in facilitating the passage of Palestinian ambulances and civilians' access to their places of work or education.

In the current context of violence, the presence of a neutral intermediary able to intervene on behalf of the civilian population and document violations of humanitarian law becomes ever more important. In response to the growing needs the ICRC has pursued its efforts to provide material assistance and to liaise with the various authorities in order to solve the most pressing humanitarian problems. The ICRC makes regular oral and written representations to the Israeli authorities reminding them of their obligations under IHL. Representations are also made to the Palestinian Authority regarding civilians living in areas under their administration, as well as concerning acts of violence and attacks against Israeli civilians.

1. ICRC assistance programmes

In the past weeks, the ICRC has continued providing assistance to the civilian population affected by the closures and to families whose houses have been destroyed.For details of the "closure relief programme" and "house destruction relief programme", see also the ICRC's Budget Extension Appeal of 24 April 2001 (OP/REX/OPS 01/18, Bud.Ext.App. No. 02/2001).

House destruction relief programme

The ICRC provides tents and basic household items to families whose homes have just been partially or completely destroyed. The relief is distributed within 24 hours, to help them get over the worst period after losing their homes.

In November alone a total of 130 families benefited from this programme, 108 in Gaza and 22 in the West Bank. On 26 November 2001, 32 families from Rafah camp whose houses had been destroyed received family parcels. 3 tents were provided to large families. On 19 November 2001, family parcels containing blankets, hygiene kits, kitchen sets, gas stoves, lamps and other household items were supplied to 279 persons in Al Tofah area of Khan Younis. In addition, 24 tents were distributed to large families consisting of more than 9 members. In the first half of November, the ICRC provided assistance -- shelter, household and hygiene articles -- to 67 families in the Gaza Strip (Khan Younis and Rafah camp) and 5 families in the West Bank whose houses had been destroyed or damaged.

Since September 2000, the ICRC has provided assistance to more than 5,200 persons whose houses were destroyed in the Gaza Strip. In the West Bank, more than 640 persons have been assisted.

Closure relief programme

In November, the ICRC carried out relief distributions to the West Bank districts of Nablus, Ramallah, Tulkarem and Salfit to some 1,300 families most affected by the closures. Each relief package contained 2 blankets, 1 hygiene parcel, 3 kg of sugar and 1 kg of tea.

Since the start of the programme at the beginning of 2001, a total of 20,908 families - 125,450 individuals - in the West Bank (Jenin, Nablus, Ramallah, Betlehem, Hebron, Tulkarem, and Salfit) have been assisted.

Food parcel distribution in Hebron

Between 12 and 25 November the ICRC organized the last round of distributions of 4,500 food parcels donated by the Kuwaiti Red Crescent (KRCS) to the population of Hebron in the West Bank. In October, 4,500 parcels had also been distributed in Hebron, supplemented by deliveries of wheatflour (1,800 sacks), 4,500 school bags and 700 blankets, also provided by the KRCS.

In 2001, a total of 18,000 such food parcels were distributed in Hebron town.

2. The ICRC as a neutral intermediary

The ICRC continues to play its role of neutral intermediary in order to enable essential aid to reach the blocked Palestinian population. It regularly negotiates the passage of PRCS ambulances and Palestinian doctors at checkpoints and arranges access for them to areas under curfew, as well as directly evacuating the wounded and sick itself. On many occasions, ICRC trucks have transported emergency medical supplies from the Ministry of Health warehouse in Ramallah to hospitals in Jenin, Bethlehem and Hebron. In October, for example, 40 dialysis patients in Hebron could thus receive the medicines they needed to treat their condition.

During the IDF military operations in zone A over the past weeks, ICRC staff mediated between the Israeli and Palestinian authorities to negotiate safe passage for members of the PRCS delivering bread and milk to civilians unable to leave their homes in Ramallah and Bethlehem. They also negotiated a one-hour lifting of the curfew that had been imposed on Ramallah for several days, to allow the civilian population to go out and stock up on food, water and other necessities, and negotiated a ceasefire which enabled twelve people blocked in a building in Bethlehem to be evacuated in October.

The ICRC frequently mediates in order to enable Palestinian civilians stuck at checkpoints to cross and return home. In Jenin, the ICRC helped civilians to go to their houses in areas cut off from the city by IDF tanks in order to collect food, clothing and school material. At checkpoints, ICRC delegates always strive to make the soldiers aware of the ICRC and its mandate, and of international humanitarian law issues.

ICRC delegates hold regular talks with local officers in the Israeli civil administration in order to advocate improvements in the living conditions of the Palestinian population under closure, for instance to enable them to harvest olives and other crops, particularly in fields which are located close to settlements. In November, the ICRC monitored the last phase of the olive harvest in Jenin, in the West Bank, coordinating between the Palestinian and Israeli liaison offices.

The ICRC is very concerned about the question of access to water for West Bank villages which are not connected to the water distribution network, and which are suffering from water shortages as tanker trucks are not allowed to pass through IDF checkpoints. Moreover, because of the closures, repairs and maintenance on water and electricity networks can not be carried out easily. The ICRC visits such villages to assess the situation and regularly negotiates the passage of tanker trucks and of repair services. In another aspect of its work to help the population overcome the effects of the closures on daily life, the ICRC has transported vaccines for livestock.

Residents of the Syrian Golan occupied by Israel

The ICRC continues to work on behalf of the civilian population living in the Syrian Golan which is occupied by Israel. On 25 September the ICRC facilitated the passage of 130 Golanese, mainly students but also pilgrims and future brides, across the area of separation.

3. Documenting violations of humanitarian law

The ICRC carries out daily assessments of the humanitarian situation in Palestinian towns and refugee camps, in particular after receiving reports of heavy shooting and shelling. The ICRC visits areas where houses have been destroyed to assess the humanitarian situation and needs after IDF incursions, and registers the families whose houses have been partially or totally demolished.

4. Addressing the authorities at highest level

The ICRC regularly makes representations to the authorities regarding violations of IHL that it has documented. On 4 to 8 November, the ICRC's Director General was in Israel, the occupied and the autonomous territories. During meetings with the Israeli authorities, he highlighted the major humanitarian problems and called for further respect of IHL and in particular of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Particular emphasis was put on the humanitarian consequences of the illegal presence of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, on the right of families to visit their relatives in prison, the devastating effect of the prolonged closures on the population's mobility and the problems this engenders, the question of access for ambulances to the wounded and sick, and the effect on the Palestinian economy in general.

During his visit, the ICRC Director General also met the President of the Palestinian Authority among other things to discuss respect for the 1996 agreement between the Palestinian Authority and the ICRC regarding access to detainees. The ICRC also called on the Palestinian Authority to ensure respect for civilians in all circumstances.

5. Protection of detainees

ICRC visits to detainees to monitor their treatment and conditions of detention are one of the organisation's long-standing priorities in Israel, the occupied and the autonomous territories, and have continued regularly throughout 2001. Over the past months, the number of arrests both on the Israeli and Palestinian sides has been on the rise. There are currently some 4,000 detainees in Israeli places of detention for whom the ICRC has a mandate, and around 1,200 detainees in Palestinian places of detention. Due to the current situation and rising tensions, it is very important that the ICRC maintain a regular presence in all detention facilities under the Israeli and under the Palestinian authorities.

In the Palestinian-administered territories, the ICRC is the only organization regularly visiting Palestinian prisons, in accordance with an agreement signed in 1996.

As regards Palestinian detainees held in Israel, a significant problem over the past year has been the limitations placed by the Israeli authorities on visits by family members. The ICRC's family visits programme to Palestinians detained in Israel has run satisfactorily for only two months in the West Bank and for about four months in the Gaza Strip since the outbreak of violence in October 2000. Despite numerous attempts, external and internal closures and other constraints imposed by the Israeli Authorities are still hampering the running of the programme. When it functions regularly, the ICRC organises the transport of an average of 9,000 persons per month. In the meantime, the ICRC has begun distributing winter clothes to the detainees, in particular those who do not receive family visits because of the long suspension of the programme. The clothes were provided by both the families and the ICRC. In 2002, the ICRC will strive to keep up these services where possible.

It also seeks access from the Israeli authorities to Sheikh Obeid and M. Dirani held in Israel since 1989 and 1994 respectively.

On 29 October the Israeli army announced that, according to the information at its disposal, it was highly probable that the three Israeli soldiers captured on 7 October 2000 by Hezbollah were dead. The ICRC has received no confirmation of the death of these soldiers, and regularly reiterates its request to Hezbollah for access to the soldiers, and to the Israeli civilian also detained since October 2000. The denial of ICRC access to these detainees constitutes a violation of IHL.

6. Disseminating International Humanitarian Law

In order to improve respect for IHL and promote knowledge of the ICRC's mandate, both among military personnel and civilians, the ICRC runs various dissemination and training programmes in the region. Occasional presentations are made in Israeli officers' schools and new fruitful co-operation has begun with the Home Front Command (which includes Israel's Civil Defence).

The ICRC is making a special effort to inform young Palestinians, who are often involved in demonstrations, about ICRC activities and to raise their awareness of humanitarian values and principles. This is done through comic books, youth magazines, and instructional sessions at youth summer camps. In the summer of 2001, around 1,800 participants of 32 summer camps attended such sessions. In November, various sessions on IHL were held for Palestinian law students, schoolchildren and university professors.

Cooperation within the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement

The ICRC maintains support for the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS), which is the key provider of emergency medical services (EMS) for the Palestinian population. The cooperation supports radio communication, a comprehensive EMS training scheme for all staff and the supply of more than 20 medical First Aid posts to effectively tackle mass casualty scenarios. Since May 2001 the ICRC has been covering the running costs of the PRCS's fleet of up to 100 ambulances and the salaries of the over 220 employees involved. As ever, the ICRC also offers its services to the MDA to help develop its dissemination and tracing activities.

As lead agency for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in Israel, the occupied territories and the autonomous territories, the ICRC is coordinating its humanitarian response. At present, 29 Participating National Societies are involved in providing assistance. The ICRC runs monthly coordination meetings between delegates from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the PRCS and the various Participating National Societies. In 2001 three delegated projects began: a fleet-management and medical logistics project run by the Norwegian Red Cross, a trauma management project for Emergency Medical Technicians run by the German Red Cross, and refurbishment of Arrabeh EMS station, by the Hellenic Red Cross.

Coordination with other humanitarian actors

The ICRC strives to coordinate its activities with the other players in the field, especially as regards material assistance, in order to avoid duplication. The UN is represented by several agencies in the occupied territories, in particular the office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR), the office of the United Nations Special Coordinator (UNSCO) and UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East), which assists 800,000 refugees in the Gaza Strip in the areas of relief, job creation and education. The ICRC has regular contacts with the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) and maintains constructive relations with Palestinian, Israeli and international NGOs.

Personnel and logistics structure

The ICRC currently has 50 expatriates and 104 national staff working in Israel, the occupied and the autonomous territories.

In November 2000 the ICRC set up a logistics support unit at its delegation in Amman, Jordan, to guarantee coordination of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement's relief response. The unit provides technical support and guidelines to the components of the Movement in the region, receives the various types of assistance donated by the different National Societies in accordance with these guidelines, and arranges transportation of the goods to the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

For further information, please contact the External Resources Division