The impact of the recent escalation cannot be understood without recognizing its distinct gendered impacts on the affected population. Palestinian women, men, girls and boys, and the elderly, many with disability, are now facing new realities in accessing services, providing for themselves and others, and fulfilling expected household roles. For many, these new realities are the result of the cumulative impact of conflict which is compounded by traditional societal perceptions and norms. Based on preliminary data collection and lessons learned from gender analyses of previous escalations, the ongoing crisis has exacerbated gender-specific risks and vulnerabilities and resulted in higher scale of humanitarian needs among women, girls, men and boys in Gaza. The following brief analysis will examine the gendered impact of the escalation in the framework of the thematic focus of humanitarian sectors and clusters.
On 13 April 2021, on the first day of Ramadan, unrest began in East Jerusalem after the Israeli authorities installed metal barriers outside the Damascus Gate, blocking access to a public area for Palestinians. Although relative calm was restored on 25 April with the removal of the barriers, tensions were reignited by the Israeli authorities’ plans to evict four Palestinian refugee families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, in occupied East Jerusalem.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) stated that the evictions, if ordered and implemented, would violate Israel’s obligations under international law. Palestinians held daily protests in Sheikh Jarrah in solidarity with the families, triggering clashes with Israeli settlers and Israeli security forces-Between 7 and 10 May, widespread clashes erupted across East Jerusalem, particularly in the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Damascus Gate area. A heavy Israeli security presence and large numbers of worshippers contributed to the tensions. By 10 May, 657 Palestinians were injured. Since 10 May, 27 Palestinians have been killed and 6,794 injured by Israeli forces across the West Bank in protests, clashes and attacks.
In response to the unrest in East Jerusalem, Palestinian armed groups in the Gaza Strip launched rockets into Israel on 10 May 2021. Israeli forces responded by carrying out a large number of airstrikes. The hostilities continued for 11 days. According to UN human rights experts, the firing of missiles and shells by Israel into heavily-populated areas of Gaza, which has resulted in a high civilian death toll and severe property destruction, constituted indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks against civilians and civilian property and could amount to war crimes. A ceasefire was reached between Israel and Palestinian armed groups and entered into force on 21 May and has since held. Between 10 and 21 May 2021, OHCHR verified that 242 Palestinians, including 66 children (23 females and 43 males), 38 women (of whom four were pregnant) and 138 men have been killed in Gaza. The overall number includes three people with disabilities, including a child. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza, 1,900 people were injured during the hostilities.
Even before this latest escalation, the Gaza Strip was in a protracted humanitarian crisis due to the Israeli blockade, successive rounds of conflict, ongoing internal Palestinian political division and the outbreak of COVID-19 which have all compounded the dire humanitarian situation. Hyper-unemployment, food insecurity, electricity blackouts, sanitation disasters, and large-scale casualties of participants in the “Great March of Return and the Breaking of the Siege” (GMR) have increased poverty and overwhelmed social services. Of a total population of 2.1 million people, 71 per cent, or 1.5 million, are estimated to be in need of humanitarian assistance. Only ten per cent of households have “direct access to safe drinking water”. Fifty-three per cent of Palestinians in Gaza are living below poverty line, more than three times the number in the West Bank. These pressures have been linked to an increase in gender-based violence (GBV), school dropouts, child and forced marriage and early high-risk pregnancies, while shelters and other service providers struggle to meet the needs with increasingly limited resources. Gender inequalities were already aggravated by COVID-19 pandemic as early UN Women’s assessment of the impact of COVID-19 in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) also showed an increase in GBV incidence. It also highlighted the impact of COVID-19 on women’s livelihood, particularly those working in the informal sector with no work or income protection.