The Monthly Humanitarian Monitor - occupied Palestinian territory, September 2012

September overview

As this issue of the Humanitarian Monitor goes to press, the annual olive harvest, which began on 6 October, is once again being undermined by access restrictions and settler violence. Since the beginning of October, nearly 1,000 trees were vandalized by Israeli settlers and hundreds of Palestinian farmers were denied, or faced restrictions on their access to their olive groves located behind the Barrier or near settlements. The olive oil industry is one of the mainstays of the Palestinian economy and supports the livelihoods of approximately 80,000 families. Events in September, covered in this issue, highlight some additional challenges that Palestinians face in sustaining their livelihoods.

The increase in basic commodities’ prices in recent months, particularly fuel, triggered popular demonstrations across the West Bank in early September. Protestors burnt tires, blocked main roads and clashed with Palestinian security forces; at least 75 people were injured and widespread destruction to public buildings was reported.

Commenting on the decline in the economic situation and the PA’s fiscal crisis at the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC) meeting in New York in September, the World Bank stressed that “sustainable Palestinian economic growth will be challenging absent [the] fundamental and significant changes that [will] remove the impediments caused by the dissection of the Palestinian territories - impediments which constrain investment, raise costs and hinder economic cohesion”.

The ongoing restriction on the transfer of goods to and from the Gaza Strip is just one such impediment. This month, in the run-up to the AHLC meeting, the Israeli authorities announced the approval of 11 UN projects addressing significant gaps in the areas of housing, education, water and sanitation, electricity and agriculture. Alongside these approvals, agencies were informed that 18 other projects, valued at USD 35 million, are temporarily rejected “due to security considerations related to their location”. The need for Israeli approval of reconstruction projects pertains to the ongoing Israeli ban on the import of basic construction materials. Although since 2010 an exception to this ban was made for international organizations, the lengthy approval process has significantly hindered project implementation; the recent approvals had been under review for an average of 19 months.

This month witnessed the first transfer of commercial goods manufactured in the Gaza Strip to the West Bank since 2007, consisting of four truckloads of furniture. Additionally, the UN World Food Program (WFP) was also able to transfer seven truckloads of locally produced date bars for their school-feeding programme in the West Bank. Albeit welcome, approvals were given on an exceptional basis; the general ban on the transfer of goods to the West Bank and Israel (the two main markets for Gaza products) remains in place, undermining the potential for private sector growth in Gaza.

This ban on transfer of commercial goods is one component of Israel’s official “separation policy” between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. This month, the Israeli Supreme Court upheld the legality of this policy in the context of the rejection of a petition filed by five female students from the Gaza Strip, who had been refused permission to enter the West Bank to complete their master’s degrees. In its submission to the Court, the Government of Israel explained that the “separation policy” is based on both security and political considerations.

The impact of access restrictions imposed by the Israeli authorities within the oPt was further illustrated in Hebron city, where construction of a new road barrier in the Israeli controlled section of the city (H2) began this month. According to the Israeli authorities, the barrier is being built to prevent Palestinian children from “bothering Israeli settlers” accessing the Al Ibrahimi Mosque/ Cave of the Patriarchs. A field visit by OCHA and local partners indicated that, once completed, the new barrier will force approximately 70 families in the area to take long detours, using alternative routes, in order to access services and livelihoods.

The humanitarian community, including UN agencies and NGOs, is trying to address the humanitarian needs of Palestinian communities generated by these and other movement and access restrictions. However, their ability to implement programmes is hindered by certain policies and access restrictions. According to new data generated from an online survey, in 2012 there was an average of 105 access incidents involving UN and INGO staff per month, compared to an average of 45 incidents captured by the regular mechanism, based on selfreporting by affected staff. Access incidents include delays at checkpoints and demands to search UN vehicles, contrary to the Convention on UN Privileges and Immunities.

Access restrictions are a major cause of vulnerability across the oPt. These restrictions have both an immediate and a cumulative impact, resulting in unemployment, food insecurity, property losses and aid dependency. As the occupying power, Israel is responsible for the welfare of the Palestinian population under its control in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. While international law allows Israel to restrict Palestinians’ right to freedom of movement to address legitimate security needs, it can do so only “to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation”, in a non-discriminatory manner and taking into account other legal obligations.

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