occupied Palestinian territory Humanitarian Fund Annual Report 2020

Originally published



Humanitarian needs in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) remain driven by a protracted protection crisis caused by Israel’s military occupation, including the blockade on the Gaza Strip, violations of international law, internal Palestinian political divisions, and recurrent escalations of hostilities between Israel and Palestinian armed groups. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic and its socio-economic impact compounded the hardships many Palestinians face.

As of December, 2020, over 154,000 Palestinians had contracted the virus and nearly 1,363 died. The measures imposed to contain the pandemic – including recurrent lockdowns, travel restrictions, school closures, reduction of commercial activities and mandatory quarantines – severely undermined living conditions across the oPt. The World Bank had forecast that by the end 2020, the Palestinian economy would have shrunk between 2.6 to 7.6 per cent compared with 2019. Additionally, the state of emergency and the lockdown imposed to combat the spread of the virus left women and children even more vulnerable, placing them at increased risk of various forms of violence, including intimate partner violence. Fears about the virus, economic stress and quarantine measures, increased tensions within households, compounding domestic violence.

The humanitarian situation was further affected by the Palestinian Authority (PA)’s decision to halt almost all bilateral contacts with Israel on May 2020, which meant it stopped accepting the tax clearance revenues that Israel collects on its behalf. This policy undermined Israeli-Palestinian joint efforts to contain COVID-19. However, contacts resumed during November 2020. Coupled with the economic slowdown linked to the pandemic, the policy cost the PA 80 per cent of its income, reducing its capacity to pay salaries, deliver services and maintain social safety nets. The burden of this worsening situation fell hardest on vulnerable groups, including women-headed households; persons with disabilities; refugees; Bedouin and herders in Area C; internally displaced persons (IDPs); small-scale farmers, herders and fisher-folk in Gaza; people affected by conflict-related violence; and people already living below the poverty line.

Conflict-related violence and casualties declined significantly in 2020, primarily in the Gaza Strip, and to a lesser extent in the West Bank. Between January and December, 54 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces, compared with 91 and 229 in the same periods in 2019 and 2018 respectively, while Palestinian injuries declined by nearly 78 per cent to about 2,841, compared with 13,000 in 2019. While the occasional shooting of projectiles and launching of incendiary balloons from Gaza towards southern Israel, and Israel’s subsequent air strikes in Gaza continued, they did not result in casualties or further escalation. However, concerns about excessive use of force by Israeli soldiers resulting in the killing or serious injury of Palestinians, as well as lack of accountability for such possible violations of international law, remain.

These developments were compounded by the unprecedented funding crisis affecting UNRWA during 2020.

Gaza Strip
In the Gaza Strip, the two million Palestinians who have been living under intensified access restrictions for over 13 years, have been further isolated from the external world by COVID-19 related restrictions. Since the outbreak, Israel has allowed only the most serious medical cases to exit Gaza via the Erez Crossing, a situation exacerbated by the PA’s halt in the processing of applications for exit permits. As a result, some 7,000 workers, previously employed in Israel, lost their jobs. The Egyptian-controlled crossing with Gaza (Rafah) has been largely closed for passengers, except for a few scheduled openings. Although the Kerem Shalom crossing for goods has been operating as previously, longstanding import restrictions imposed by Israel – which cites security concerns –as well as lack of agreement and coordination between the PA and Israel, continue to impede the implementation of infrastructure projects, economic recovery and employment generation.7 Continuing insecurity discourages farming activity in land located within 1,000 metres from Israel’s perimeter fence, while fishing livelihoods are disrupted by Israeli restrictions on access to the sea off the Gaza coast. Electricity blackouts of about 12 hours a day negatively affect the delivery of essential services and increase the domestic burden on women and girls, while unresolved divisions between Hamas and the Fatah-led PA undermine the payment of salaries to civil servants and the local authorities’ ability to meet the needs of Gaza’s population in general. Combined, these factors have increased unemployment, which reached an historic high of over 49 per cent in the second quarter of 2020, while further reducing the already low labour force participation rate. Despite UNRWA’s financial crisis, the assistance and services it provides to the majority of Gaza’s population had not been affected, as of November 2020.

West Bank
In the West Bank, Palestinian households and communities in Area C, East Jerusalem and the H2 area of Hebron city continue to face a coercive environment, due to a range of long-standing Israeli policies and practices. The restrictive and discriminatory planning regime applied in Area C and in East Jerusalem affects Palestinians’s ability to meet their basic housing, livelihood and service needs. Between January and September, 550 structures were demolished or confiscated for lack of building permits, displacing some 750 Palestinians, a significant increase compared with 2019. Also of concern, are continuing attacks and intimidation by Israeli settlers, along with the Israeli authorities’ lack of adequate law enforcement. Palestinian access to areas separated from the remainder of the West Bank by the Barrier has deteriorated in 2020. Following a tightening of the eligibility criteria for farmers to obtain permits to access their land in the closed area behind the Barrier, some 84 per cent of such applications were rejected in the first half of 2020. The halt in PA coordination with Israel affected Palestinian access to the central part of H2, which is still permitted only to those registered as residents of that area. Many of the above restrictions are aimed at protecting and providing space for the growth of Israeli settlements and their gradual annexation to Israel, some de jure (as in East Jerusalem) and others de facto (as in Area C), in contravention to international law. Despite a slowdown in the number of building permits issued, and housing unit starts during the first half of 2020 compared with same period in 2019, settlement activities continued.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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