Impact of the Crisis
The humanitarian context of oPt is unique amongst today’s humanitarian crises and remains directly tied to the impact of Occupation, now in its 50th year. A protracted protection crisis continues. The first challenge is the continuing need for protection measures for at least 1.8 million Palestinians experiencing, or at risk of, conflict and violence, displacement and denial of access to livelihoods, among other threats. Second, is the need to ensure delivery of essential services such as water and health care for the most acutely vulnerable households, currently denied or restricted in access. And third is the need to support vulnerable households to better cope with the prolonged nature of the humanitarian crisis and the recurrent cycle of shocks, natural and manmade. These dynamics are significantly magnified in the Gaza context by the ten-year long blockade, imposed by Israel citing security concerns after the takeover of Gaza by Hamas, and three major escalations of hostilities in six years: combined these factors have devastated public infrastructure, disrupted the delivery of basic services and undermined already vulnerable living conditions. Across the oPt, one in two Palestinians, or roughly two million people, will need some form of humanitarian assistance in 2017.
In the Gaza Strip, the August 2014 ceasefire has largely held, as reflected in the relatively low number of Palestinian fatalities and injuries in 2016 and no further conflict-related displacement. International support and some relaxation of import restrictions by the Israeli authorities have resulted in progress in the rehabilitation of damaged health, education and WASH infrastructure but as of September only 1,300 out of the totally destroyed 11,000 housing units have been reconstructed, although work on an additional 3,200 is underway. Over 60,000 remain displaced with negative consequences for access to services and livelihoods.
While 2016 initially witnessed a continuation of the relaxation of restrictions on Palestinian movement to and from Gaza by the Israeli authorities, recent developments have reversed this trend. Since March 2016, almost half of the Gaza business people who held Israeli-issued permits have had them cancelled or not renewed. This year has also witnessed a decline in the approval rate for medical patients and their companions seeking permits to leave Gaza, while rejections for staff who hold Gaza ID cards working with international organizations increased from three per cent in January to 41 per cent in September. Access restrictions have been exacerbated by the almost continuous closure of the Rafah passenger crossing by Egypt since October 2014.
The provision of basic services remains severely hampered by the longstanding electricity deficit. Talks to resolve the intraPalestinian divide have achieved no progress, with the lack of a resolution to the longstanding salary crisis affecting tens of thousands of public employees in Gaza and further impairing basic service delivery. The World Bank estimates that $1.6 billion of the $3.5 billion pledged for Gaza at the October 2014 Cairo conference have been disbursed and that “GDP losses in Gaza, since the blockade of 2007, are above 50 per cent - in addition to large welfare losses.”1 Unemployment, at 42 per cent, is more than twice as high as in the West Bank while youth unemployment in Gaza currently stands at 58 per cent.
Although the economy in Gaza has expanded by 21 per cent in the first quarter of 2016 due to an upsurge in construction activity, the World Bank warns that “this is not sustainable without efforts to improve economic competitiveness” and that the “resumption of armed conflict cannot be ruled out and if this happens, the Gaza economy is expected to slip back into recession.”2
Although the 2014 ceasefire has held, pervasive insecurity and the continuous threat of violence remain. Casualties from conflict in Gaza remained relatively low in 2016, with eight Palestinians killed and 157 injured by Israeli forces to end September.
Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) and other hazards from 2014 and previous hostilities continue to pose a serious threat, with 15 killed and 113 injured (including two children killed and 45 injured) since August 2014. The protection cluster continues to identify accountability for violations during the Gaza hostilities in 2014, by all sides, and for violations during the daily enforcement of restrictions in the Access Restricted Areas (ARA) as an urgent priority.
Especially vulnerable groups include people with disabilities, the elderly, and women and girls who face additional barriers in accessing protection and other humanitarian responses, particularly during emergencies. Others most in need of protection interventions include individuals and families who live or work in the ARA; those affected by freedom of movement restrictions, including medical patients;
IDPs living in temporary accommodation and those whose homes were destroyed and confronted by challenges of housing, land and property rights (HLP) documentation; women and children at risk of gender-based violence (GBV); children in need of psychosocial support and case management and those requiring ERW awareness; and refugees from the region lacking documentation and better access to services.
No major displacement was recorded in Gaza during the course of 2016. However, more than two years after the 2014 conflict, over 60,000 people remain displaced, awaiting the reconstruction of their homes. As of September 2016 only 1,308 of the 11,000 housing units that are totally destroyed have been reconstructed, and nearly 60,000 of the approximately 150,000 homes that suffered various degrees of damage have yet to receive assistance. Israel continued facilitating the controlled entry of vital construction materials, in the context of the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM). As a result, the volume of goods that entered Gaza via Israel in 2016 was the highest since the imposition of the blockade in 2007. However, the quantities of cement allowed have been insufficient to match the increasing needs for reconstruction, resulting in delays in rebuilding and prolonged displacement. According to the Israeli authorities, 5-7 per cent of the cement that enters Gaza is diverted by Hamas from the intended beneficiaries. Durable solutions for displaced families have also been delayed by slow access to funds and a lack of assistance to end displacement, such as technical support, planning and land ownership issues.
In addition, chronic housing shortages and the dire economic situation have compounded concerns for adequate shelter protection for acutely-vulnerable families.
Access to essential services
The provision of basic services in Gaza remains a key humanitarian concern. The blockade imposed by Israel since 2007 and recurrent hostilities have inflicted large-scale destruction on Gaza’s infrastructure and productive assets while the Israeli-imposed restrictions on the import of goods it considers as having a ‘dual’ military and civilian purpose, particularly equipment and spare parts, continue to impede basic service delivery. Service delivery is also affected by the continuing non-payment of salaries by the Palestinian authorities to tens of thousands of public employees since April 2014 and by the chronic electricity deficit.3
Although most of the schools damaged during the 2014 hostilities have been repaired, the educational system faces chronic challenges, in particular overcrowded schools resulting in widespread double shifts. Student performance, which is falling behind that of the West Bank, is also affected by recurrent power outages and electricity rationing, poor shelter and living conditions, and economic deprivation. These factors, as well as the internal Palestinian divide, have also led to a serious deterioration in the availability and quality of health services, compounded by ongoing Egyptian restrictions on the Rafah crossing, which is affecting patient referrals. The destruction of three primary health centres during the 2014 hostilities, which still await reconstruction, has impacted 80,000 people. The chronic electricity deficit, together with shortages of essential drugs, medical spare parts and disposables, have also impacted hospitals and medical equipment. Psychosocial services are also struggling to cope with the estimated 229,000 children who require some form of mental health support or psychosocial intervention.4
Reconstruction of damage to WASH infrastructure from the 2014 conflict, and the implementation of longer-term solutions, has also been delayed due to the slow implementation of the GRM and restrictions on the import of over 5,000 WASH items, such as pumps, drilling equipment and disinfectant chemicals, which Israel also considers as having a ‘dual’ military-civilian use. The chronic electricity deficit further disrupts the delivery of basic WASH services, affecting more than 300 water and wastewater facilities, resulting in an inadequate and irregular water supply and in untreated sewage overflowing into the streets or into the sea. Up to 40 per cent of the Gaza Strip population receive domestic water supply just twice a week or less. In addition, an estimated 85 per cent source their drinking water from 154 public or private producers, whose production, supply chain, and household storage results in potential contamination, exposing around 60 per cent of the population to potential public health risks.
Erosion of resilience
Recurrent hostilities, the blockade and degraded infrastructure have impaired economic growth and perpetuated high levels of unemployment, food insecurity and aid dependency. Although food is available it is priced out of reach of many. One million Palestinians in Gaza are now moderately-to-severely food insecure, even though many already receive food assistance or other forms of social transfers - resulting in low resilience and high vulnerability to shocks. Food and livelihood assistance enables scarce cash resources to be spent on other essentials, preventing a further deterioration of food security and livelihood status, and reducing the impact of negative coping mechanisms: a 2016 IDP survey revealed that purchasing food on credit was the most utilized coping mechanism, often involving incurring debts to retailers and a decrease in food consumption and diversity.5
The 2014 conflict also resulted in the physical destruction of essential agricultural assets and the pace of reconstruction and rehabilitation of these assets has been very slow. The enforcement of the ARAs on land and sea severely impacts the livelihoods of farmers and fishers. In March 2016, the fishing zone along the southern Gaza coast was expanded from six to nine nautical miles, with positive impact on the fishing catch, but the six mile limit was re-imposed after less than three months, citing security considerations.6 Economic activity is also undermined by the longstanding electricity deficit.7 As outlined by the UN Country team (UNCT), even if the political situation were to dramatically improve, Gaza faces severe challenges to its resource base approaching the year 2020. This is primarily due to the increasing population, projected to reach over 2.1 million in 2020, and unsustainable demands on its sole water source due to systematic over-extraction of the underlying coastal aquifer which has resulted in the intrusion of seawater and has resulted in 96 per cent of the groundwater in Gaza considered unfit for human consumption.
Palestinians in the occupied West Bank continue to be subject to a complex system of physical and bureaucratic barriers, imposed by Israel citing security concerns. which restrict their right to freedom of movement, undermine livelihoods, and increase dependency on humanitarian aid.9 The expansion of settlements, which are illegal under international law, continued in a framework of impunity, with settlement expansion witnessing a 40 per cent increase in new housing units in the first six months of 2016. The retroactive legalization of unauthorized outposts under Israeli law, the policy of land seizure and declarations of state land also continued. Linked to this is settler harassment and violence against Palestinians and their property: while since mid-2015 there has been a sharp decrease in the number of incidents recorded, largely due to preventive measures adopted by the Israeli authorities, concerns remain regarding lack of accountability for perpetrators.10
In 2016, there was a sharp increase in the demolition of Palestinian-owned structures and displacement in Area C and East Jerusalem, where the restrictive and discriminatory planning regime imposed by the Israeli authorities prevents Palestinians from planning their communities and building homes and infrastructure.
The wave of violence which erupted in October 2015 continued into 2016, at a reduced level, leading to increased restrictions on Palestinian movement throughout the West Bank. Security considerations notwithstanding, concerns remain over possible excessive use of force and extra-judicial executions by Israeli forces in their response to Palestinian attacks or suspected attacks as well as the lack of sufficient accountability regarding these cases. Also of concern is the continuous spreading of incitement to violence against Israelis, particularly on social media.11
Palestinians in the West Bank continue to be subject to threats to their lives, physical safety and liberty from policies and practices related to the Israeli occupation, including settler violence. Since the wave of violence which erupted in October 2015 in the West Bank and Israel, to end-September 2016, 205 Palestinians have been killed and 14,942 injured by Israeli forces in the context of attacks/ alleged attacks, demonstrations and clashes. During the same period, 36 Israelis, including 30 civilians, were killed, and 312 injured by Palestinians. Refugee camps continue to be sites of concern, with 25 refugees killed (including three children) and 335 injured (including 56 children) in and around refugee camps up to end-September 2016. More than 455 Palestinians have been shot and injured with live ammunition since the beginning of the year, including cases involving long-term disability. Accountability for these incidents is urgently required: since October 2015, only 24 criminal investigations have been opened regarding 190 Palestinians killed.
Those most in need of protection include 61 Palestinian Bedouin and herder communities (of whom the majority are refugees) at high risk of forcible transfer; those vulnerable to forced eviction and destruction of property in Area C, half of whom are children; those affected by demolitions, forced evictions and revocation of their residency rights in East Jerusalem; communities affected by settler violence and harassment, including in the H2 area of Hebron, the Nablus area and in certain neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem; and refugee camps most affected by Israeli security operations.
Some 2,412 incidents of grave violations against children were documented in October 2015-June 2016 compared to 1,298 between January-September 2015 and the number of children in detention has shown a similarly disturbing increase.
Displacement and the risk of forcible transfer
Many Palestinians throughout the West Bank are at risk of displacement and/or forcible transfer due to a coercive environment generated by Israeli policies and practices, which create pressure on many residents to leave their communities.
These practices, which include the demolition or threat of demolition of homes, schools and livelihood shelters; plans to relocate communities to urban townships; restrictions on access to natural resources; the denial of basic service infrastructure; and the lack of secure residency, among others, are often implemented in connection with the establishment and expansion of Israeli settlements. Palestinian Bedouin and herding communities across Area C, with a population estimated at 30,000, as well as many Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, are among those most at risk of forcible transfer, due to the coercive environment to which they are subjected. A key component of the coercive environment is restrictive and discriminatory planning regime which makes it virtually impossible for Palestinians to obtain the requisite Israeli building permit.
2016 witnessed a sharp increase in Palestinian-owned structures destroyed, dismantled or confiscated (720) by the Israeli authorities for lack of building permits in Area C, and in the number of Palestinians displaced as a result of these demolitions (1,052, to end-September). The demolition rate in East Jerusalem to end-September (151) is the highest since OCHA began documenting these trends in 2008. Of additional concern, the number of donorfunded, humanitarian assistance structures demolished or confiscated in 2016 (242) is also unprecedented. Punitive demolitions targeting the family homes of perpetrators of attacks against Israelis also continued during 2016, with 24 homes targeted to end-September.12 To date, 110 local outline plans for communities in Area C have been prepared, which, if approved, would significantly enhance the ability of community residents to obtain building permits.
However, only three have been approved by the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA), out of the 95 submitted.
Access to essential services
Palestinian movement throughout certain areas of the West Bank, including into East Jerusalem, remains restricted by physical and administrative measures, undermining access to basic services, as well as hindering the ability of humanitarian organizations to deliver relief. The Palestinian Authority (PA) continues to have only limited ability to provide education and health services in Area C and in East Jerusalem.
In the first half of 2016, there were 127 recorded incidents of education-related violations, the overwhelming majority in Area C, the H2 area of Hebron and East Jerusalem, affecting almost 15,000 children.
Students can pass any one of 60 checkpoints, face incursions and tear gas and rubber bullets in their schools, or risk confrontation, intimidation and violence by settlers.
Students in Area C face the risk of demolitions and a shortage of school infrastructure, particularly in Bedouin communities, while students in remote communities can walk long distances to reach school.
In addition, 51 schools in Area C and East Jerusalem are at risk of stop-work or demolition orders, preventing the maintenance and expansion of school infrastructure. Key challenges in education service provision in East Jerusalem include inadequate facilities and classroom shortages, lack of financial support and the imposition of an Israeli curriculum, through financial incentives and other methods.
Access to health services is also restricted in the West Bank, specifically in Area C, H2 (Hebron) and the Seam Zone.
Checkpoints, proximity to settlements, long distances to clinics, rocky roads and mountains, a scattered population and lack of public transportation are all factors which hamper the access of patients, health personnel and ambulances. In addition, the Barrier and permit regime are preventing patients who hold West Bank ID cards from accessing specialized services in the main Palestinian referral hospitals in East Jerusalem.
In the West Bank, the provision of WASH services is curtailed by a permit regime for WASH infrastructure and limits on water abstraction, among other constraints. In Area A and B, an estimated 445,000 people are either disconnected or receive water once a week or less, with a further 150,000 in Area C communities. On average, Palestinians use eight per cent of their monthly expenditure on purchasing water, compared to the world average of 3.5 per cent. Water consumption can be as low as 20 litres per person per day in some communities without water infrastructure. Similar obstacles have limited the development of wastewater and solid waste infrastructure in the West Bank, with just 38 per cent of the population connected to the network and 43 per cent using porous cesspits. Communities in Area C have limited ability to repair, rehabilitate and construct basic water and sanitation infrastructure at community or household level, resulting in inadequate water for drinking, domestic and livestock consumption in many communities. In addition, the demolition of WASH structures in Area C has led to displacement, increased poverty and the risk of disease and illness. Together these conditions increase women’s care burden, as they are mostly responsible for water and health within the household. In East Jerusalem, disproportionate investments in infrastructure and a lack of building permits result in an estimated 36 per cent of the population with vulnerable illegal connections, and up to a third lacking sewage connections. Furthermore, some locations have been severed from the municipal centre by the Barrier and face particular difficulties in accessing WASH services.
Erosion of resilience
Among the factors which contribute to livelihood deterioration are the demolition and confiscation of homes and livelihood structures; restrictions on the maintenance and rehabilitation of productive assets; inadequate water or substandard water supply; movement restrictions, and settlement expansion. Additional restriction on West Bank farmers include the requirement for special permits or prior coordination arrangements to access their farming land in the “Seam Zone” as well as in the vicinity of settlements. In 2016, the level of demolition and confiscation of agricultural assets remains high, with approximately 110 cases recorded as of September 2016. Bedouin women who typically engage in herding and subsistence agricultural activities are significantly impacted. The livelihoods of Bedouin communities in Area C are at very high risk, as their productive and personal assets are subject to continued demolition and confiscation, which reduces their resilience to shocks. Up to October 2016, a total of 390 structures, including homes and agricultural assests, of which 150 were refugee-owned, were demolished in Bedouin communities in Area C. In addition, over 7,000 Bedouin and herder refugee households in Area C continue to be some of the most vulnerable populations in the West Bank in terms of both protection threats and food insecurity.
Overall in the West Bank, livelihoods are most impacted by restrictions in Area C, which holds the most significant land and natural resources for Palestinian development, including the bulk of agricultural and grazing land. According to the Vulnerability Profile Plus assessment, 163 communities reported a decrease in their access to land, almost 80 per cent of them in Area C or East Jerusalem. The World Bank reports that unrestricted Palestinian access to resources in Area C “could increase Palestinian GDP by 35 per cent and would be expected to lead to a 35 per cent increase in employment”, primarily through growth in the agricultural sector and the exploitation of its natural resources such as the Dead Sea.13
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
- To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.