Living conditions for Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) slumped during the second half of 2006. The de facto sanctions regime on Palestinian residents of the oPt, which has been in place since early in the year, continued to have a massive impact, creating widespread turmoil and socioeconomic distress.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) has faced an unprecedented fiscal crisis over the past 12 months, which 'could threaten its very existence', according to a recent World Bank assessment (1). Financial resources available to the government in 2006 have fallen by more than 35 per cent when compared with 2005 (2). The impounding of PA customs and VAT revenues by the Government of Israel and the freeze in donor support for the PA budget left the government starved of resources, seriously undermining its ability to provide basic services. Largely as a result of the impounding of these revenues, real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) fell between 5 and 10 per cent (3) during 2006, leaving per capita GDP at almost 40 per cent below its pre-intifada level (4).
As the functions of government faltered, dependency on emergency humanitarian assistance grew. Increasing numbers of Palestinians fell below the poverty line, according to data released by the Palestinian Central
Bureau of Statistics. By midyear, 80 per cent of Gazan households had an income of less than $1 per day, compared to 40 per cent in the West Bank (5).
At the end of 2006 28.4 per cent of the oPt labour force was out of work, or 39.6 per cent and 23.4 per cent in Gaza and West Bank respectively. Whilst data showed increases in the overall number of employed persons in 2006 compared to 2005, the employed portion of the labour force grew more slowly than the labour force as a whole. Furthermore, the main area of growth was the public sector, where workers did not receive full salaries. An estimated 165,000 employees of the PA, or 42 per cent of the total labour force in Gaza and 17 per cent in West Bank, only received approximately 50 per cent of their salaries during 2006, according to recent IMF-World Bank estimates (6). The PA salary crisis was felt disproportionately by refugees and Gazans, who were more likely to be employed by PA central government than their non-refugee or West Bank counterparts. Surveys conducted by Near East Consulting during 2006 indicated an 18 per cent increase in poverty rates amongst refugees between March and December 2006, from 53 per cent to 71 per cent (7).
The PA fiscal crisis led to a deterioration in public service provision across the oPt. A strike called by the Union of Public Sector Employees began on 2 September. Although quickly broken in Gaza, the strike saw public services paralyzed in the West Bank. PA schools were closed for more than two months; staff of the Ministry of Health did not return to work until December 2006.
The impact of the crisis was compounded by protracted Israeli military operations in Gaza and increased restrictions on movement for Palestinians across the oPt, coupled with rising levels of internal tension. The Israeli Army (IDF) launched 'Operation Summer Rain' in Gaza in late-June following an attack by Palestinian military factions on an Israeli military outpost that resulted in the capture of an IDF soldier and left two Israeli soldiers dead and four wounded. The operation involved daily shelling and regular ground and air incursions.
Israeli aircraft targeted two government ministries and Gaza's civilian infrastructure, including Gaza's three main bridges and only electrical power plant, cutting off almost half Gaza's electricity supply (8). Access to clean running water and sanitation facilities was also disrupted, whilst hospitals were forced to rely on generators not suitable for certain vital medical procedures.
In November the IDF launched a second operation, dubbed 'Autumn Clouds', in the northern Gaza Strip. The Beit Hanoun area was particularly affected: 82 Palestinians were killed and 260 injured. Of those killed 39 were women and children, including six UNRWA students. Approximately 3,600 refugee shelters were damaged and 150 demolished and an 850 year old mosque was destroyed. Damage to civilian property and infrastructure prompted the launch of the Beit Hanoun Flash Appeal. UNRWA provided humanitarian assistance to those affected in coordination with other UN agencies.
A tenuous Gaza-Israel ceasefire was brokered on 26 November, leading to a marked reduction in Israeli-Palestinian hostilities for the remainder of the year.
IDF military operations continued in the West Bank throughout 2006 and were expanded following the January 2006 elections. During 2006 there was a 90 per cent increase in confrontations with the IDF inside the West Bank compared with 2005 and a 60 per cent increase in IDF arrest campaigns. IDF operations primarily targeted the northern West Bank (9). In total 505 Palestinians were killed in the second half of 2006 and 2,114 injured as a result of Israeli military operations, including 412 Palestinians killed and 1,264 injured in Gaza, according to UNRWA statistics.
Internal tension also intensified during the reporting period, particularly in Gaza, at times jeopardising UNRWA's ability to deliver vital services. Such violence left 114 Palestinians dead and 668 injured. A further 14 Palestinians were killed and 31 injured through reckless handling of explosives (10).
Despite the provisions of the Agreement on Movement and Access, brokered by US Secretary of State Rice in November 2005, Gaza's pedestrian and commercial crossings remained restricted during the reporting period, with frequent and prolonged closures and intermittent hours of operation. Tightly controlled movement restrictions also remained in force in the West Bank, especially in the northern area. OCHA data indicates an increasing number of checkpoints and physical barriers in the West Bank, with a monthly average of around 540 during the second half of 2006, a more than 40 per cent increase since August 2005 (11). Enforcement of the permit system has made travel between different areas of the West Bank more difficult, effectively cutting the territory into three.
(1) World Bank - West Bank and Gaza Public Expenditure Review, February 2007.
(2) Cash resources available to the PA in 2006 totalled $1.4 billion, compared to $2.2 billion in 2005.
(3) IMF - World Bank, Economic Developments in 2006, a First Assessment, March 2007.
(4) According to an IMF assessment, the more dramatic decline in GDP initially feared was only avoided as a result of increased external support, albeit not directed to the PA government, including humanitarian assistance. To meet this need, UNRWA increased its emergency caseload in mid-2006, in the framework of a revised Consolidated Appeals Process (CAP) for the oPt. See http://www.un.org/unrwa/emergency/appeals/2006-RevisedAappeal.pdf.
(5) PCBS Poverty in the Palestinian Territory 2005, Main Findings Report June 2006, PCBS workshop on the impact of the Israeli siege on Palestinian society, July 2006.
(6) IMF-World Bank, West Bank and Gaza. Economic Developments in 2006, a First Assessment, March 2007.
(7) For more details, see The Palestinian Poverty Monitor, http://www.neareastconsulting.com/surveys/poverty/
(8) UNRWA began work to repair the Wadi Gaza Bridge, on the main north-south thoroughfare in December 2006. The bridge was reopened in March 2007.
(9) Source: UNRWA West Bank OSO programme.
(10) Source: UNOCHA, Summary Monthly Statistics.
(11) UNOCHA humanitarian monitor December 2006.