In the first half of 2020, Palestine refugees in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) continued to suffer the humanitarian and protection consequences of the Israeli occupation, coupled with the public health and socio-economic impacts of COVID-19.
In Gaza, the blockade, which entered its fourteenth year in June 2020, continues to push Palestine refugees into deeper poverty and despair, suppressing employment and economic opportunities and limiting movements of persons and goods.
The unemployment rate stood at 45.5 per cent during the first quarter of 2020,1 one of the highest rates of joblessness worldwide; in such conditions, many Palestine refugees remain dependent on the assistance provided by UNRWA to meet their basic needs. During the reporting period, the security situation was volatile, with recurrent cycles of violence and hostilities and increased tensions around the Israeli announcements of annexation in the West Bank. The situation was further compounded by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, which increased the burden on an already overstretched health system, struggling with chronic shortages of medical supplies and equipment, electricity rationing and a salary crisis affecting medical personnel. Thanks to the strict quarantine measures imposed by the authorities for persons coming into Gaza from Israel and Egypt, the number of COVID-19 cases remained low through to the end of the reporting period and into July and August. However, on 24 August 2020, the first cases of local transmission were reported in Gaza; since then, the number of cases has risen rapidly.
In the West Bank, Palestine refugees continued to experience protection concerns and difficult socio-economic conditions due to the Israeli military occupation. During the first six months of 2020, tensions increased following the launch by the US Government of the “Deal of the Century” and the Israeli announcements of plans to annex parts of the West Bank.
Israeli Security Forces (ISF) operations in Palestine refugee camps continued, often involving the use of live ammunition and tear gas, resulting in casualties, property destruction and longer-term psychosocial consequences. Demolition and confiscation of Palestinian home and properties, in particular for communities in Area C, as well as the continued expansion of Israeli settlements, were also a cause for concern.
The already difficult socio-economic conditions faced by Palestine refugees in the West Bank were exacerbated by the impact of the lockdowns and movement restrictions imposed to contain the spread of COVID-19, which resulted in the loss of employment and income opportunities for many families.
A steady increase in COVID-19 cases has been reported in the West Bank since June, putting further strain on the public health system and leading to further deterioration in socioeconomic conditions, with many families in quarantine losing access to their livelihoods.