Presentation on humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories

The Faculty of Engineering Masters Program in Urban Planning and Design organized a lecture by Mr. David Shearer, Head of Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OPT (OCHA) on the Humanitarian Situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, at Birzeit University on June 9, 2005.

Mr. Shearer began the presentation by giving an overview of the work of the United Nations and OCHA's role, which is to compile and disseminate information about the situation in Palestine and to coordinate the work of the various UN bodies. He then spoke about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the OPT, stating that during the past four years the unemployment rate has increased from 10% to 40% and the poverty rate has increased from 22% to 68%. He further stated that Palestinians received $1.4 million in food aid last year, with the total amount of annual international assistance to the Palestinians being about $ 1 billion.

Mr. Shearer went on to explain that the deteriorating humanitarian situation is largely the result of the lack of access due to closures, barriers, restricted roads, and the Israeli Wall which has cut off Palestinian towns and villages from one another and from the outside world. Through maps and diagrams, Mr. Shearer showed the extent of land confiscated in the West Bank for the construction of the illegal Israeli Wall to encompass Israeli illegal settlements inside the West Bank so that they fall on the Israeli side of the Wall. The Wall has resulted in Palestinian farmers being unable to access their land, not to mention areas of work, academic or health services, as communities are totally divided.

Providing aerial maps of Rafah in Gaza, Mr. Shearer also spoke about the 14,000 Palestinians whose homes were demolished by the Israeli occupation to build the Philadelphia Corridor on the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. Mr. Shearer ended his presentation by stating that the disengagement plan from the Gaza Strip would not improve the humanitarian situation so long as Palestinians are denied access within the Palestinian territory and to the outside world. Further, the current focus on the Gaza Disengagement Plan has lessened the focus on what is happening in the West Bank where increased settlement activity and continuing construction of the Wall is having devastating affects.

Students raised a number of questions asking what practical steps the international community is carrying out in the face of such a devastating humanitarian situation, including the possibility of imposing boycott and sanctions on Israel for its continued violation of international law.