Since late-2000, the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) has been in deep crisis. The collapse of the economy, brought on by severe and sustained restrictions on access and movement of Palestinian goods and persons, has seen dramatic declines in living conditions, with soaring unemployment and poverty rates and marked reductions in household income and consumption levels.
Socio-economic and humanitarian conditions have deteriorated more rapidly during 2006. Following the January elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council, official donor assistance to the Palestinian Authority (PA)
has been withheld and the Government of Israel (GoI) has impounded PA customs and VAT revenues. A de facto sanctions regime has starved the PA of resources. Its ability to provide public services has been undermined and approximately a quarter of the population - PA employees and their dependents - have been deprived of their main source of income, with the majority falling into poverty. Earlier World Bank predictions that 2006 could be the worst year in Palestinian economic history do not appear unfounded.
The Palestinian population of the oPt - the bulk of whom are below 18 years of age - has become increasingly dependent on emergency humanitarian assistance, perhaps more so than at any point during the past 40 years. Opportunities for economic and human development, on which the viability of any future Palestinian state depend, are diminishing. Basic education and health services, particularly in the West Bank, have been crippled for much of the latter half of 2006 through strikes by unpaid workers. UNRWA's health centres in Gaza and West Bank have experienced major spikes in demand during this period. Municipal services across the oPt have also been disrupted for much of the year, prompting further fears of public health emergencies.
The entire Palestinian population of the oPt is suffering the effects of the crisis. Refugees, who before 2006 endured higher poverty rates and worse socio-economic conditions than nonrefugees, have been particularly affected, due to their disproportionate dependence on PA salaries and concentration in Gaza.
The turmoil created by the international boycott of the PA has been compounded by increased restrictions on access and movement for Palestinians throughout much of 2006. The continued construction of the West Bank Barrier and its associated system of closures, as well as the tightening of the permit and residency regime, has severed increasing numbers of Palestinians from access to land, employment and services, and led to further fragmentation of Palestinian areas. Despite the provisions of the November 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access (AMA), the Gaza Strip has been locked down for long periods and the 1.4m population effectively imprisoned, with dire economic and social consequences. Closure of the crossing points for commercial and construction goods - at Karni and Sofa - has reached unprecedented levels, bringing the war-torn economy to a virtual standstill, whilst movement of persons through Rafah has been seriously curtailed since mid-year.
Renewed Israeli-Palestinian hostilities and a downward spiral of Palestinian internecine fighting have left the Palestinian population increasingly vulnerable. There has often been disproportionate suffering amongst refugee communities, particularly in Gaza, where Palestinian property and public infrastructure have been widely targeted by the Israeli Army (IDF) and hundreds have been killed and injured.
Following an attack on an IDF military post in Kerem Shalom on 25 June in which two IDF soldiers were killed and one taken captive, the conflict intensified dramatically. According to UNRWA data, between 25 June and 15 November, 382 Palestinians were killed in Gaza by the IDF, and a further 1,229 were injured. During the same period three Israeli soldiers were killed and 18 injured in Gaza, whilst one Israeli civilian was killed and 26 injured by Palestinian rocket fire.Thousands of Palestinians were displaced from their homes as Israeli shelling, ground incursions and air raids increased. On 28 June, the IDF bombed the only power plant in Gaza, which provided almost half of Gaza's electricity and drove municipal water and sewage pumps. A return to full capacity is not expected for several months.
A recent IDF operation into Beit Hanoun, aimed at halting Palestinian rocket fire into Southern Israel, left 82 Palestinians dead and 260 injured, including 39 women and children(1).
In order to address the impact of the crisis on refugees, UNRWA is launching a new appeal for basic humanitarian needs. In total, the Agency is appealing for $246,159,636 in emergency funds in 2007. Interventions will provide basic social safety net support, in the form of food aid, job creation and cash assistance, respond to increased demand on UNRWA's health and environmental health services, and address the impact of conflict and non-conflict related violence on the most vulnerable. Additional capacity will ensure a more efficient, responsive and cohesive approach to emergency operations.
UNRWA has recently launched a special Flash Appeal for Beit Hanoun to fund repairs to over 1,000 refugee shelters damaged and destroyed in the operation and provide shelter for affected refugee families(2). These funding needs are not duplicated in this appeal.
(1) As of 15 November. UNRWA Gaza Field Office data. OCHA estimates that at least 1,700 rockets were fired into Israel from Gaza between September 2005 - November 2006.