Ongoing tensions may trigger new rounds of violence

This month’s Bulletin highlights some of the key trends and issues of humanitarian concern throughout 2014 in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). In the Gaza Strip the overall situation remains extremely fragile, marked by slow progress in the reconstruction of homes and infrastructure destroyed during the July-August hostilities, and compounded by the ongoing energy crisis and growing internal political tensions.

Although by early January 2015 nearly 40,000 individuals had been granted authorization to purchase construction materials restricted under the Israeli blockade, less than 40 per cent of them have actually purchased materials. The main reason is the lack of financial resources in eligible families due to the limited disbursementof funds pledged by member states during the October 2014 Cairo Conference for the reconstruction of Gaza. In the meantime, it is estimated that more than 100,000 people remain displaced in precarious and vulnerable conditions.

Restrictions on the movement of people in and out of the Gaza Strip have remained an important driver of vulnerability in 2014. The upward trend in the number of Palestinians allowed to exit Gaza through the Erez Crossing via Israel (mainly to the West Bank) recorded in previous years continued during 2014. This was particularly pronounced in the second half of the year, when Israel relaxed eligibility criteria for exit permits, including an increase in the number of permits granted to national UN staff. However, fewer people were allowed to leave Gaza or return via the Rafah border crossing with Egypt than in 2013.The crossing closed for a total of 207 days (or 57 per cent of the year) and movement was limited to limited categories of travelers. Overall, the majority of Palestinians in Gaza have remained ‘locked in’, unable to exit through either crossing.

The hostilities of summer 2014 were the deadliest events in the Gaza Strip since the start of the Israeli occupation in 1967. A total of 1,585 Palestinian civilians were killed, a third of them children, and over 11,000 people were injured, including up to 10 per cent who have suffered long term impairment. Alongside other events, the hostilities were a key factor in the increase of violent clashes between Palestinian civilians and Israeli forces in the West Bank. The number of Palestinian fatalities by Israeli forces (56) in the West Bank was the highest since 2007, while the number of injuries was the highest since 2005, when OCHA began to record conflict-related casualties; nearly 19 per cent of these injuries were from live ammunition, up from four per cent in 2013 and two percent in 2012.

Excessive use of force by Israeli forces and insufficient accountability continued to raise significant concern. There was also a worrying increase in attacks on Israeli civilians (mostly settlers) and security forces by West Bank Palestinians, as well as in resulting casualties.

During the past year, 1,215 Palestinians were displaced from their homes in East Jerusalem and Area C of the West Bank following house demolitions by the Israeli authorities for lack of a building permit. This is the highest figure for the past six years, during which OCHA has systematically recorded this practice. The Israeli authorities also demolished or seized 143 structures or items provided by humanitarian organizations with international funding to vulnerable communities in Area C. The year ended with further advancement of an Israeli plan to “relocate” around 7,000 Palestinian Bedouin currently residing in 46 small residential areas in Area C to three sites, in contravention of international law.

The continuation of these negative trends into 2015 is likely to increase frustration and tensions and trigger new rounds of violence across the oPt and Israel, especially in the absence of a political resolution on the horizon to end the occupation and conflict. Preventing such deterioration requires immediate and concerted action by the major stakeholders, including Israel, Egypt, donors and Palestinian political players.