The Humanitarian Monitor: OPT (March 2012) – OCHA report

The Monthly Humanitarian Monitor

March 2012

March overview

This month, the Gaza Strip witnessed two developments with positive implications for the people’s livelihoods and living conditions. The first was the transfer by the World Food Programme (WFP) of 140 tons of locally produced date bars from Gaza to the West Bank. This transfer, the first of its kind approved by the Israeli authorities since the imposition of the blockade, contributed a few additional employment opportunities in an area where over a third of the workforce is unemployed. The second was Israel’s approval of a series of UN projects involving the import of restricted building materials. These approvals include the construction of 1,000 housing units and 19 schools, as well as the rehabilitation of water and sanitation infrastructure in four refugee camps.

The prominence of these otherwise trivial developments highlights their exceptional nature in a context where “no access” for goods and for people is the rule.

Although limited amounts of agricultural produce were allowed to be exported to European markets since the easing of the blockade in June 2010, the two largest potential markets for Gazan agricultural and manufactured products, the West Bank and Israel, remain off limits due to Israeli restrictions. Moreover, the lengthy duration of the negotiations that preceded the approval of this month’s transfer (over five months), along with the high transportation costs incurred by WFP due to various Israeli requirements, undermine the sustainability of this case as a model for the revival of Gaza’s moribund export sector.

Similarly, the exceptional approval of the UN construction projects underscores the ongoing general prohibition on the import of construction materials. This has not only impeded humanitarian organizations’ ability to address urgent needs, but has also encouraged the smuggling of these materials through the Gaza-Egyptian tunnel system, endangering the lives of thousands of workers, including many children. The timing of the project approvals coincide with the high profile international AHLC event. A recently released official Israeli policy guidance document indicated that approvals for international projects are subject to political considerations.

Although the blockade is perhaps the most important factor impacting living conditions in Gaza, other developments during the month further highlighted the vulnerability of the civilian population. An escalation in hostilities between 9 and 12 March claimed the lives of five Palestinian civilians (a fifth of all fatalities), and resulted in the injury of over 100 Palestinian (almost 90 percent of all injuries), including nearly 40 children, and 11 Israeli civilians. Ten homes in Gaza were completely destroyed during the Israeli airstrikes, and over 150 housing units and eight schools were damaged.1 The conduct of military activities by Palestinian armed groups within or in close proximity to densely populated areas remained a concern during this round of violence.

Financial shortfalls in the PA’s budget, and poor coordination between the Gaza and Ramallah authorities resulted in an increase in the number of out of stock essential drugs at Gaza’s central drug store, which reached up to 38 percent. The drug shortage has also been felt in the West Bank. There is of particular concern regarding patients needing treatment for chronic life threatening conditions such as hemophilia, cardiac surgeries and kidney-transplant anti-rejection treatment. The drug shortage disproportionately affects the poor, who are unable to purchase their medications from private pharmacies.

Finally, the fuel and electricity crisis, precipitated by a sharp decline in February in fuel entering via the tunnels from Egypt, continued during March. As a result, the Gaza Power Plant (GPP) has either been operating at one-third of its capacity or has had to completely shut down, triggering blackouts of up to 18 hours per day. The fuel and electricity shortages have disrupted the delivery of basic services, including medical treatments, and undermined already vulnerable livelihoods and living conditions.

Israel’s approval of transfers of goods to and from Gaza is a step in the right direction. However, to comply with its legal obligations and facilitate a more significant improvement in the humanitarian situation, Israel must lift the blockade. This must be complemented by the strict compliance of both sides with IHL norms aimed at protecting civilians during hostilities, the prioritization of beneficiaries’ needs by the authorities in Gaza and Ramallah over their political interests, and the adoption by all relevant authorities of measures to ensure that the GPP is supplied with enough fuel to operate at full capacity.


During the month, armed hostilities in Gaza and southern Israel escalated, claiming the lives of 25 Palestinians, including five civilians (one child), and resulting in the injury of 116 other Palestinians, most of them civilians (103, including 39 children and 11 women).2  In addition, 11 Israeli civilians were injured by Palestinian rocket fire towards southern Israel. The large majority of rockets were intercepted in the air by the Israeli “Iron Dome” defense system.

Between 9 and 12 March, the Israeli air force launched a series of air strikes, targeting military training bases, rocket launch sites, residences of militants, vehicles carrying militants, tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border, and residential areas. The Israeli air strikes resulted in the deaths of two senior members of the Palestinian Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) on 9 March. Palestinian armed factions responded by firing dozens of projectiles, including Grad-type rockets, towards southern Israel and Israeli military positions near the fence separating Gaza and Israel.

During the course of hostilities, five homes completely destroyed, and over 150 other housing units, eight schools and a premises belonging to the Palestine Red Crescent Society damaged. Reports indicate that members of Palestinian armed groups carried out military activities within, or in the close vicinity of densely populated areas in the Gaza Strip.

On 13 March, an Egyptian-brokered ‘calm’ between Israel and the armed factions in Gaza was reached. However, despite the agreement, on 13 March, two Palestinians were injured by Israeli gunfire in the Access Restricted Area near the perimeter fence during a funeral. Also, on 14 March, a bamboo workshop and at least three houses in Gaza City were damaged in an Israeli airstrike, and Palestinian rocket fire damaged a greenhouse in southern Israel. This escalation of violence was the largest in Gaza since August 2011, when 31 Palestinians were killed, and 108 others were injured in a similar wave.


The increase in violence in densely populated areas greatly affected schools and access to education. The wave of violence between 9 and 12 March in Gaza resulted in minor damage3 to three UNRWA schools and five government schools, with a student population of roughly 3,500. The increase in violence considerably disrupted attendance at government schools in the northern areas of Gaza.

On 12 March, after an Israeli airstrike killed a 14-year-old student and injured four others on their way home from their school in Beit Lahiya, the Gaza authorities announced the suspension of the afternoon shift at schools in northern Gaza, which approximately 2,500 students attend. Also, during the four days of fighting, approximately 200,000 children in southern Israel did not attend schools located within the range of the Palestinian rockets. On 12 March, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) expressed concern over the impact of the escalation of violence on children in the Gaza Strip and Israel.


March 2012 witnessed the first transfer of goods from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank since the start of the Israeli blockade of Gaza, in June 2007. The transfer occurred after the World Food Programme (WFP) received Israeli government approval for the pilot transfer of 140 metric tons of locally produced fortified date bars for their School Feeding Programme in the West Bank.

Between 5 and 20 March, the equivalent of 13 truckloads of date bars was transferred from Gaza through the Kerem Shalom crossing to the West Bank. WFP was already purchasing 100 percent of its fortified date bar requirements in Gaza for its Gaza School Feeding Programme, which covers 80,000 students in 145 schools. However, date bars for its West Bank programme (covering 75,000 students in 292 schools) were purchased abroad. The local purchase of date bars in the Gaza Strip contributes to economic activity in the Gazan market, while reducing costs for WFP.

Though encouraging, the time and the extensive negotiations required to obtain approval for the transfer raises concerns for recovery efforts. Negotiations between the UN (WFP and UNSCO) and the Israeli authorities for the March transfer initially began in June 2011. While the initial request was for the transfer of 106 metric tons, it was highlighted that an additional 500-600 metric tons of date bars could also be purchased from Gaza for the 2011/2012 school year. Negotiations continued for five months, and by the time the transfer was approved, most of the procurement for the school year in the West Bank had already been concluded, with only 140 tons still required for the final quarter. Had the full transfer of 600-700 tons occurred, an additional USD 850,000 could have been injected into the fragile Gazan economy, while saving WFP and their donors considerable procurement costs.

The back-to-back procedure, intense Israeli security requirements on out-going cargo from Gaza, along with limited capacity at Kerem Shalom, resulted in a daily transfer limit of two truckloads. In addition, special packing requirements, including limitations on the height of pallets to one meter (rather than the regular 1.6 meters), increased WFP’s shipping costs by 38 percent.

In spite of these shortcomings, this month’s transfer is an encouraging step forward, as the success of this pilot could pave the way for future shipments from Gaza to the West Bank. The West Bank was once the second most important destination for Gaza’s commercial goods, after Israel, but economic ties were severed in mid-2007 with the start of the blockade. The long term growth of Gaza’s economy depends on reactivating the productive private sector through enabling the transfer to the West Bank of local products, including non-agricultural ones, and exports to all destinations, including Israel.


 Just prior to the Ad-hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC) meeting this month, the Israeli authorities approved several UN reconstruction projects in Gaza, the first such round of approvals since the last AHLC meeting in September 2011. On 20 and 26 March, the Israeli Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) approved a series of UN projects, including the construction of 1000 housing units and 10 schools, as well as the rehabilitation of water and sanitation infrastructure in four refugee camps. On 29 March, COGAT also approved a further nine schools for the Ministry of Education, funded by the German development agency, KFW.

These approvals represent an important step towards advancing the UN recovery and reconstruction programme for Gaza, started in early 2009 following the Israeli ‘Cast Lead’ military offensive. The construction of 19 approved schools will help reduce overcrowding and poor conditions in the education sector, while the housing units will help improve living conditions for those who lost their homes due to the conflict.

Despite this positive step, the length and costs associated with the Israeli approval process for international humanitarian projects in Gaza present considerable challenges for the Gaza Strip, and for UN recovery efforts there. Although 73 percent of the UN Programme of Work submitted since February 2010 have been approved, it took individual projects up to six months on average to receive approval. Nineteen percent of the UN programme of work submitted to COGAT, valued at USD 95.7 million, are still pending Israeli approval, and have been for over a year. In addition, while the coordination process with the Israeli crossing authorities for entering ‘restricted’ or ‘dual-use’ materials for approved projects has improved, this is due in large part to the considerable resources the UN has dedicated to managing the process. In 2011, UNRWA and UNDP alone spent USD 2.3 million on managing such access issues, the equivalent cost of building 50 housing units or a school for 2,000 children.

The limited capacity of the Kerem Shalom crossing also remains a concern. Only half the materials for approved UNRWA projects have entered Gaza (9,800 out of 20,600 truckloads). A further 8,300 truckloads will be required for projects pending approval, as well as 45,200 truckloads for projects that have not yet been submitted for approval. With this volume, even if Kerem Shalom was dedicated solely to importing these remaining UNRWA shipments, it would take 9 months to enter all of the required materials.

Given the large volume of construction materials reaching Gaza every day via the underground tunnels at the Gaza border with Egypt, questions are raised regarding the continued rationale for the Israeli approval process. As reported in last month’s Humanitarian Monitor, each month almost thrice as much construction materials enter Gaza through the tunnels than the official crossings.4 Due to their illegitimate transfer, UN agencies and most international NGOs cannot benefit from tunnel materials and, therefore, are the most heavily affected by the Israeli restrictions.


This month, the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA) confiscated a consignment of emergency humanitarian assistance as it reached its intended beneficiaries in an Area C community in the southern West Bank. On 19 March, Israeli soldiers stopped the workers of UAWC (Union of Agricultural Working Committees) and confiscated their shipment of six tents intended for 15 families in Khirbet ar-Rahawa in the Hebron area, who had their homes demolished in February.

The shelters were provided by the UN Humanitarian Response Fund (HRF), a pool fund created to allow rapid allocation and disbursement of funds to support humanitarian activities at the sudden onset of emergencies, and procured with funding from key donors (Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK, Netherlands, Ireland and Spain). The goods, including the truck transporting the material, were confiscated and impounded in the military base in Gush Etzion settlement, west of Bethlehem. Israeli authorities informed UAWC and the UN that they will need to pay fines for each day the truck is impounded.

This seizure affects 15 families, who remain without basic housing, as well as the contractor, whose ability to carry out work has been negatively affected by the confiscation of the delivery truck. In addition, it raises serious concerns over humanitarian organizations’ ability to deliver emergency humanitarian assistance to vulnerable populations in need in the oPt.

The letter by the ICA concerning the confiscation claims there was, “reason to suspect” that the transfer and/or use of the humanitarian goods in question would constitute a violation of law or military orders, presumably since they were intended to substitute for structures that had been demolished by the ICA, due to their lack of an Israeli-issued building permit. Israeli officers on the scene stated that the equipment had been established without a permit, even though the tents had not yet been erected. Palestinians’ ability to obtain a permit for construction in Area C, which constitutes over 60 percent of the West Bank, is virtually impossible, with 70 percent off-limits to Palestinian construction and another 29 percent highly restricted due to the restrictive planning legislation applied by the Israeli authorities.5 

The UN has submitted a letter to the head of the ICA and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) to seek the immediate release of the emergency humanitarian assistance and transport truck.

Under international humanitarian law, the primary obligation to meet basic needs and ensure the welfare of the civilian population during occupation rests with the occupying power. The Fourth Geneva Convention, in particular, stipulates that “any destruction by the occupying power of…personal property…is prohibited, except where…absolutely necessary by military operations.” International law also requires the occupying power to respect the existing laws in force at the time of occupation, which, in this case, would include the Jordanian zoning and planning laws in the West Bank. However, Israel has unilaterally altered these laws through military orders, excluding the occupied population from participating in the decision making process and making it virtually impossible for them to obtain legal permission to build, while at the same time it has promoted the construction of Israeli settlements, in contravention of international law. In the face of humanitarian need, humanitarian organizations have a mandate and a responsibility to provide assistance wherever needs are found, as outlined in international law and principles.


Developments this month heightened the displacement risk facing two Palestinian families residing in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Beit Hanina. On four occasions, Israeli settlers, accompanied by Israeli police attempted to forcefully enter An Natsheh families’ homes, and demanded that they evacuate the premises. On one occasion, the Israeli police conducted a search of the contents of two of the apartments, damaging furniture and leading to the arrest one of the residents. On another occasion, physical confrontations ensued, leading to the injury of two Palestinian boys by Israeli settlers.

These incidents come in the context of a decade-long legal battle concerning ownership of the land on which the houses are located. According to An Natsheh family, in 1936, they rented two dunums of the land (from a plot of 10 dunums and 600 meters) and, in 1954, the family purchased one dunum and 300 meters of the land. It is on this latter plot that the currently threatened houses are built. However, the family reports that an Israeli citizen claims to have purchased 55 percent of the land in the 1970s, while the Palestinian Housing Council bought the remaining 45 percent from the Hebrew University.6 In 2004, the Israeli filed a court case disputing the family’s ownership of part of the land and calling for their eviction; in 2009, the court ruled in his favor. Since then, the family has lodged repeated legal challenges that would enable them to remain in their homes, but these attempts have failed. Most recently, the Jerusalem District Court, in late January 2012, issued a final eviction order, giving the family until 1 March 2012 to evacuate their homes.

Of the four affected families, living in four apartments, two evacuated in late February, displacing nine people, including five children. The two remaining families remain at risk of displacement, affecting 14 people, including six children.

The families, who are registered 1948 refugees, some of whom were also displaced from the Old City in the 1970s, have incurred massive debt after years of legal battle. Additionally, their homes have been built without a permit and there is at least one outstanding demolition order. According to the family, although the land is located within an area zoned for residential construction, planning regulations require that land in the area go through a re-parcellation process, which is further complicated by issues related to land registration.7 As a result, no building permits can be issued. Thus they also face heavy fines from the Jerusalem Municipality for having built without a building permit. One of the families currently owes more than 190,000NIS in fines and other legal fees. As a result of the family’s inability to pay, the head of household has been arrested three separate times for being in arears on his debts..

According to the families, settlers have been harassing them since 2001, through regular visits to the home, in some cases demanding that they show ownership documents, as well as bringing other groups of settlers to the area on ‘tours’, describing the importance of establishing an Israeli settlement in the area.

Approximately 200,000 Israeli settlers reside in settlements built in East Jerusalem in contravention of international humanitarian law. In recent years, efforts to establish Israeli settlements in the heart of Palestinian neighbourhoods have intensified. Much of this activity has been concentrated in the densely-populated Palestinian residential areas, in the so-called ‘Holy Basin’ area – comprising the Muslim and Christian quarters of the Old City, Silwan, Sheikh Jarrah, At-Tur (Mount of Olives), Wadi Joz, Ras al-‘Amud, and Jabal Al Mukabbir. An estimated 2,000 settlers reside in these areas, in houses which have been expropriated by means of the Absentee Property Law; on the basis of alleged prior Jewish ownership; in buildings purchased from Palestinian owners; and in residences custom built and financed by settler organizations.8 As of yet, no such settlement activity has occurred in the Beit Hanina neighbourhood. However, the Israeli Peace Now group reports that there is an approved plan to build dozens of settlement housing units in the area.9 

These developments raise concerns related to Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law, including the general obligation of the occupying power to protect the occupied population, as well as the prohibitions against the transfer of a settler population into occupied territory and against forced displacement. The current practice of using the Israeli legal system to accommodate disputed Israeli property claims in the occupied territory, while denying Palestinian refugees the ability to reclaim property in Israel, remains discriminatory and should be halted immediately.


During the month, the Israeli High Court of Justice (HCJ) ruled unanimously to reject a compromise deal between the State of Israeli and the Israeli settlers living in Migron outpost in Ramallah district. In January 2012, the HCJ had ruled that because Migron outpost had been built on privately-owned Palestinian land, its demolition was required by the end of March. The compromise agreement would have postponed the dismantlement of the Migron settlement until the end of 2015. With the new HCJ ruling, the outpost is currently slated for demolition by 1 August, 2012.

The HCJ rejected the basis for the Israeli authorities’ request for an extension, which indicated that as Migron had been established with permission and encouragement from the Israeli authorities, its residents should be allowed enough time to rebuild their homes a few kilometers away, in an area not privately-owned by Palestinians. One written response by an HCJ Justice stated that “… no one has the authority to permit the construction of a settlement on private land.”

There are approximately 100 outposts, small satellite settlements built without official authorization, but with the acquiescence and support of various Israeli state institutions. 10  Many of these were partially or completely built on privately-owned Palestinian land which settlers had had taken over by force.

The court ruling comes against the background of several initiatives by the Israeli government to “legalize” Israeli settlement construction on privately-owned Palestinian land. The initiatives include plans to relocate outposts built on privately-owned Palestinian land to areas declared as “state land.” Other initiatives put forth by the Israeli Civil Administration propose to declare outposts built on privately-owned Palestinian land that had not been cultivated for at least three years as “state land.”11  For these outposts, outline plans and building permits will be issued retroactively. Further initiatives involve the enactment of new legislation that would entail the financial compensation of legal Palestinian owners of lands on which settlements have been established.12 

All Israeli settlements built in the occupied Palestinian territory, including outposts, are illegal under international humanitarian law. The forcible, and often violent, takeover of Palestinian land by Israeli settlers is a direct result of inadequate law enforcement by the Israeli authorities ruling these areas. Israeli authorities’ efforts to legitimize settlement outposts built on private Palestinian property, are in violation international law, and could further encourage Israeli settler violence in the occupied West Bank.


According to the World Health Organization (WHO), patients covered by government health insurance are finding it increasingly difficult to obtain medications from Ministry pharmacies. With up to 38 percent of medicines on the essential drug list now unavailable in both Gaza and Ramallah MoH central drug store facilities, more patients must purchase their medications from private pharmacies, or seek donations from charities. Patients usually covered by government health insurance include families of government employees as well as social hardship cases living in extreme poverty with virtually no income.

In a field survey conducted by WHO, private pharmacies in Gaza reported a 20-40 percent increase in the number of customers with prescriptions from Ministry of Health physicians who must now purchase their own medications; many are seeking cheaper alternatives to the drugs prescribed.

The drug shortage, primarily caused by political divisions between the West Bank and Gaza, has been exacerbated by recent financial shortfalls in the Palestinian Authority budget, and compounded by the suppliers’ inability to continue to ship supplies ‘on credit.’ There is a zero stock list of 140 medicaments in the central pharmacy in Ramallah and the Ministry of Health has appealed for immediate resupply of a shortlist of critical medications. There are also 182 drugs on the zero-stock list at the Gaza Central Drug Store.

The worst affected were patients needing medications for chronic life-threatening conditions. In both Gaza and the West Bank, medications needed for hemophilia patients (Factor VIII and IX) and for cardiac surgeries are on the zero stock list. Sixty Gaza patients who have had kidney transplants require “Pro-graph” anti-rejection medicine on a life-long basis, but there has been a shortage in this drug since early March. In addition, there are insufficient supplies of drugs and chemicals needed for hemodialysis machines, including disinfectant solutions in Gaza, and dialyzers in the West Bank.

According to the Pharmacy Director at Shifa Hospital, scheduled treatments for breast cancer and leukemia cannot be adhered to due to the erratic supply of drugs. There are 7200 cancer patients in Gaza, including 1000 requiring follow-up as outpatients, either through chemotherapy, radiation therapy or a combination of both. The most common breast cancer drug, Taxol ($600 per vial x 6 vials per cycle x 6 cycles per treatment) is often at zero stock after administration of the first cycle alone. For patients with aggressive cancer, waiting several extra weeks between chemotherapy sessions for drugs to become available can increase the risk of drug resistance. However, the alternative, using a substitute, is like ‘going back to square one’. Referrals to East Jerusalem, Egypt or Israel cannot adequately address the problem: besides the increased expense, cancer patients with drug-weakened immune systems are not good candidates for travel outside of Gaza.


The fuel and electricity crisis, a result of a sharp decline in fuel entering via the tunnels from Egypt in February, continued during March. Consequently, the Gaza Power Plant (GPP) has either been operating at one-third of its capacity or has had to completely shut down, triggering blackouts of up to 18 hours per day, in addition to random unscheduled cuts.

Medical services, including life-saving interventions, have been severely affected due to exhaustion of the fuel reserves used to operate back-up generators and to run ambulances. Fluctuations in power supply have resulted in the malfunctioning of sensitive medical equipment, disrupting medical services. Hospitals reported to WHO that in March, requests to repair batteries, uninterrupted power supplies (UPS), and other equipment have doubled as a result of the frequent cuts in mainline electricity and overuse of back-up systems. To prioritize emergency surgery, hospitals have had to postpone some elective surgery, which, even if not life-threatening, can have a range of negative ramifications for affected patients.

Medical disposables are also in short supply. In Gaza, as of mid April 2012, 217 medical disposables are reported at zero stock, while in the West Bank, 63 medical disposable items are unavailable, including arterial lines for ICU units in Ramallah and Nablus hospitals, blood bags and surgical gloves. Last week, operations in Hebron hospital were stopped for three days due to lack of anesthetics.

This article has been contributed to by WHO.


There is concern at the low level of funding for the 2012 Consolidated Appeals. As of 16 April 2012, USD 151.2 million have been received out of a total of USD 416.7 million requested in CAP 2012, a sum which constitutes 36 percent of the total requirements. This is the third consecutive year of low funding in the oPt, and this consistent lack of funding has had a major impact on agencies’ ability to respond to humanitarian needs, which given the ongoing occupation and political stalemate, remain critical.

In the absence of additional pledges, organisations will be forced to scale back activities in the second half of 2012, with the impact felt across all humanitarian sectors, both in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. With humanitarian budgets under pressure due to the global economic slowdown and a number of large-scale crises throughout the world, particularly in the Middle East, decreased funding for the oPt has reduced the humanitarian community’s ability to implement a number of critical interventions. Some projects will either have to be eliminated altogether from humanitarian plans, or will have to be reduced in scope, with few development initiatives funded to provide long-term alternatives.


Of particular concern is the consistently poor funding level, over the last two years, for local NGOs participating in the CAP. Although the proportion of requested funding for the local NGOs constituted only 1.3 percent of the 2012 appeals, 2.7 percent of the 2011 appeals, and 3 percent of 2010 appeals, to date only one percent of the total funding requested during these periods has been received. As a coordination mechanism, the CAP fosters close cooperation between host governments, donors, aid agencies and, in particular, among NGOs, the Red Cross movement and UN agencies. Ensuring local NGO participation in the CAP is vital to ensuring capacity building and sustainability of all projects in the oPt.


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