The Humanitarian Monitor: OPT (December 2011) – OCHA report

The Monthly Humanitarian Monitor

December 2011

 December overview

In 2011, the humanitarian situation continued to be affected by a lack of respect for international humanitarian and human rights law, also contributing to a crisis of human dignity.

In the West Bank, Israeli settlement activity accelerated in 2011, with an almost 20 percent increase in new “building starts” for housing units (excluding East Jerusalem), compared to 2010. This came along a range of governmental and legislative initiatives aimed at “legitimizing” unauthorized settlement outposts, many of which are built on private Palestinian land. Israeli settlement policies are not only illegal under international law but are also the root cause of much of the humanitarian vulnerability of Palestinians.

This year, almost 1,100 Palestinians, more than half of them children, were forcibly displaced as a result of the demolition of over 620 residential structures by Israeli forces, mainly in Area C, an over 80 percent increase from the previous year. More than 4,200 additional people were affected by the demolition of livelihood structures. These demolitions occur in the context of an inadequate and discriminatory planning regime that restricts Palestinian development, while providing preferential treatment to Israeli settlements. Over 60 percent of this year’s demolitions occurred in areas allocated to settlements.

Settlement activity is also a root cause of civilian casualties in the West Bank. This year, more than two thirds of Palestinian deaths and injuries occurred in the context of attacks by Israeli settlers or during clashes with Israeli forces at demonstrations protesting settlement takeover of land, or access restrictions that protect

settlements and allow their expansion. Human rights organizations report that in some cases Israeli forces use unnecessary or excessive force. In December, a Palestinian activist was killed when shot by an Israeli soldier with a tear gas canister while protesting settler take-over of land in his village.

As in past years, restricted access to land in the vicinity of settlements, along with Israeli settler violence, were among the key factors undermining the olive harvest, which ended in December. Despite the increased presence of Israeli security forces on the ground, OCHA recorded 38 incidents resulting in either Palestinian injuries or damage to olive trees. Overall, from 15 September – 15 December, during the time of the olive harvest, there were roughly 24 percent fewer incidents this year from the parallel period in the previous year.

In its 2004 Advisory Opinion, the International Court of Justice found that Israel must dismantle the sections of the Barrier built within the West Bank and revoke the associated permit and gate regime. Yet, as in previous years, the Israeli authorities continued to impede access to olive groves in the closed area between the Barrier and the Green Line – the “seam zone”. This season, approximately 42 percent of all permit applications to this area were rejected. Of particular concern is the case of about 30 farmers from the Bethlehem area who own agricultural land in areas behind the Barrier, within the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem, who had their permit applications rejected on grounds that the Israeli Custodian of Absentee Property took control of their land.

The isolation of East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank by the Barrier, raises additional concerns. This month, the Mayor of Jerusalem stated his intention to promote the transferring of control over the neighborhoods that lie on the “Palestinian” side of the Barrier, from the Jerusalem municipality to the Palestinian Authority. If implemented, such a transfer may result in the revocation of the residency status of some 55,000 Palestinians residing in these areas, who are already affected by a lack of adequate services.

In the Gaza Strip, Israel continued to impose a land, sea and air blockade that amounts to collective punishment of the Palestinian population. This has been compounded by budgetary restrictions and internal political Palestinian divisions, which are compromising the health of patients, including the chronically ill; according to the Ministry of Health (MoH) in Gaza, at the end of 2011, almost a third of the essential drugs and nearly a fifth of medical disposables were at zero stock in Gaza due to these reasons.

A crisis of accountability for unlawful actions continued throughout the year. December 2011 marked three years since the start of Israel’s “Cast Lead” offensive. While Israel has opened dozens of criminal investigations into incidents that occurred during the offensive, only four soldiers have been indicted, and no mechanism has been set to investigate policy makers. Hamas has failed to hold credible investigations on unlawful acts perpetrated by Palestinians during the offensive. In the West Bank, Israel’s failure enforce law vis-à-vis settler violence and takeover of Palestinian land, continued to perpetuate a state of impunity that encourages further violence and undermines the physical security and livelihoods of Palestinians.

While a political solution to this conflict is imperative, it is not a pre-requisite for the implementation of the international law. All parties to the conflict must abide by their obligations under international law to protect and respect the rights of the civilian population. Israel, as the occupying power, bears responsibility for administering its occupation in a manner that benefits the Palestinian population and for ensuring that the basic needs of that population are met and that they are able to exercise their human rights. All states share responsibility for ensuring respect for international law in the oPt.

Demolitions and Forced Displacement in the West Bank in 2011

Nearly twice as many Palestinians displaced this year

Almost 1,100 Palestinians, more than half of them children, were forcibly displaced as a result of home demolitions by Israeli forces in the West Bank in 2011. This is over 80 percent more than the number of people displaced in 2010.

In total, Israeli forces destroyed over 620 Palestinian-owned structures in 2011, a 42 percent increase compared to 2010 (439 structures). This included, 222 homes, 170 animal shelters, 46 rainwater cisterns or pools, two classrooms and two mosques (one of them twice). Some 4,200 additional people were affected by the demolition of a structure related to their livelihood. Over 15 percent of all structures were demolished in December 2011, when 98 structures were destroyed, the second highest monthly total during 2011; demolitions peaked in June 2011, with 132 structures destroyed.

The majority of demolitions in 2011 took place in Area C and impacted vulnerable farming and herding communities, which live in very basic structures and have very limited access to infrastructure and services, such as water, electricity and sanitation. Many of the affected communities have also lost land to Israeli settlements and suffer repeated attacks by Israeli settlers. In East Jerusalem, there was a significant reduction in the number of structures demolished (42), compared with previous years.

According to Israeli authorities, demolitions in 2011 were carried out against structures that were built without the required Israeli building permits. In reality, it is next to impossible for Palestinian residents to obtain such permits. The zoning and planning regime enforced by Israel in Area C and East Jerusalem restricts Palestinian growth and development, while providing preferential treatment for Israeli settlements. This treatment includes the approval of master plans and the provision of essential infrastructure, participation in the planning process, and the allocation of land and water resources. Over 60 percent of the Palestinian-owned structures demolished in 2011 were located in areas allocated to settlements.

The forced displacement of Palestinian families and the destruction of civilian homes and other property by Israeli forces have a serious humanitarian impact. Such demolitions deprive people of their homes, often their main source of physical and economic security, reduce their standard of living and undermine their access to basic services. In Area C, with the existing housing in most communities already occupied or overcrowded, some residents are moving out of their communities altogether due to the inability to obtain permission to build legally, along with other difficult living conditions created by Israeli policies and practices in Area C (e.g. movement and access restrictions, settlement activity, etc.). This raises concerns about the viability of Palestinian presence in Area C over time and shifts in the demographic and ethnic make-up of the West Bank, which can impact the humanitarian situation.

Israel, as the occupying power in the West Bank, has the obligation to protect Palestinian civilians and to administer the territory for their benefit. The law prohibits the forcible displacement or transfer of civilians as well as the destruction of private property, unless absolutely necessary for military operations. Demolitions of homes and other civilian structures should be brought to an immediate end and Palestinians should have access to fair and effective zoning and planning for their communities.

Recap 2011: more than two thirds of Palestinian casualties in the West Bank linked to Israeli settlement activities

During December, one Palestinian was killed and 177, including 27 children, were injured in the West Bank in Israeli-Palestinian conflict incidents. The contextual distribution of these casualties follows a common pattern observed throughout 2011.

Roughly two thirds of the Palestinian casualties (deaths and injuries) in direct conflict incidents were either directly or indirectly related to settler violence or development. Half of those killed (three of six) and some 21 percent of those injured were children. These incidents included settler attacks, as well as clashes with Israeli forces during demonstrations protesting settlement takeover of land and water resources, or access restrictions aimed at protecting settlements or allowing for their expansion.

During the year, OCHA recorded a total of 411 settler incidents resulting in either Palestinian casualties or damage to their property a 32 percent increase compared to 2010. These incidents resulted in three Palestinians being killed and 183 others being injured, 11 percent of all direct conflict casualties. In addition, one Palestinian was killed and 125 others injured by Israeli soldiers during clashes between Israeli settlers and Palestinians. Eight Israeli settlers have been killed and 37 others injured by Palestinians.

Many of the attacks were carried out by settlers living in about 100 settlement outposts, small satellite settlements built without official authorization, many on privately-owned Palestinian land. Some of these attacks were aimed at discouraging the Israeli authorities from dismantling these outposts (the so-called “price tag” strategy).

In addition, two additional Palestinians were killed and 743 injured in clashes with Israeli forces during demonstrations, almost all of which were related to settlements. Some demonstrations were held in protest of access restrictions imposed by the Israeli authorities to protect Israeli settlements and safeguard space for their development. These include regular anti-Barrier demonstrations held in the villages of Bil’in and Ni’lin, next to the Modi’in illit settlement block (Ramallah), the protests against the closure of the main entrance to Kafr Kadum village, next to Qedumim settlement (Qalqiliya), and the access restriction to farming land belonging to Beit Ummar village, next to the Karmei Zur settlement (Hebron).

Other demonstrations protested settler activities carried out with the acquiescence and often active support of the Israeli authorities. The largest and most regular of these demonstrations are held in the village of An Nabi Saleh in protest of the takeover of private land and water springs by settlers from the nearby Hallamish settlement (Ramallah). Similar, though less regular, protests have been also held in villages around Nablus city affected by systematic settler attacks and intimidation.

Clashes usually involve the use of tear gas, stun grenades and pepper spray, as well as physical assault by the Israeli forces, along with stone throwing by demonstrators. Rubber-coated metal bullets and live ammunition have been also used, but with less frequency. A number of Palestinian and Israeli human rights organizations have claimed that at least in some of these demonstrations Israeli forces have used unnecessary or excessive force.

However, despite heavy handedness in confronting demonstrators, a positive development took place in April 2011, when the Israeli military began automatically initiating criminal investigations for incidents resulting in the death of Palestinian civilians by Israeli soldiers in the West Bank, except for incidents defined by the Israeli military as “combat activity”.

Settlements are illegal under international law, yet their rate of expansion accelerated in 2011. There were 1850 new “building starts” for housing units (excluding East Jerusalem), an almost 20 percent increase compared to 2010. In addition, various initiatives in 2011 by the Israeli government were aimed at “legalizing” unauthorized settlement outposts built on private Palestinian land. The GOI’s failure to respect international law, as well as the lack of law enforcement vis-à-vis settler violence and takeover of Palestinian land continues to perpetuate a state of impunity in the occupied West Bank, encouraging further violence and undermining the physical security and livelihoods of Palestinians.


On 10 December, a 28-year-old Palestinian activist was killed when shot at close range by an Israeli soldier with a tear gas canister that hit his face. The incident occurred in the village of An Nabi Saleh (Ramallah) during a clash that erupted during the weekly demonstration held in the village. The firing of high-velocity tear gas canisters at demonstrators by Israeli forces is a long standing subject of concern. Although under the Israeli military’s rules of engagement it is prohibited to fire such canisters directly at people’s bodies, since the beginning of 2009, one other demonstrator has been killed and 376 others have been injured in these circumstances.

Concern over the future of East Jerusalem Palestinians in areas behind the Barrier

In December, the Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, stated his intention to promote the transferring of control over East Jerusalem neighborhoods that lie on the West Bank side of the Barrier, from the Jerusalem Municipality to the Palestinian Authority. However, the likelihood that such transfer will occur in the immediate future is deemed low due to the special status of the Jerusalem boundaries (including the occupied areas annexed to Israel) in Israeli legislation, which requires a large parliamentary majority to amend them.

Jerusalem areas behind the Barrier include an estimated population of 55,000 Palestinians living mainly in Kafr ‘Aqab, Shu’fat Refugee Camp and ‘Anata areas. These Palestinians are already affected by the lack of adequate services, even though they pay municipal taxes, property taxes and other Israeli taxes. Although there is a healthcare facility and a school run by the Jerusalem municipality in Kafr ‘Aqab, urban planning and road infrastructure and other services remain inadequate. ‘Anata and Shu’fat Refugee Camp in particular suffer from a severely underdeveloped infrastructure, with few and poorly paved roads, little or no trash collection, and the complete absence of street lamps or landscaping. There are no municipal schools and no parks.

These residents’ access to services and livelihoods in the other parts of the city located on the “Israeli” side of the Barrier, require crossing a checkpoint and often experience long delays and queues. In December the Israeli authorities completed a section of the Barrier next to the Shu’fat Refugee Camp and upgraded the checkpoint controlling movement of Palestinians between the camp and the rest of East Jerusalem.

While the handing over of these areas to the Palestinian Authority could potentially result in an improvement in the quality of services provided, such a measure could also lead to deterioration in access to the rest of East Jerusalem and even to a massive revocation of the Jerusalem ID cards of their residents. The latter would also mean the revocation the entitlement to health services and social insurance benefits currently provided by the Israeli authorities. Under Israeli legislation, East Jerusalem Palestinians have to prove that their ‘centre of life’ lies within the Israeli-defined municipal boundary of the city in order to retain their residency rights. Approximately 14,000 Palestinians have had their Jerusalem residency revoked by the Israeli authorities since 1967.

Gaza: a third of the essential drugs were out of stock in 2011

According the Ministry of Health (MoH) in Gaza, on average in any given month in 2011, 32 percent of essential drugs and 22 percent of essential medical disposables were at zero stock levels, indicating a crisis in provision of medical supplies. By the end of the year, 148 of 480 essential drugs (31 percent) and 123 of 700 medical disposables (17.5 percent) were at zero stock in Gaza.


Following an appeal by the World Health Organisation and several human rights organizations to prevent operations of the Artificial Kidney Unit (AKU) at Shifa Hospital, Gaza City, from closing down due to shortages of filters, the MoH-Ramallah provided Gaza with 2000 hemodialysis filters, a two-week supply, with logistical assistance from the ICRC. Also, the MoH-Gaza received a donation of medical disposables from Islamic Relief through Egypt which included 6000 dialysis filters, at a cost of NIS 70,000.

The causes of shortages are a combination of budgetary problems faced by the MoH in Ramallah, the lack of coordination between West Bank and Gaza authorities as a result of internal political issues, personnel changes of Central Drug Store staff in Gaza, and bureaucratic and transportation lags in the procurement and supply chain. The Gaza MoH is responsible for reporting shortages and requesting replenishments of stocks, usually every eight weeks. Procurement and provision of essential drugs is centralized by the MoH in Ramallah, which then distributes to MoH storage facilities in both the West Bank and Gaza. The MoH in Gaza reports that the last major drug shipment sent by the Ramallah authorities was received in Gaza on June 20, 2011, when 10 truckloads containing 80 drug items were sent to fill zero stocks.

In December, the MoH appealed directly to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and other international organizations to intervene to solve the shortages problem. Supplies needed for decalcifying and disinfecting Hemodialysis machines, which are needed to maintain treatment for 450 chronic kidney patients, were at critical levels, with supply sufficient only until 7 January, 2012. Other drugs at zero stock include those needed for infections (20 percent), chemotherapy (13.5 percent), urology and kidney dialysis (10 percent), ophthalmological preparations (5.5 percent), psychotherapeutics (7 percent), and cardiovascular treatment (4 percent).

The ICRC provided 86 emergency/surgical care items to the MoH-Gaza in December; 15 of the items had been at zero stock. However, 123 disposables are still reported to be at zero stock level.

Olive harvest: access restrictions and settler violence continue

The 2011 olive harvest season ended in December. The olive oil industry provides about one quarter of the gross agricultural income in the oPt and supports the livelihoods of approximately 100,000 families. Initial estimates from the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture suggest that this season’s yield will be moderate, about 12,500 tons, or 70 percent of the average annual production.

Settlements and settler violence

The output in the West Bank is hampered by limited access on the part of Palestinian farmers to their olive groves. Among the areas most affected are olive groves in the vicinity, and within the environs, of settlements and settlement outposts where farmers are susceptible to blocked access and violence by settlers. Following a landmark judgment by the Israeli High Court of Justice in 2006, the Israeli army has designated limited periods when, following ‘prior coordination’ and under the protection of Israeli forces, farmers are permitted to access their olive groves in the vicinity of some 55 settlements.

This procedure was again implemented throughout the West Bank this year, with the IDF implementing extra measures, including the deployment of additional forces, which has successfully reduced violence in those areas addressed. However, other areas continued to be affected by settler violence.

However, Palestinian access to these areas is effectively off-limits for the remainder of the year, undermining maintenance and productivity. In addition, despite the increased security presence, between 15 September and 15 December, OCHA recorded 38 incidents resulting in Palestinian injuries or damage to olive trees, compared with 47 incidents in the same period in 2010. These attacks resulted in 15 injuries and the damaging or destruction of close to 1,500 trees. Dozens of other incidents included intimidation, access prevention and pillage of olive produce. Palestinian villages around the settlements of Qedumim (Qalqiliya governorate), Yitzhar, Eli, and Itamar (Nablus), Ariel (Salfit) and Adie Ad settlement outpost (Ramallah) were among the most affected by settler violence during this olive season.

Areas isolated by the Barrier

Also problematic for Palestinian farmers is access to their land behind the Barrier (the so called “Seam Zone”), which is channelled through designated gates and dependent on obtaining a special permit from the Israeli authorities, or through a ‘prior coordination’ system. Although a larger number of permits are approved each year on the eve of the olive season, many applications are still rejected, mainly due to ‘security reasons’ or on the grounds of insufficient proof of ‘connection to the land.’

During this season, approximately 42 percent of all permit applications were rejected primarily due to “security reasons” or lack of “connection to the land”, as required by the Israeli authorities.1 This is slightly above the rate of denial during the previous season, which stood at about 39 percent. These figures do not capture those who have stopped applying for permits, discouraged because of repeated rejection, or others who refuse to apply as a matter of principle. For example, in Hebron while 143 famers were granted permits to pass through the Khirbet ad Deir gate this olive season, this contrast with 370 granted permits in 2009, and 1,500 farmers who passed through the gate in the 2008 olive season, before the area was declared a ‘Seam Zone’ and the permit regime introduced. Also of concern, all 33 farmers from Bethlehem who applied for permits had their applications rejected for land in the Wadi Sham area which they were able to access in previous years through prior coordination.

For those farmers granted access to the ‘Seam Zone’ by permit or prior coordination, passage is restricted to Barrier gates and checkpoints. Most of the crossings along the Barrier are only open during the olive harvest period and only for a limited amount of time during those days. An informal study carried out by OCHA in the northern West Bank over the last three years shows that olive trees in the Seam Zone have an approximately 60 percent reduction in yield compared to their equivalents on the ‘Palestinian’ side of the Barrier, where essential activities such as ploughing, pruning, fertilizing and pest and weed management can be carried out on a regular basis.

Wastewater Hazard in Gaza

On 6 December 2011, two children (ages two and four) drowned in a sewage cesspool in the Qatatwa neighborhood of the Khan Younis Refugee Camp.

The Qatatwa neighborhood, located in the area of a former Israeli settlement, developed over the past few years and is yet to be connected to basic services and infrastructures, including sanitation. As a result, many residents have installed their own sewage systems with outfalls that drain into a cesspool covering an area of about 2500 m2 located in a depressed area (more than four meters deep) in the adjacent sand dunes. Although a weak fence was installed in the past around the cesspool, it has not prevented children from accessing the site, becoming a significant safety hazard.

Following the last incident the Union Of Agricultural Work Committees (an NGO member of the WASH cluster) installed a new fence around the cesspool, but a sustainable solution for the provision of sanitation services in this area is still urgently needed. This would consist of a pumping station with a collector network transporting the sewage to a wet pit to be pumped to the existing wastewater treatment plant in Khan Younis. NGOs working in the area have appealed to the Humanitarian Relief Fund, administered by OCHA, to obtain emergency funding to implement such a project.

Nearly a third of the households in the Gaza Strip are not connected to a sewage network and rely on self-installed and unregulated cesspits. The sewage network in the Khan Younis governorate covers just 40 percent of households, the lowest rate of coverage across Gaza. The ongoing blockade, along with funding shortages, has significantly contributed to the current underdevelopment of Gaza’s wastewater infrastructure. Not only is there insufficient network coverage, but also existing treatment plants are of limited capacity. As a result large amounts of partially treated sewage are discharged into the sea daily. The Khan Younis area depends completely on a wastewater plant installed by the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) as a temporary measure in 2007.


1. Figures include 20 demolitions, of water-related structures or infrastructures, carried out by Israeli forces in Area B in 2011 and 5 in 2010.

2. OCHA recorded close to 140 people were forcibly displaced as a result of Israeli settler violence in 2011.

3. See OCHA oPt reports “Restricting Space: The Planning Regime Applied by Israel in Area C of the West Bank,” December 2009 and “East Jerusalem: Key Humanitarian Concerns,” March 2011, chapter 2, for details.

4. See for example Al Haq, Repression of Non-Violent Protest in the Occupied Palestinian Territory: Case Study on the village of al-Nabi Saleh, December 2011; B’Tselem, Show of Force, Israeli Military Conduct in Weekly Demonstrations in a-Nabi Saleh, September 2011.

5. For further analysis of this development see, OCHA, The Humanitarian Monitor, April 2011.

6. Peace Now, Torpedoing the Two State Solution: Summary of 2011 in the Settlements, January 2012.

7. The rate of approval varied across different areas: 84 percent in Jenin governorate (1,634 out of 1,948); to 49 percent in Qalqiliya (2,424 out of 4,996); 52 percent in Tulkarm (2,504 out of 4,778); 64 percent in Salfit (420 out of 660); 68 percent in Ramallah (355 out of 522); and 91 percent in Hebron (560 out of 615).


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