OPT: Protection of civilians – OCHA Weekly report (9 – 15 July 2013)

Key issues

Over 1,000 olive trees cut down by Israeli settlers in the northern West Bank.

On the occasion of the holy month of Ramadan, the Israeli authorities relaxed access to East Jerusalem.

Egyptian measures to shut down tunnel activities along its border with the Gaza Strip continued: limited amounts of fuel and construction materials entered through the tunnels.

Egyptian authorities facilitated the opening of Rafah Crossing for a reduced number of hours, allowing limited numbers of people to enter and leave the Gaza Strip.


Decline in clashes and injuries

This week saw a significant decline in the number of Palestinian civilians injured by Israeli forces compared to the weekly average of injuries recorded in prior weeks. Slightly over half of this week’s injuries (11) were sustained in clashes with Israeli forces that took place near the Old City of East Jerusalem during a protest in solidarity with Bedouin communities in southern Israel who are at risk of displacement.

Six Palestinians were injured in clashes with Israeli forces during search-and-arrest operations in Tulkarm and Nablus cities on 8 and 10 July, respectively. Overall, the number of such operations during the week was half the weekly average recorded since the beginning of the year (40 vs. 80).

Additional clashes resulting in the injury of two Palestinians, including a child, and one Israeli soldier took place on 10 July in the town of Abu Dis (Jerusalem governorate). The clashes erupted after a group of residents damaged a section of the Barrier, which separates the town from East Jerusalem, allegedly to commemorate the ninth anniversary of the issuance of an advisory opinion on the Barrier by the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Settler violence: over 1,000 olive trees vandalized in one incident

During the reporting period, OCHA recorded two incidents involving settlers and other Israeli civilians that led to Palestinian injuries and three other incidents that resulted in damage to Palestinian property. While this is a decline compared to the weekly average number of such incidents recorded so far in 2013 (8), the scale of property damage in one of the incidents was very significant. No Palestinian attacks against Israeli settlers were reported.

On 11 July, the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA) informed the Local Council of ‘Awarta village (Nablus) that a large number of olive trees owned by farmers from the village which are located within the perimeter fence of the settlement of Itamar had been vandalized; the ICA, Palestinian farmers and the members of the Local Council conducted a joint assessment visit the next day. Following the visit, Council members and farmers estimated that over 1,000 olive trees belonging to 22 families had been cut down. According to the affected farmers, the yearly income loss is estimated at 200 NIS per tree (assuming 10 kilograms of oil per tree). Similar to more than 50 other cases across the West Bank, ‘Awarta farmers can only access their land next to the settlement after undertaking ‘prior coordination’ with the ICA and are usually granted access for only a few days each year. The Israeli authorities have opened an investigation. This is one of the largest incidents that took place since OCHA has started recording settler-related incidents in 2005. So far this year, over 6,830 Palestinian-owned trees and saplings have been vandalized by Israeli settlers.

In another incident on 14 July, Israeli settlers physically assaulted and injured a Palestinian shepherd while he was grazing his sheep near Mitzpe Yair settlement outpost in southern Hebron hills. Incidents of settler intimidation and harassment against Palestinians in this area are very frequent.

Two additional incidents involving settlers and other Israeli civilians were reported on 15 July in East Jerusalem. In one of them, a Palestinian was sprayed with pepper spray at a tram station in the French Hill settlement. In the other incident, a group of Israelis marching in the Old City on the occasion of the Jewish holiday of Tish’a beAv stoned Palestinian vehicles, damaging three of them.

No demolitions in Area C and East Jerusalem

No demolitions of Palestinian-owned structures by the Israeli authorities in Area C or East Jerusalem were reported during the week. In previous years, demolitions have come to a halt during the holy month of Ramadan. However during the reporting period, the Israeli authorities issued stop-work and demolition orders against nine residential structures and animal shelters in South Hebron.

Ramadan: improved access to East Jerusalem

On the occasion of the holy month of Ramadan, the Israeli authorities announced a number of measures aimed at facilitating access to East Jerusalem of Palestinians from the rest of the West Bank. Notwithstanding these measures, as in previous years, age criteria and permit requirements continued to be applied and Palestinians from the Gaza Strip continued to be denied access.

This year, women and girls of all ages, men above 40 and boys below 12 will be allowed to cross into East Jerusalem through one of four Barrier checkpoints around the city on Fridays without permit. Men and women above 60 and children under 12 are allowed to enter every day throughout the Ramadan period, except on Saturdays. Other West Bank ID holders not included in these categories can apply for special permits for the purpose of attending the Friday prayers or for family visits.

Estimates provided by the Israeli authorities indicated that on 12 July (the first Friday of Ramadan), around 85,000 Palestinian worshippers holding West Bank IDs entered East Jerusalem through the checkpoints around the city. This is more than three times the numbers who crossed on the first Friday of Ramadan in 2012. Despite the crowded conditions, access through the checkpoints generally proceeded without incident.


Relative calm in the ARAs

Relative calm was reported in the Access Restriction Areas (ARAs) in the Gaza Strip this week. However, in one incident during the week Israeli forces conducted a land leveling operation near the fence inside Gaza, and in another they opened warning fire towards a Palestinian fishing boat; none of these incidents resulted in injuries.

Substantive reduced activities at tunnel

In the context of the ongoing unrest across Egypt, including recurrent attacks and armed clashes in the Sinai Peninsula, the Egyptian authorities have continued measures aimed at shutting down the tunnels under the border with the Gaza Strip. The destruction of tunnels and restrictions on access to them undertaken by the Egyptian authorities in previous weeks have resulted in serious shortages of fuel and basic building materials in the markets in Gaza: in recent years, the tunnels have become the primary entry point for these items due to severe restrictions on imports of construction materials from Israel via official crossings and the high cost of fuel available from Israel.

A few tunnels partially resumed operations, resulting in a slight increase in the volume goods transferred into the Gaza Strip. Local sources in Gaza reported that since 11 July a daily average of over 700,000 liters of diesel and 70,000 liters of petrol have entered via the tunnels. These amounts remain below the quantities transferred before the Egyptian measures against tunnels began almost three weeks ago (800,000 liters of diesel and 200,000 litres of petrol) and there remain serious shortages inside the Gaza Strip.

Over half of this week’s consignments of diesel through the tunnels were allocated to the Gaza Power Plant (GPP), enabling it to maintain its fuel reserves. The GPP has been able to keep operating three of four turbines, producing around two-thirds of its full capacity (80 out of 120 megawatts). The remaining amounts of diesel were rationed by the local authorities to support basic services, including hospitals (which rely on fuel to run backup generators due to the shortage of electricity) and water and wastewater systems. Shortages of petrol, which is entering in much lower quantities than diesel, resulted in long queues of vehicles at fuel stations across the Gaza Strip.

The transfer of limited amounts of construction materials resumed this week after a complete halt in their delivery during the previous two weeks. On average 800-1,000 tonnes of construction materials including cement and aggregates have been entering each day during the week, one-seventh of the amounts prior to recent events. The renewed supply led to a noticeable decline in the prices of such materials. Due to the ongoing shortage of building materials however, the construction of 1,700-2,000 housing units and approximately 90 per cent of municipal infrastructure building projects have been halted.

Rafah Crossing partially re-opened

After a complete closure of the Rafah Crossing for five days by the Egyptian authorities citing security concerns, it was partially re-opened on 10 July – operating for four hours compared to the previous standard of nine hours per day. Travel of passengers was restricted to foreign Arab nationals, authorized Palestinians holding dual nationalities and a limited number of

Palestinians referred for medical treatment. On average, 400 people crossed from the Gaza Strip to Egypt and around 800 people crossed from Egypt to the Gaza Strip per day since 10 July. The limitation of operations at the crossing affects access for thousands of Palestinians wishing to return or enter Gaza. Currently, Palestinians traveling via Cairo are not allowed to board planes.

The Rafah Crossing is the primary exit and entry point to the Gaza Strip for Palestinians – movement across the Erez Crossing in northern Gaza Strip has been severely restricted since September 2000.


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