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Occupied Palestinian Territories - Humanitarian Update, May 201222 June 2012
Summary of monthly Humanitarian Monitor report produced by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
The results of the 2012 Socio-Economic and Food Security survey, released this month, indicate that 27 percent of the population in the oPt (about 1.3 million people) were food insecure in 2011. Albeit high, this represents a six and nine percentage points decrease compared with the equivalent figures for 2010 and 2009, respectively. To a large extent, this can be attributed to the increased levels of economic activity recorded in 2011, as well as improved targeting of food assistance interventions.
Although encouraging, the general context in which this positive trend took place underscores the fragility of this progress. The deadlock of negotiations between the PLO and Israel and the related lack of political horizon, along with the ongoing fragmentation of the oPt as a result of settlement activities and the entrenchment of the separation between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, are key elements within that context. Compounded by the financial crisis affecting the Palestinian Authority (PA), these elements may result in an outbreak of violence and render the abovementioned positive trend unsustainable.
In the West Bank, increasing casualties from clashes with Israeli forces during demonstrations is a worrying indication of the potential for escalation. In the first five months of 2012, over 1,200 Palestinians were injured in this context, nearly half of them in May. On average, the number of injuries has almost doubled in comparison with 2011and is more than 250 percent higher than that of 2009. Over 40 percent of this year's injuries occurred during demonstrations held to protest settlement-related activities. Settlement activities are a particular source of tension and protection concerns in East Jerusalem.
This month also witnessed a marked rise in Israeli settler attacks resulting in Palestinian injuries or damages to their property, the most severe of which affected villages around Yitzhar settlement (Nablus). Although Israeli soldiers were present at the scene of some of these incidents, they failed to intervene and stop attacks. The lack of adequate law enforcement on violent Israeli settlers is particularly worrying given the potential of "price tag" settler attacks in response to the Israeli Supreme Court-ordered evacuation of two settlement outposts in the Ramallah area (Migron and Ulpana) in the coming weeks.
In the Gaza Strip, the decrease in food insecurity is directly linked to the substantive increase in economic activity during 2011, reflected in a double-digit growth rate compared to 2010. The increase was largely concentrated in the service and construction sectors, and fueled by the influx of funds from abroad. At the same time, the productive capacity of Gaza has seen almost no reactivation, rendering recent economic growth highly volatile and unsustainable: the fact that Gaza's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew by over 26 percent in the first three quarters of 2011, but only 0.5 percent in the last quarter of the year, is a clear indication of that.
One of the primary reasons for the stagnation in the productive capacity (the industrial and agricultural sectors) is the ongoing ban on the transfer of goods from Gaza to its traditional markets in the West Bank and exports to Israel. In May, the 2011/2012 export season for agricultural cash crops destined for overseas markets came to a close. While the volume of exported fruit and vegetables increased in comparison with the previous season (along with a decrease in the volume of flowers), it constituted less than 20 percent of the equivalent figure (for these commodities) during the 2006/2007 season, prior to the blockade. In 2011 less than one truckload of goods per day exited Gaza, less than three per cent of the average amount of exports (for all commodities) during the first half of 2007.
The fragile situation is worsened by the financial crisis affecting the PA. This has resulted in the highest number of essential medications out of stock in public hospitals in both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank since 2007, with 42 percent of these items at zero stock in Gaza. The increase exacerbates the already chronic shortages of drugs due to poor coordination between the PA and the local authorities in Gaza. The poor, whose access to private medical treatment and pharmacies is the most limited, bear the brunt of this crisis.
The root of instability affecting the oPt will likely only be resolved at the political level, through an agreement. However, even under the current occupation, there are significant measures that could be taken to reduce humanitarian vulnerability. This should include ensuring accountability for settler violence, improving Palestinian access to land and resources in the West Bank, lifting the ban on the movement of goods and people between Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and improving the coordination between the PA and Hamas with regard to the provision of services, among others.
ISSUES IN FOCUS
Rise in child arrests by Israeli authorities
One area of concern is the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem. Although the monthly average in 2012 is less than half that of 2011 (roughly 13 vs. 28 children arrested per month), almost 60 percent of those arrested between January and May this year were children (56 of 94), and many of the arrested children reported being mistreated while in the custody of Israeli authorities.
The arrests come in the context of ongoing Israeli-Palestinian friction in the Silwan neighbourhood (pop 50,000), that has resulted from the continued presence of Israeli settlements, and the high risk of displacement of hundreds of its Palestinian residents, due to the Jerusalem municipality's plans to demolish existing homes to make way for a 'biblical park'. Tensions in the neighborhood have continued over the past three years, and intensified in recent months, with stone throwing from the Palestinians towards the settlers and police, and harsh responses from the Israeli authorities.
The Israeli civil legal statute, "the Youth Law" [Legal statute 5731, Youth (Trial, Punishment and Modes of Treatment) Law, 1971, with amendment No. 14, 2008; see also B'Tselem report "No Minor Matter"], applied by the Israeli authorities to East Jerusalem, requires that a child's parents be present when they are interrogated and forbids night-time child arrests as well as violent interrogation methods during detention. In practice, for years, there have been allegations of Palestinian children being questioned alone without being informed of their rights, subjected to harsh interrogation methods including physical violence or threats of physical violence, including several accounts by previously detained children given to OCHA oPt.
A study by Defence for Children International - Palestine Section (DCI/PS) based on the testimonies of 36 Palestinian children detained in the second half of 2011, and submitted to the UN Rapporteur on Torture in January 2012, found that the majority of Palestinian children detained in the West Bank suffer from ill-treatment, including 67 percent who reported being subjected to physical violence during their arrest, transfer or subsequent interrogation. The study also indicates that 64 percent of Palestinian children were arrested in the hours between midnight and 5:00 am. Since the year 2000, the Israeli authorities have detained and prosecuted between 500-700 Palestinian children each year, and 7,000 Palestinian children, some as young as 12 years of age, are estimated to have been detained and prosecuted since then. The most common charge is for throwing stones at Israeli military forces or settlers in the West Bank.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Israel is a State Party, stipulates that "State Parties recognize the right of every child alleged as, accused of, or recognized as having infringed the penal law to be treated in a manner consistent with the promotion of the child's sense of dignity and worth, which reinforces the child's respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of others and which takes into account the child's age and the desirability of promoting the child's reintegration and the child's assuming a constructive role in society."
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