Tuesday, February 07, 2012

OPT: Israel and the occupied territories - another year without change

Source: ICRC

The ICRC continues to monitor the humanitarian consequences of Israeli policies and practices in the occupied territories. It shares its findings confidentially with the Israeli authorities. This is an update on ICRC activities carried out in Israel and the occupied territories in 2011.

The Gaza closure, now in its fifth year, continued to affect all aspects of life in the coastal enclave and to remove any prospect of economic recovery despite some concessions made by the Israeli authorities. The lengthy permit process and the rigorous security checks required to exit Gaza, whether for treatment, education or training, remained a cause of particular concern.

Indiscriminate rocket attacks continued to be launched from Gaza into civilian areas in Israel, where people lived in constant fear of further rocket fire.

The continued building of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem prevented many more Palestinian farmers from being able to reach their lands. Because of the scarcity of building permits, many Palestinians living in areas under Israeli control built houses without permission, despite the risk of seeing their homes destroyed. The ICRC documented several cases of destroyed Palestinian property and uprooted olive trees.

Gaza health-care facilities somehow managed to function in 2011 despite facing chronic shortages of drugs and disposables and lacking reliable sources of electricity and fuel. The recent financial crisis and insufficient cooperation between the health ministry in Ramallah and the authorities in Gaza had an impact on the supply of drugs and disposables.

In both Gaza and the West Bank, the ICRC carried out water and sanitation projects, provided economic support to the most needy, and visited detainees and migrants.

Supporting Gaza's health-care services

An average of between 20 and 30 per cent of essential drugs and disposables were out of stock in Gaza in 2011. Although basic services were available, the chronic shortages forced patients to be referred abroad. For instance, a cancer patient in Gaza can only expect to find half of the drugs required by chemotherapy protocols.

"The ICRC will continue to provide support for the ministry of health, but a sustainable pipeline needs to be put in place," said Kirrily Clarke, an ICRC health-programme manager in Gaza. "It is not acceptable to endanger patients' lives."

In 2011, in the absence of a reliable source of fuel, electricity blackouts lasting an average of eight hours per day forced hospitals to use generators and turn to local donors for fuel.

The ICRC provided the Artificial Limb and Polio Centre with supplies and training expertise, which enabled the centre to make available better-fitted devices, and carried out extensive renovations of the facilities.

Visiting detainees and helping families keep in touch with their loved ones

In 2011, the ICRC regularly visited detainees both in Israeli and in Palestinian places of detention to monitor the conditions in which they were being held and the treatment they received. In Israeli places of detention, it monitored the overall situation of some 8,000 Palestinian detainees, especially those who were under interrogation, in prolonged solitary confinement or minors. The ICRC also monitored the situation of approximately 2,500 migrants detained in Israel. In addition, it provided travel documents for three African migrants and helped 40 migrants obtain identity documents in order to facilitate their release.

Since 2007, Gazans have been prevented by Israel from visiting relatives held in Israeli prisons. The ICRC has expressed its concerns, both publicly and directly to the Israeli authorities.

On rare occasions during 2011, the ICRC managed to arrange for elderly individuals from Jordan or Jerusalem, or handicapped children originally from Gaza, to be reunited with their families in Gaza.

In its capacity as a neutral intermediary, the ICRC made arrangements for 170 students, some 530 Druze pilgrims and a small number of other people given special consideration for humanitarian reasons to cross from the occupied Golan through the UN-controlled demilitarized zone to Damascus and back again.

Promoting economic security in Gaza and the West Bank

In the West Bank, the ICRC endeavours to enhance the access of thousands of people to their lands located near settlements or the West Bank barrier.

In addition to restrictions on movement, Palestinians were also affected by settler violence resulting in economic loss, serious physical injury or even loss of life. In 2011, the ICRC continued to express its concerns and report its findings to the authorities bilaterally and confidentially.

In cooperation with the agriculture ministry, the ICRC supported a livestock vaccination campaign aimed at preserving the livelihood of the herder community south of Hebron by improving the health of their livestock. Over 250,000 head of livestock belonging to some 5,500 households were immunized against endemic diseases.

The ICRC was also involved in a number of other activities promoting economic security. It tackled an insect infestation affecting tomato production. Damaged mesh was prepared in 190 greenhouses, and tomato seedlings, mesh and wire were distributed to 100 farmers. In addition, seeds and seedlings were made available, and orchards were pruned and cleared of weeds.

Providing water and sanitation services

Hundreds of thousands of residents of Gaza City, Rafah, Khan Yunis, Beit Hanoun, Jabalia and surrounding areas benefited from the upgrading of wastewater treatment plants, the construction of sewage and storm-water networks and pipelines, and the renovation of pumping stations carried out by the ICRC in partnership with local water boards. The ICRC also upgraded laundries and water and power supplies in eight hospitals. and provided spare parts.

In the West Bank, the ICRC completed projects in Nablus and Hebron that improved water supply for more than 87,000 people.

Working in partnership with the Palestine Red Crescent Society and Magen David Adom in Israel

The ICRC and the Norwegian Red Cross provided financial and technical support for the Palestine Red Crescent Society's emergency medical services. In addition, the ICRC helped create a much-needed Palestine Red Crescent ambulance station in the restricted area of Hebron, which led to an expansion of services. The Palestine Red Crescent also opened four operating theatres as a disaster-preparedness measure.

The ICRC provided support for the first-ever earthquake disaster simulation exercise undertaken jointly by Israel’s Magen David Adom and the Jordan National Red Crescent Society.

The ICRC also gave its backing to information sessions on the fundamental principles of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and on international humanitarian law attended by 2,850 Magen David Adom staff and volunteers, and to refresher training provided for 30 trainers.

Promoting compliance with international humanitarian law

In an effort to enhance respect for international humanitarian law and protection for civilians in conflict, the ICRC pressed ahead with the confidential dialogue on the conduct of hostilities initiated with the Israeli authorities following the military operation in Gaza in December 2008/January 2009.

In 2011, the ICRC organized 75 information sessions on international humanitarian law and ICRC activities attended by 1,600 participants from the Israel Defense Forces, Israeli prison services and the police. The ICRC co-organized conferences with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on applying international humanitarian law in a new technological age, and with the Institute for National Security Studies on "Challenges of warfare in densely populated areas," both of which included sessions for journalists and civil society. In addition, it held a competition on international humanitarian law in which six teams of students from Israeli universities took part.

Together with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the ICRC co-organized a six-day training course on international humanitarian law for 30 lawyers with various backgrounds.

In the West Bank, the ICRC organized over 60 presentations, attended by more than 1,400 Palestinian police officers, on its role and mandate and on compliance with human rights standards applicable to law enforcement. In the Gaza Strip, it held 22 workshops on similar topics that were attended by almost 900 Palestinians from the civil-defence services and the police.