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Israel and the occupied territories: providing support in Gaza and monitoring detainees on hunger strike

15-08-2012 Operational Update

The ICRC continues to monitor the humanitarian consequences of Israeli policies and practices in the occupied territories. In the Gaza Strip, the escalation of violence and fuel shortages have exacerbated the already precarious living conditions. What follows is an update on ICRC activities in Israel and the occupied territories between January and the end of May 2012.

In the first half of 2012, the deadlock in the peace process persisted despite Jordan's efforts to facilitate talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.  

In addition, the stalled reconciliation process between Hamas and Fatah proved too great an obstacle and talks on a unity government and elections had to be postponed.  

Early March 2012 saw one of the most intense escalations of violence between Gaza and Israel since the 2008/2009 Operation 'Cast Lead'. The killing of a high-ranking official from the Popular Resistance Committees by the Israel Defense Forces triggered barrages of rockets fired from Gaza, injuring some civilians.

The closure of Gaza, now in its fifth year, continues to affect every aspect of life in the coastal enclave and to rule out any possibility of economic recovery, despite 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, remain a particular cause for concern. Through cash-for-work and livelihood-support programmes, the ICRC helps impoverished people cope with their precarious circumstances.  

Initially, Palestinian detainees in Israeli places of detention staged a series of individual hunger strikes to protest against administrative detention and to call for their release. A mass hunger strike of over 1,500 detainees then began on 17 April. They demanded the resumption of family visits for detainees from Gaza, an end to solitary confinement, and a number of improvements to their conditions of detention. The ICRC stepped up its visits and closely monitored the medical condition of the detainees involved.

The ICRC also focused on the humanitarian consequences of restrictions on movement and access to land, of the increase in settler violence, and of Israeli military and law enforcement operations.

Stepping up visits to detainees on hunger strike


Between January and the end of May 2012, the ICRC regularly visited detainees in both Israeli and Palestinian places of detention to assess their conditions and treatment. In Israeli places of detention, it monitored the overall condition of some 8,500 Palestinian detainees, especially those who had been interrogated, were held in prolonged solitary confinement or were minors.

The ICRC also monitored the medical condition of more than 1,500 Palestinian detainees throughout their hunger strike from April to May 2012 and held bilateral discussions with a number of Israeli detaining and medical authorities.

“Our role was to ensure that international standards were respected during the prolonged hunger strike," said Dr Nicoloz Sadradze from the ICRC delegation in Israel and the occupied territories. "We respect the free will of the detainees and informed them about the medical consequences of their decision."

An agreement reached between the detainees and the Israeli prison services ended the strike on 14 May 2012. The agreement also stipulated that family visits for detainees whose families lived in Gaza – suspended by the Israeli authorities in 2007 – would resume.

Meanwhile, some 4,000 detainees from the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights received family visits from 41,000 people as part of the ICRC's programme.

The ICRC also visited some 2,000 people detained by the Palestinian authorities in the West Bank and Gaza to assess their treatment and living conditions.

Delivering medical supplies to Gaza's health-care facilities

The ICRC delivered vital support to Gaza's health-care facilities where, on average, 35 per cent of all essential drugs and disposables are out of stock and the situation is precarious. Between January and May 2012, the ICRC distributed 230 tonnes of medical supplies. Chronic shortages force patients to be referred abroad for treatment, which involves a lengthy permit process and rigorous security checks in order to exit Gaza.

Another ICRC priority, as part of providing proper health care for the injured and the sick, is to support the emergency services of the Ministry of Health and the Palestine Red Crescent Society. In addition, the ICRC regularly delivers essential surgical supplies and spare parts for medical equipment to eight key hospitals in Gaza.

In February 2012, when the lack of a reliable source of fuel pushed hospitals to the limit, certain services faced an imminent threat of closure. The ICRC stepped in to supply 300,000 litres of fuel to 13 hospitals in Gaza to help them cope with daily power cuts.

The ICRC also helped the Artificial Limbs and Polio Centre treat more than 1,200 patients, of whom 250 received follow-up physiotherapy treatment.

Tackling economic security and improving sanitation

In order to address the economic needs of families affected by the closure of Gaza, the ICRC assisted more than 10,600 impoverished people through cash-for-work programmes. Unemployed artists were commissioned to sculpt pieces of art with educational, health and social messages and certain roads were repaired in order to improve access to schools and farms.

In the border areas of Gaza, more than 800 people received agricultural inputs to boost their food production. In areas of the West Bank worst affected by movement restrictions, more than 100 farming households gained better access to their land as a result of the ICRC's support and representations to the Israeli authorities. The ICRC also delivered food parcels to 250 vulnerable Bedouin families in the Jordan Valley.

In Gaza, ICRC water and sanitation engineers are working in partnership with local water boards to upgrade the waste-water treatment plants, lay sewage and storm-water networks and pipelines, and renovate pumping stations. Between January and the end of May 2012, 200,000 people in Beit Hanoun and Rafah benefited from improved sanitation.

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

The ICRC continued to provide financial support to the Palestine Red Crescent Society's emergency medical services, which responded to more than 30,000 call-outs in East Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank.

ICRC staff and Palestine Red Crescent Society volunteers worked together to distribute relief supplies to more than 1,600 people in the occupied Palestinian territory after their houses had been destroyed.

Magen David Adom in Israel maintains its nationwide emergency medical services. It went on high alert several times between January and the end of May 2012, either during public events or following rocket attacks and shelling in the south. The ICRC continued its funding for these services in sensitive and remote areas and for training their first responders.

Promoting international humanitarian law

The ICRC briefed 200 members of the Israeli armed forces and police, border guards, crossing-point administrators and prison officers on international humanitarian law (IHL) and the ICRC's mandate. It also continued to deal with the Palestinian security services, with more than 700 law-enforcement officials attending briefings on the legal framework applicable to their work and on human rights rules and international law-enforcement standards in general.

Promoting humanitarian principles among civil society actors remained a priority. The ICRC ran an intensive IHL course for lawyers from the Israeli civil service and civil society organizations. It also organized a number of lectures on IHL – some for humanitarian and human rights actors operating in Israel and the occupied territories and others at Israeli universities.

Eight Gazan and West Bank law or Sharia faculties continued to teach IHL and more than 350 students from various Palestinian universities attended ICRC presentations on the subject.


Photos

The town of Jenin, West Bank. ICRC staff check the identities of families before escorting them from the occupied territories to Israeli places of detention to visit their detained relatives. 

The town of Jenin, West Bank. ICRC staff check the identities of families before escorting them from the occupied territories to Israeli places of detention to visit their detained relatives.
© ICRC / Andrea and Magda / il-e-02578

A delegate talks to detainees during an ICRC visit of Ramon prison in Israel. 

A delegate talks to detainees during an ICRC visit of Ramon prison in Israel.
© ICRC / G. Kavalerchik / il-e-02567

Wala' Alnahal exercises her new artificial leg in the Artificial Limbs and Polio Centre in Gaza, which is supported by the ICRC.  

Wala' Alnahal exercises her new artificial leg in the Artificial Limbs and Polio Centre in Gaza, which is supported by the ICRC.
© ICRC / N. Kero / il-e-02568

The village of Yanoun, northern West Bank. Since these Palestinian farmers have limited access to their land, which is situated near the Israeli settlements, the ICRC liaises with Israeli authorities to ensure that farmers are able to work in their olive groves. 

The village of Yanoun, northern West Bank. Since these Palestinian farmers have limited access to their land, which is situated near the Israeli settlements, the ICRC liaises with Israeli authorities to ensure that farmers are able to work in their olive groves.
© ICRC / B. Almohor