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ICRC activities in Israel, the occupied and autonomous territories:April-June 2009

29-07-2009 Operational Update

Civilians bear the brunt of mobility restrictions, Israeli settlements and the routing of the security barrier in the West Bank and Gaza, and of rocket attacks in southern Israel. The ICRC assists those most affected by the restrictions, supports health facilities and improves water supply in poorly served communities.

 Overview  

From April to June 2009, the Gaza population continued to suffer from the consequences, in humanitarian terms, of severe Israeli-imposed import restrictions on building materials and other goods. Military incursions by the Israel Defense Forces occurred regularly, while a number of rockets launched from Gaza threatened the lives of civilians in southern Israel.

In the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, restrictions on movement continued to disrupt the daily lives of Palestinians, although there were limited improvements in the Nablus area. Some farmers, for instance, did not have access to their lands and therefore faced considerable difficulty earning a proper living. People who had their houses demolished by the Israeli authorities lost not only shelter but also their furniture and other personal belongings.

The ICRC continued to take emergency action to help the individuals and communities most affected by restrictions on movement and house demolitions, by making representations to the Israeli authorities urging them to authorize access to farming lands, and by providing shelter and household essentials for those left without a home. It supported health facilities and helped maintain or repair water and sanitation systems. The ICRC continued to work together with the Palestine Red Crescent Society and the Magen David Adom in Israel.

The ICRC also pursued its dialogue with both the Palestinian and Israeli authorities in order to remind them of their obligations under international humanitarian law. In June, for instance, the ICRC handed over to the Israeli authorities a confidential report on the conduct of hostilities during last winter's three-week military operation in Gaza. It also intervened with Hamas at the highest level to reiterate its demand that Gilad Shalit, a captured Israeli soldier, be allowed regular contact with his family and visits by the ICRC.

    

 Helping families whose houses are demolished in the West Bank and East Jerusalem  

Because it is extremely difficult for Palestinians living in East Jerusalem to obtain building permits from the Israeli authorities, many families end up building a house without a permit. They have no alternative if they want to live on their plot of land. However, they could face a demolition order or a heavy fine at any time.

" Seventeen Bedouin families in a small village in the district of Tubas, in the West Bank, received demolition orders for their living quarters in June from the Israeli military, who consider the area a closed military zone. They had no alternative but to leave the land, which also means that they cannot use it as pasture for their sheep, " said Laetitia Courtois, head of the ICRC office in Nablus. " They were already very poor and vulnerable. Losing access to this land will be a hard blow for them economically. "

The ICRC provides families with tents and basic household and hygiene items, as needed, which can help them through the first couple of weeks after their house has been destroyed. The ICRC also regularly intervenes with the Israeli authorities to remind them of their obligations under international humanitarian law and to address the humanitarian consequences of such demolitions.

From April to June, the ICRC:

  • provided 116 people whose living quarters in Tubas were demolished with tents, mattresses, blankets, cooking pots, cups and plates, chairs and hygiene kits;

  • issued " house demolition certificates " for 15 families in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, making them eligible for support from the Palestinian authorities.

    

 Opening the gates for farmers in the occupied West Bank  

It is often difficult for farmers who own land between the West Bank barrier and the Green Line (the 1949 armistice line) to gain access to it. They can be barred from working their fields or tending to their olive groves as Israeli-controlled gates through the barrier are seldom open. Each year, precious crops are also lost when fires break out and farmers are not able to get to their land to extinguish them.

" Even when the Israeli authorities open the gates, they often do so very late in the morning or much later than first announced, so that farmers find themselves wasting hours waiting at the gates, " said Tom Glue, an ICRC relief coordinator. " The ICRC is helping these farmers to make the most of the limited access they do have to their land. "

From April to June, the ICRC:

  • provided approximately 100 farmers with seed, tree seedlings and materials for repairing greenhouses in areas where access is restricted;

  • helped 190 farmers upgrade their land in the occupied West Bank and in the East Jerusalem area;

  • continued to make representations to the Israeli authorities to allow regular and longer hours of access for farmers to their land in the West Bank.

In Hebron, where Palestinians living in the old city are subject to restrictions on movement owing to the presence of illegal settlements and settlers'violence, the ICRC distributed food parcels to almost 6,700 people. It also provided families in the old city with beehives that could give them a small extra income. Almost 100 people benefited.

In the Gaza Strip, the ICRC helped almost 250 farmers in Gaza to upgrade their land by levelling their fields with bulldozers and by supplying olive-tree and vegetable seedlings.

    

 Visiting detainees and helping families to maintain contact with their detained loved ones  

ICRC delegates carried out visits to detainees in Israeli and Palestinian interrogation centres and prisons in order to monitor their treatment and conditions of detention, and to help maintain links between detainees and their families, in particular by collecting and distributing Red Cross messages (brief messages containing family news) and exchanging oral greetings ( salamat in Arabic). However, approximately 900 families in Gaza have been barred by Israel from visiting their relatives in Israeli prisons since June 2007.

In addition, the ICRC funded a training seminar organized in Israel by Magen David Adom for volunteers who help Holocaust survivors and their descendants to find out what happened to their parents persecuted during the Second World War.

From April to June, the ICRC:

  • visited more than 3,000 detainees in 74 places of detention in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza;

  • made arrangements for the visits of more than 38,000 Palestinians from the West Bank to their close relatives held in Israeli prisons.

    

 Providing support for health-care facilities  

In the Gaza Strip, the ICRC continued to support health facilities, which are affected by restrictions on imports into the territory.

From April to June, the ICRC:

  • supplied medicines, medical supplies and equipment and spare parts mainly benefiting surgical and emergency-care patients to eight Ministry of Health hospitals in Gaza;

  • provided support for the Artificial Limb and Polio Center in Gaza City, where 60 people who lost limbs during last winter's military operation in Gaza have been examined and will be fitted (if needed) with artificial limbs once their wounds have healed;

  • worked together with the Palestine Red Crescent to complete an assessment of repairs needed in three ambulance stations because of the conflict in Gaza and the shortage of building materials.

In the West Bank, the ICRC monitored the medical activities, the availability of drugs, and ongoing professional training in the Ministry of Health hospitals and charity hospitals, and donated drugs and surgical materials to seven charity hospitals. It also enabled a mental-health institution in Ramallah to admit an additional 16 patients by providing it with mattresses, blankets and other items.

    

 Improving access to clean water for almost 200,000 people in Gaza and the West Bank  

From April to June, the ICRC:

  • used of recycled materials such as water pipes and concrete segments of the old Rafah border wall to overcome Israeli-imposed restrictions on importing building materials and upgrade a wastewater treatment plant serving 175,000 inhabitants of the southern Gaza town of Rafah;

  • improved access to running water for 23,000 people in the southern West Bank by connecting two water-supply lines.

    

 Promoting respect for international humanitarian law  

The ICRC's ongoing dialogue with the various authorities, armed forces and factions, and with influential members of civil society in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza promotes respect for the rules of international humanitarian law.

From April to June, ICRC legal experts attended six round tables organized in Israel by academic institutions, where such topics as the applicability of international humanitarian law in asymmetric warfare.

The ICRC held a two-day workshop on the protection afforded civilians under international humanitarian law and Islamic law (sharia) at which 12 Muslim scholars, sharia professors and imams from the West Bank exchanged views on issues such as the Islamic position regarding fatwas on the killing of civilians.