Israel and the occupied territories: helping people to use their land safely

23-11-2010 Operational Update

The ICRC continues to help those most in need by reminding the parties to the conflict of their obligations under international humanitarian law and by undertaking a range of humanitarian initiatives. This is an update on ICRC activities carried out between July and September 2010.

Violence claimed more civilian lives in the third quarter of 2010. In Gaza, several people were killed near the fence separating the Strip from Israel. In the West Bank, members of organized armed groups attacked settlers, leaving people dead and injured and triggering retaliatory measures by Israeli forces.

The fact that a greater variety of goods are now available in Gaza, thanks to the easing of the blockade that has been choking off the Strip for over three years, has brought little tangible relief to the population. The private sector has remained at a standstill since exports remain prohibited and the movement of people in and out of Gaza is still severely restricted. The unemployment rate in Gaza remains over 35 per cent.

The ICRC monitors the situation of destitute civilians who have no other choice but to live and work in and around the buffer zone close to the fence, which extends in practice over one kilometre into the Gaza Strip. In confidential dialogue with the parties to the conflict, the ICRC has raised concerns about these people. It has taken action to reduce their exposure to hostilities and to improve their access to lands they need to use for activities such as farming or collecting rubble and gravel, which constitute their main source of income.

In the West Bank, the ICRC has continued to document numerous cases of violence by Israeli settlers and their consequences for Palestinian villagers. It intervened with the authorities to ensure that farmers always have access to their lands, including in and around Israeli settlements. The ICRC has also endeavoured to help rural communities in the Jordan Valley that lack basic infrastructure and face stringent restrictions on building and movement.


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

ICRC delegates carried out visits to some 1,400 detainees in 25 Israeli places of detention and to over 1,000 detainees in 50 Palestinian places of detention to monitor the conditions in which they are being held and the treatment they receive, and the observance of legal protections. Following such visits, the ICRC shares its confidential findings and recommendations with the authorities.

The ICRC plays a critical role in providing assistance and protection for foreign migrants held in detention in Israel, especially for some 1,000 people who do not benefit from diplomatic representation in the country. Between July and September, the ICRC provided travel documents for seven detained African migrants and facilitated the release of 16 of them by forwarding various documents establishing their nationality.

In July, August and September, the ICRC made arrangements for around 30,000 Palestinians from the West Bank to visit their relatives held in Israel. However, since June 2007 some 780 families in Gaza have been prevented by Israel from visiting their relatives in Israeli prisons. To mitigate the effects of this measure, the ICRC has stepped up its efforts to maintain family links by delivering over 3,000 written and 200 oral messages between detainees and their families.

The ICRC's repeated requests that Hamas allow it to visit captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit to check on his treatment and conditions of detention have so far been denied. The ICRC is nevertheless persevering in its efforts to persuade Hamas to allow him, at the very least, to have regular contact with his family, as required by international humanitarian law.

Residents of the occupied Golan can rarely cross the UN-controlled demilitarized zone into Syria proper, so opportunities for direct contact with their families are extremely limited. In its role as a neutral intermediary, the ICRC facilitated crossings into Syria proper for over 150 students and some 700 Druze pilgrims from the occupied Golan between July and September.


Supporting ailing health-care services

In recent months, a dearth of fuel for hospital generators has been a major concern. It has resulted in the electricity supply being disrupted for several hours a day, which poses a serious risk for patients undergoing treatment. Dialysis patients, in particular, could lose their lives if a power outage caused their blood to clot. Gaza hospitals have been able to perform emergency tasks only, closing their operating theatres and suspending laundry services.

Patchy cooperation between the health ministry in Ramallah and the authorities in Gaza has had an impact on the supply of essential drugs and disposables, with over 170 items failing to be delivered. The ICRC supplies Gaza's hospitals on a regular basis. In addition, it endeavours to fill urgent gaps, for example by providing a substance needed for radiographic imaging, medication for neonatal congenital heart defects, and spare parts for medical equipment. In July and August, the ICRC provided nearly 76 tonnes of drugs and disposables, used in the emergency surgical treatment of nearly 11,000 patients, for Gaza hospitals.

"We must step in to meet the most pressing needs, since the failure to properly supply the pipeline of drugs and medical consumables is occurring at the expense of the patients themselves," said Morven Murchison, the ICRC's health coordinator. In September, the ICRC finally obtained approval, after a year of trying, for electrodes to be brought into Gaza. The chronic shortage of electrodes, which are necessary to monitor the heart rhythm of cardiac patients, has dramatically affected the quality of care received by patients.

The ICRC-supported Artificial Limb and Polio Centre's clinics continued to cater for patients requiring prosthetics and orthotics: 775 patients were treated in the third quarter of this year. In addition, the ICRC also completed the construction of two new floors for the centre.


Helping people in need

The ICRC enrolled more than 870 unemployed people in Gaza in cash-for-work projects such as maintaining and repairing infrastructure. In another initiative, disabled people were hired to paint and clean buildings. To support local agricultural production, the ICRC tackled an insect infestation that threatened the production of tomatoes and, therefore, farmers' livelihoods. Repairs of damaged mesh in some 700 greenhouses prevented insects from entering and attacking the crop.

In the West Bank, the ICRC helped thousands of people whose lives have been disrupted by settlements and the West Bank barrier, largely built on Palestinian land, to maintain and enhance access to their lands, for example by renovating water cisterns and an irrigation system on land isolated by the barrier, and by improving previously inaccessible land.

"The routing of the West Bank barrier – which winds its way deep into Palestinian territory – and security areas in and around Israeli settlements have deprived thousands of Palestinian farmers of direct access to their lands," explained Ian Byram, who heads the ICRC's economic security unit in Jerusalem. "Many Palestinian farmers had to stop cultivating their fields altogether. Our projects aim to bring life back to land that has been neglected or abandoned."

Palestinians living in the old city of Hebron are subject to restrictions on movement owing to the presence of Israeli settlements and settlers' violence. According to an ICRC household economic survey carried out in May and June, 80 per cent of the population is still living below the poverty level. The ICRC therefore continues to distribute monthly food parcels to over 6,300 needy people.

Supplying water and improving sanitation

The ICRC continues to support the Palestinian Water Authority in its efforts to deliver piped water to communities in the West Bank. Five such projects were either fully or partially completed in the last quarter, thus improving water supply for some 130,000 people. In addition to increasing the availability of water, these projects also help to reduce its cost by bringing it closer to communities that would otherwise have to have it delivered by truck.

In the Gaza Strip, the upgrading of the Rafah wastewater treatment plant is in its final stage. The plant will raise the quality of treated wastewater to a level allowing it be put to agricultural uses such as irrigating trees. The treatment plant has helped to improve sanitation for some 150,000 Rafah inhabitants.


Strengthening partnerships with National Societies

The ICRC is working closely with the Palestine Red Crescent Society to build stronger systems and capabilities for responding to needs in times of crisis. Recently, these efforts have focused on procedures and practices based on lessons learnt from earlier events in the Gaza Strip. The ICRC also continues to support the Palestine Red Crescent emergency medical services, which responded to nearly 13,000 emergency calls in the occupied Palestinian territory between July and September.

The Magen David Adom, Israel's National Society, organized its major annual training event for mass casualty incidents with financial support from the ICRC. Over 1,000 youth volunteers were trained to provide life-saving care.


Promoting compliance with international humanitarian law

In a bid to promote compliance with international humanitarian law, the ICRC maintained an ongoing dialogue with the authorities, armed forces and factions, and influential members of civil society on all sides.

From July to September, 1,500 members of the Palestinian security forces learnt about the ICRC and about human rights applicable to law enforcement, while 320 Israeli military and police staff attended information sessions on the ICRC's activities and mandate. In addition, 200 Palestinian militants from various armed groups attended five workshops on the ICRC, international humanitarian law and first aid.

Exploring Humanitarian Law, an ICRC-supported programme designed to introduce pupils in secondary schools to the basic rules and principles of international humanitarian law, will be handed over to the Palestine Ministry of Education in Ramallah and to the de facto authorities in Gaza in 2011. A summer forum and student competitions were organized with 270 schools that use the programme.

To enhance respect for the work of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, and to obtain better access to people in need, ICRC staff organized 55 training workshops and information sessions attended by more than 2,000 prayer leaders, students, health professionals, journalists and NGO representatives between July and September.


United Nations-controlled demilitarized zone, Golan. An ICRC official helps a Syrian Golanese woman in a wheelchair to cross the demarcation line.  

United Nations-controlled demilitarized zone, Golan. An ICRC official helps a Syrian Golanese woman in a wheelchair to cross the demarcation line.
© Xinhua News Agency

The inauguration of a water reservoir which provides clean water to some 23,000 rural people in Bethlehem District on the West Bank. 

The inauguration of a water reservoir which provides clean water to some 23,000 rural people in Bethlehem District on the West Bank.
© ICRC / C.Goin

The upgrading of the Rafah wastewater-treatment plant on the Gaza Strip nears completion.  

The upgrading of the Rafah wastewater-treatment plant on the Gaza Strip nears completion.
© ICRC / C.Goin