Israel and the occupied territories: helping people improve their lives

03-11-2009 Operational Update

The ICRC continues to help those who are most vulnerable by supporting health facilities, repairing water systems and launching community projects. This is an update on these and other ICRC activities carried out in Israel and the occupied territories from July to September 2009.


Amid a stifling blockade that has been in effect for over two years, and several months after last winter's military operation, people in Gaza continue their struggle to rebuild their lives – and their surroundings. Some 70% of the population lives in poverty. The closure has brought the private sector to its knees, and the path to recovery will be slow and tortuous. Building materials, spare parts, water pipes and a wide range of other goods are being allowed into the Strip in only very limited quantities, or not at all.

Gaza's plight should not overshadow the continuous hardship faced by West Bank Palestinians. Although movement within the West Bank has generally become somewhat easier owing to the removal of certain checkpoints, farmers still face difficulties every day as they try to reach their lands behind the West Bank Barrier and around Israeli settlements. In some areas, settler violence remains an everyday threat.

Fear has not abated in Israel either. Rockets launched from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel are still threatening civilian lives.

The ICRC made representations to the Israeli authorities, urging them to ensure that Palestinian farmers had regular access to farmlands and to prevent acts of violence by settlers, or in any event to take appropriate action.

In Gaza, after thoroughly monitoring and documenting the conduct of hostilities during the military operation that took place in December and January, the ICRC made confidential representations to the Hamas authorities. The report it submitted followed the one handed over to the Israeli authorities last June.

  ©ICRC/A. Gutmann    
  On 24 September 2009, about 560 Druze were allowed to cross from the occupied Golan into Syria proper through the Kuneitra crossing. Since there are no diplomatic relations between Syria and Israel, the ICRC facilitated the pilgrimage by acting as a neutral intermediary.    
   Visiting those behind bars and helping families keep in touch with their loved ones  

ICRC delegates carried out visits to 1,700 detainees in 24 Israeli places of detention and to 1,400 detainees in 47 Palestinian places of detention in order to monitor their treatment, conditions of detention and respect for judicial guarantees. Following such visits, the ICRC shared its confidential findings and recommendations with the authorities.

The ICRC arranged visits for around 42,000 Palestinians from the West Bank to their relatives held in Israel. But some 900 families in Gaza have been prevented by Israel from visiting their relatives in Israeli prisons since June 2007.

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

Residents from the occupied Golan can rarely cross the UN-controlled demilitarized zone into Syria proper, and their direct contacts with their families are extremely limited. As a neutral intermediary, the ICRC facilitated crossings for around 400 students and more than 500 Druze pilgrims.

At their request, the ICRC also facilitated the repatriation of one Senegalese and four Algerian migrants.

 Helping families make ends meet  

Because of import restrictions, Gazans must find a way to replace materials that used to come from Israel prior to the closure. To partially compensate for the lack of fertilizer, the ICRC continued to support three composting sites. Since no more tree seedlings can be brought into Gaza, the ICRC helped farmers to set up a tree nursery by taking cuttings from existing trees. Other projects involved returning land damaged during the Gaza conflict to a state fit for agricultural activities through levelling, ploughing and compost mixing. The ICRC provided assistance for more than 1,500 unemployed people with 10,000 dependents by enrolling them in cash-for-work programmes in Gaza.

In the West Bank, the ICRC assisted more than 7,000 vulnerable people through similar projects. These included the renovation of water cisterns on lands behind the West Bank Barrier, as well as micro-business initiatives and income-generating projects. For example, the ICRC supported a fruit and vegetable processing initiative for women by providing refrigerators and the necessary cook ing utensils.

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 a recent ICRC household economic survey, 70% of the population is still under the poverty level, making the old city of Hebron a pocket of severe poverty in the West Bank. The ICRC therefore continues to distribute monthly food parcels to over 6,500 needy people.

  The Khan Younis wastewater treatment plant in Gaza will benefit 150,000 people.    
   Improving sanitation and connecting villages to the water network  

Because of the ongoing closure, getting spare parts into Gaza to rebuild or repair ruined or conflict-damaged facilities is a long struggle. Nevertheless, the ICRC recently upgraded sanitation services for the entire population of Khan Younis by concluding an important phase in the renovation of the Khan Younis wastewater treatment plant. The completion of basins for the treatment plant is expected to improve public health and protect the aquifer. At the end of this latest phase, the ICRC successfully handed over all techn ical aspects of the project to local authorities.

" This will make a big difference for over 150,000 people, " said Javier Cordoba, the ICRC's water and sanitation coordinator. " And it also has a significant environmental impact, given that the raw sewage had previously been disposed of in a lake close to the town, thus putting at risk the health of those living in the neighbourhood and polluting the aquifer. "

In the West Bank, the first phase of the water supply project for Dar Salah village, involving the construction of a 1,500 cubic-metre reservoir and a transmission main, as well as a boosting station and site near Nablus, has been completed. This is a major step towards achieving the aim of providing water to some 35,000 people.

 Providing health services for those in need  

People in the Gaza Strip suffering from cancer or in need of dialysis often do not know if the treatment they need to survive will continue to be available, or for how long. The shortage of medicines and disposables is a chronic issue for Gaza hospitals and health clinics, owing to the complex and lengthy procedures required to import such items from Israel, as well as patchy cooperation between the health ministries in Ramallah and Gaza.

" The sick and wounded are bearing the brunt of import restrictions and cooperation issues between the different ministries in Ramallah and Gaza, " said Eileen Daly, the ICRC's health coordinator. " Hundreds of patients are waiting for treatment. We sincerely hope that we are on track to solve this crisis and that each party will fulfil its responsibilities. "

Between July and September, the ICRC provided 48 tonnes of drugs and disposables to eight government hospitals in Gaza, ensuring treatment for more than 10,0 00 surgical patients. It also started an assessment of emergency departments in Gaza's eight government hospitals.

In addition, the ICRC launched a post-operative physiotherapy project in Gaza's European Hospital with the aim of supporting national staff in delivering post-operative physiotherapy to orthopaedic patients. It also continued to support the Artificial Limb and Polio Centre in Gaza City, where more than 500 patients, including 174 amputees, received treatment. It decided to build an upper floor which will enable the Centre to cope with a high influx of disabled patients. Finally, it conducted hospital visits to monitor working procedures in surgical departments and the access of patients and staff to services in both the West Bank and Gaza.

 Strengthening ties within the Movement to prepare for times of crisis  

In response to lessons learned from the Gaza Strip military operation, the ICRC and the Palestine Red Crescent Society organized three workshops for 120 emergency medical staff with the aim of reinforcing practical preventive measures that contribute to safer access to conflict victims. The ICRC also provided support for a workshop on disaster preparedness and response held in Bethlehem for 31 Palestine Red Crescent staff and volunteers.

With ICRC financial assistance, Magen David Adom held its annual multi-incident casualties summer camp for 610 volunteers. The ICRC participated in the closing ceremony, which was followed by a drill centred on a major bus accident. It also provided support for Magen David Adom dissemination sessions for branch volunteers.

 Promoting respect for international humanitarian law  

In a bid to promote respect for 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, 64 training workshops and information sessions organized by the ICRC were attended by 1,840 Palestinian security services personnel, Israel Defense Forces personnel, representatives of the authorities and of NGOs, prayer leaders, students and health professionals.