Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory: life remains hard for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank

16-02-2010 Operational Update

The vast majority of Palestinians continued to endure restrictions on their movements. Farmers faced difficulties every day as they tried to reach their land isolated behind the West Bank Barrier and around Israeli settlements, while Palestinians separated from the rest of the West Bank by the Barrier found it particularly hard to obtain essential services, such as medical treatment. This is an update on the humanitarian situation and ICRC activities in the occupied West Bank during 2009.

©ICRC / J. Chung / il-e-01870 
Hebron region. IIllegal Israeli settlements like the one in the background make life difficult for the Palestinians of the West Bank. This family has to get by with no running water or mains electricity, while the settlement has both. 
©ICRC / S. Moret / il-e-01942 
The old city centre of Hebron, which used to be a bustling market place. Settlers throw all sorts of objects down on Palestinian shoppers and shopkeepers from their apartments. Shopkeepers have tried to protect themselves with mesh – but there is still no protection against filthy water or urine. As a result, many shoppers stay away. 
©ICRC / S. Moret / il-e-01939 
Manal (Um Geith) prepares a meal for her children on the fireplace. She lives in an area which is under full Israeli civil and military control near the city of Jenin. Her house is falling apart and the roof leaks, but the family require permission from the Israeli authorities to carry out repairs – something they have given up on ever getting. 

  In 2009, the ICRC:  
  • monitored the humanitarian consequences of Israeli practices and policies, making confidential representations to the Israeli authorities;
  • visited people held by the Palestinian authorities;
  • visited detainees from the West Bank in Israel;
  • enabled 13,400 Palestinians from the West Bank to visit relatives in Israeli prisons every month;
  • ran 56 economic security projects, benefiting 31,000 people;
  • working with Palestine Red Crescent volunteers, distributed monthly food parcels to over 6,700 people living in the most severely restricted parts of Hebron;
  • provided emergency aid to 380 people whose houses had been demolished by the Israel Defense Forces;
  • started, continued or completed work on water schemes benefiting 130,000 people;
  • made 100 monitoring visits to hospitals in the West Bank;
  • enabled the Ministry of Health in Ramallah to deliver drugs and medical supplies to Gaza;
  • gave presentations on the protection of health services to 450 health staff from 17 hospitals;
  • supported the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS);
  • donated 11 ambulances to the PRCS;
  • facilitated the efforts of National Societies to support the PRCS;
  • promoted IHL to Palestinian law-enforcement, academic and religious circles.

Life for most Palestinians in the West Bank remained far from normal during 2009, despite some improvement in the local economy, due mainly to the removal of certain checkpoints and facilitated passage through others.

Over half of the West Bank is under full Israeli civil and military control. Here, it is very difficult for Palestinians to obtain building permits. As a result, many families build without a permit, at the risk of seeing their homes destroyed. In 2009, the Israeli authorities demolished about 20 homes in the West Bank and another 50 in East Jerusalem. Numerous other Palestinians were living under the threat of having their houses demolished.

Many Palestinians experienced violence at the hands of settlers. The fear of being attacked kept many farmers away from their land, particularly in areas surrounding settlements. The Israel Defense Forces'response to settler violence continued to be limited, as in the majority of cases there were no soldiers present in the areas where attacks occurred. Moreover, settlers have chopped down, burnt or uprooted about 10,000 olive trees over the past three years, depriving Palestinian landowners of much-needed income.


The ICRC closely monitored the humanitarian consequences of Israeli practices and policies, making confidential representations to the Israeli authorities on the basis of international humanitarian law (IHL) in general and on the law of occupation in particular.

Under international humanitarian law, as the occupying power, Israel has an obligation to treat the civilian population humanely at all times. It must allow the natural growth of the West Bank's population and economy and must ensure that Palestinians have adequate access to water and health care. It must also refrain from any requisition of, destruction of, or damage to property belonging to civilians not required by imperative military necessity. The law specifically prohibits the transfer of the occupier’s civilian population into the territory it occupies. Finally, the West Bank Barrier is contrary to IHL, in as far as it deviates from the " green line " (the Armistice Line of 1949) into occupied territory.

Visiting Palestinian detainees and restoring family links

The ICRC visited people held by the Palestinian Security Services, the Civil Police and the Reform and Rehabilitation Centres Central Administration, to monitor their treatment and conditions of detention and respect for judicial guarantees. The organization shared its findings with these authorities on a regular basis and made confidential representations where appropriate.

The ICRC also visited detainees from the West Bank in more than 30 places of detention in Israel.

Thanks to the ICRC's family visit programme, which has been running since 1968, some 13,400 Palestinians from the West Bank could visit relatives in Israeli prisons every month over the past year.

" This is one of our largest programmes, and it is quite a logistical feat, " explained Veronika Hinz Gugliuzza, the ICRC's Tracing Coordinator who keeps the programme running together with 29 other ICRC staff. " Every month, we have to get thousands of permits from the Israeli Civil Administration on time, hire about 665 vehicle s, drive the families to checkpoints and terminals and pick them up on the Israeli side where buses are waiting to transport them to the prisons. Then we have to repeat the whole process in reverse to get them home again. "


Alleviating the humanitarian consequences of the occupation

The ICRC helped the most vulnerable families in the West Bank make ends meet through income-generating projects and cash-for-work programmes. In particular, the organization helped farmers access their fields isolated behind the West Bank Barrier and around settlements, enabling them to maintain these lands and plant crops.

The ICRC also distributed animal shelters to herders whose flocks were suffering due to their exposure to the winter weather. These shelters will help reduce mortality in newborn lambs by up to 10%.

In total, some 31,000 people benefited from 56 projects in the West Bank during 2009.

Tom Glue,the ICRC's Economic Security coordinator, highlighted the limitations of aid: " Our relief activities help the most vulnerable people through cash-for-work programmes or by providing a way for them to generate an income. But without efficient and predictable movements of people and goods, there is very little prospect of a sustainable economic recovery for Palestinians. "

The old city of Hebron is home to some 30,000 Palestinians. Severe movement restrictions in the city have caused some 70% of its residents to slip into poverty, according to a 2009 ICRC survey. The ICRC, with the help of Palestine Red Crescent volunteers, continued to distribute monthly food parcels to over 6,700 people living in the most severely restricted parts of Hebron.

A number of Palestinians lost their homes when these were demolished by Israeli sec urity forces. The ICRC provided emergency aid to some 380 people in the form of basic household, shelter and hygiene items, with the aim of tiding them over the first couple of weeks after the destruction of their houses.

Providing water for 130,000 Palestinians

The ICRC continued to help communities in the West Bank improve their access to safe water, thereby diminishing their exposure to inadequate and risky alternatives such as collecting rainwater or buying water trucked in at great expense from uncontrolled sources.

The ICRC finished work on water schemes in Beni Zaid and in the south of Hebron, serving 35,000 people, and started renovating the water supply systems for Dar Salah, Al Hul and Anabta, with a combined population of 61,000. The organization continued work started in 2008 on building a comprehensive water supply system for the 35,000 inhabitants of 11 villages south of Nablus.

Supporting health services

The ICRC made 100 visits to hospitals in the West Bank to monitor access by patients and staff, medical stocks, the use of ICRC-donated drugs, consumables and medical equipment, and the impact of movement restrictions on essential hospital activities.

The ICRC also supported the Ministry of Health in Ramallah, providing a regular supply of drugs and disposables for Gaza. The organization also gave emergency assistance in the West Bank when required; this included supplying essential drugs, accessories and spare parts for an orthopaedic surgery drill. In addition, the ICRC facilitated the transport of medication for heart attack victims, H1N1 vaccines, haemodialysis fluids and snake-bite serum from Ramallah to Gaza.

The ICRC took steps to raise awareness of the obligation to respect medical personnel, facilities and vehicles during times of conflict. The organization gave presentations on this topic to about 450 health staff from 17 hospitals in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The ICRC also distributed 125 uniforms to the staff of the Ministry of Health's emergency medical services.

Working with the Palestine Red Crescent Society

The Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) continued to receive ICRC support, enabling it to step up its operational capability. In 2009, the PRCS Emergency Medical Service responded to almost 42,800 callouts in the West Bank and almost 5,500 in East Jerusalem. The ICRC donated 11 ambulances to the PRCS in 2009, all of which were deployed in the West Bank.

The PRCS conducted an end-of-year training, evaluation and planning workshop to enhance the skills of its West Bank volunteers tasked with responding to a range of disaster situations. It also ran an Advanced Medical Post workshop for volunteers in conjunction with Civil Defence, Ministry of Health and police agencies.

The PRCS held sessions on the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, IHL and emblem issues for over 500 PRCS staff and volunteers, Palestinian Authority security forces and other audiences.

The ICRC continued to facilitate the efforts of the Danish, German, Italian, Norwegian, Spanish and Swedish Red Cross societies to support the PRCS in the health, psychosocial, disaster management and rehabilitation sectors.

Promoting respect for IHL and international standards

The ICRC maintained a dialogue with political authorities, armed forces and influential members of civil society to promote the rules of international humanitarian law and international standards applicable to law enforcement officials.

Some 1,200 members of the Palestinian security services learned about human rights norms applicable to law enforcement, and especially pertaining to detention, during 55 ICRC-organized presentations.

Through lectures and workshops, the ICRC ensured that the topic of human rights, ethics and the rule of law was integrated into courses for senior members of the Palestinian Authority security forces.

In cooperation with the deans of law and cultural studies of West Bank Universities, the ICRC organized an academic conference on IHL in the occupied Palestinian territory. The organization also held sessions on the ICRC and on the basic rules of IHL for over 550 university students in the Palestinian territory.

The ICRC organized a roundtable on IHL and sharia with the participation of sharia professors, scholars, imams and prayer leaders. Presentations and discussions on the same issue also took place with prayer leaders and representatives of waqfs (charitable trusts) in various districts.

The ICRC's " Exploring Humanitarian Law " programme was integrated into 12th grade textbooks in 2006, and 221 West Bank schools continued to teach the programme during 2009 with the support of the ICRC.