Israel and the occupied territories: ICRC maintains humanitarian effort
18-03-2011 Operational Update
Throughout 2010, the ICRC continued to monitor the humanitarian situation and maintained its assistance for those most in need. When necessary, it presented its findings to the authorities concerned and regularly reminded the parties to the conflict of their obligations under international humanitarian law.
In Gaza, despite the easing of the closure and the partial lifting of export bans in the wake of the flotilla incident, continued restrictions on the movement of people and difficulties in importing building materials hampered sustainable economic recovery and dashed any hope of leading a normal and dignified life. According to the World Bank 2010 data, the unemployment rate remained stubbornly high at 39 per cent.
The ICRC monitored the supply and stocks of essential drugs and disposables with the aim of ensuring that hospitals could provide an acceptable level of patient care. However, insufficient cooperation between the health ministries in Ramallah and Gaza combined with fuel shortages brought patient care to the brink of crisis on several occasions, in particular when haemodialysis fluid ran short. Meanwhile, Israelis in the south of the country continued to live in fear of rocket attacks launched from the Gaza Strip.
In the West Bank, stringent restrictions on construction and movement continued to hamper development, adversely affecting livelihoods and making life difficult for Palestinians living close to settlements, which are illegal under IHL. Land-related issues were once again the main reason for disputes between Palestinians, settlers and the authorities, which all too often degenerated into violent incidents causing physical injury and property damage. Palestinian farmers faced constant difficulty reaching and looking after their crops located beyond the West Bank barrier – which is contrary to IHL where it deviates into occupied land – or next to settlements. Throughout the year and during the olive harvest in particular, the ICRC noted an increase in cases of property destruction, such as burnt or uprooted olive trees, which wiped out a much-needed source of income. Furthermore, disagreements over holy sites, construction and demolitions led to clashes and the loss of civilian lives.
The ICRC carried out water and sanitation projects for communities with little or no access to water. It also maintained its efforts to help rural communities in the Jordan Valley that lack basic infrastructure and face severe restrictions on building and movement.
Supporting health-care services
Ensuring that generators in Gaza's hospitals had an adequate supply of fuel remained a major concern throughout 2010, with the electricity supply disrupted for up to 10 hours a day. In hospitals, where electric power is absolutely essential, interruptions affected patient treatment, shutting down machines and preventing proper care. When the treatment of ventilated patients, patients undergoing dialysis or other patients connected to machines is temporarily interrupted, the risk of complications increases. Power cuts occasionally forced operating theatres to shut down and laundry services to cease, and fluctuations in power damaged sensitive medical equipment. Because it is difficult to bring spare parts to the Gaza Strip, many facilities must forgo the use of key equipment for significant periods of time. It is estimated on the basis of the current average daily duration of power cuts that most hospitals have only enough fuel to function normally for 11 days.
The poor cooperation between the health ministries in Ramallah and Gaza made it difficult to organize a predictable and reliable supply of essential drugs and disposables for Gaza. The ICRC contacted the authorities in an attempt to prevent a negative impact on the patients, and endeavoured to fill urgent gaps when requested. The actions taken by the ICRC included, for example, supplying urgent life-saving medications for organ transplant patients who were down to their last day's supply, and medications for new-born babies with congenital heart defects.
"The ICRC remains ready to assist the health ministry by sending urgently needed items to Gaza," said Morven Murchison, an ICRC health coordinator. "Nevertheless, this is only a stopgap. The real solution consists in establishing a pipeline for sending drugs and disposables to Gaza according to need."
The ICRC's support for health-care services focuses on emergency life-saving surgery. In 2010, the ICRC supplied 242 tonnes of drugs and disposables to the health ministry for hospitals in Gaza. The items were used in the emergency surgical treatment of more than 43,000 patients.
Visiting detainees and helping families keep in touch with their loved ones
By conducting regular visits, ICRC delegates monitored the overall situation of some 8,000 Palestinian detainees in Israeli places of detention and of some 3,600 detainees in Palestinian places of detention. The delegates were particularly attentive to the needs of women and minors, and also of Gazans, who are currently affected by the suspension of family visits between Israel and Gaza. After its visits to places of detention, the ICRC shares its findings and recommendations confidentially with the authorities.
In 2010, the ICRC made arrangements for around 124,000 people from the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and from the occupied Golan to visit their relatives held in Israel. "Since June 2007, some 780 families in Gaza have been prevented by Israel from visiting their relatives in Israeli prisons," said Veronika Hinz Gugliuzza, in charge of the ICRC's family visit programme. "To mitigate the effects of this measure, the ICRC has stepped up its efforts to maintain family links by delivering over 12,500 written and 700 oral messages between detainees and their families. However, this does not replace face-to-face visits."
The ICRC also managed to reunite some families. For example, it made arrangements for an elderly woman from Gaza to join her daughter in Amman and for another elderly woman, who had no family members living near her in Jordan, to join her son in Gaza. A young child from Gaza was reunited with his father in the West Bank, and four handicapped children attending specialized schools in the West Bank were taken to Gaza to spend their winter and summer holidays with their families.
"The ICRC's has repeatedly requested that Hamas allow it to visit captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit to check on his treatment and conditions of detention, but these requests have so far been denied," said Raoul Bittel, the ICRC's deputy head of delegation. "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 made arrangements for crossings into Syria proper for over 270 students, some 700 Druze pilgrims and a small number of others.
In 2010, the ICRC carried out eight damage assessments in southern Israel after rockets fell on civilian areas.
The ICRC played 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. In 2010, the ICRC provided travel documents for eight detained African migrants and facilitated the release of 40 migrants by forwarding various documents establishing their nationality.
Helping people in need
In Gaza, the ICRC carried out activities promoting recycling, renovating historic houses in the Old City, improving conditions for inhabitants, and hiring disabled people to paint and clean buildings. The ICRC enrolled more than 4,500 unemployed people in cash-for-work projects such as maintaining and repairing infrastructure. To support local agricultural production, the ICRC tackled an insect infestation that threatened the production of tomatoes, thereby safeguarding both farmers' livelihoods and the availability of a staple food crop. Repairs of damaged mesh in some 700 greenhouses prevented insects from entering and attacking the crop. Agricultural inputs such as seeds and seedlings were provided during the final months of the year despite delays related to the lack of rains.
In the West Bank, the ICRC endeavoured to help thousands of people whose lives have been disrupted by settlements and the West Bank barrier to maintain and enhance access to their lands. The ICRC upgraded two irrigation systems, one of which involved pipes crossing the West Bank barrier, and set up a third irrigation system for needy communities. In the south of Hebron District, in cooperation with the agriculture ministry, the ICRC supported a livestock vaccination campaign for herding communities similarly affected by restricted access to land.
"The routing of the West Bank barrier – which winds its way deep into occupied 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 subject to restrictions on movement owing to the presence of Israeli settlements and affected by settlers' violence suffered not only the economic consequences but also serious physical injury or even loss of life. In 2010, the ICRC continued to address these matters and to express its concerns about the tragic consequences of such situations by maintaining confidential dialogue with the authorities and presenting its findings to them.
Supplying water and improving sanitation
The ICRC was involved in 15 water and sanitation projects in 2010 in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and completed six. Some 660,000 people benefited.
In the Gaza Strip, ICRC water projects helped prevent disease outbreaks and led to a safer public health environment. Residents of Rafah town and its surroundings benefited from the renovation and upgrade of a wastewater treatment plant, which was completed in October. To prevent sewage flooding and improve sanitation in Gaza City, the ICRC began upgrading two storm-water pumping stations in November.
In the West Bank, the construction of new water transportation and storage facilities gave people in rural and urban areas better access to water. In Aqraba, south of Nablus, the completion of water transmission lines brought water closer to 35,000 people living in 11 villages, for whom the cost of water dropped by half. It also started to build a water supply system for 22,000 people in 19 villages south of Hebron that currently rely on truck-delivered water.
Working in partnership with the Palestine Red Crescent and Magen David Adom in Israel
The ICRC worked closely with the Palestine Red Crescent Society to better prepare to respond to needs in times of crisis. Palestine Red Crescent emergency medical services, with financial and technical support from the ICRC and the Norwegian Red Cross, continued to provide essential pre-hospital emergency care throughout the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The emergency medical services' stations in Jabalia and Gaza City, which were damaged during the conflict with Israel in 2009, and their station in Rafah, the construction of which had to be suspended owing to a lack of building materials, underwent considerable transformation. The Palestine Red Crescent responded to nearly 64,000 emergency calls in Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
Working together with the ICRC, the Palestine Red Crescent provided disaster management training for over 550 volunteers and staff in Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, to boost the society's capacity to respond to emergencies. In Gaza, staff members were trained in field-hospital management during emergencies.
With the support of the ICRC, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the German Red Cross, Magen David Adom, Israel's National Society, held its first course designed to prepare staff and volunteers to work in international relief operations. Four participants later took part in the aid operation mounted in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti – the first-ever Magen David Adom international emergency operation organized together with the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.
"Magen David Adom has been an important partner for the Norwegian, Canadian and German Red Cross medical teams in Haiti," said Bertrand Kern, the ICRC delegate in charge of cooperation with the Movement's partners in Tel Aviv. "The participation of Magen David Adom in the international relief effort was a major step in the further integration of the society into the broader Movement."
Magen David Adom mounted a major operation to assist people affected by the blaze that ravaged the Carmel region in the north of Israel at the beginning of December. The ICRC provided funding to replenish and increase stocks of relief materials held by Magen David Adom locally. With ICRC support, Magen David Adom also organized an international tracing seminar that was attended by personnel from nearly 30 National Societies spread across five continents.
Promoting compliance with international humanitarian law
Reminding parties to a conflict of their obligation to protect civilians is a fundamental part of the ICRC's efforts to promote compliance with international humanitarian law worldwide. The organization also spreads knowledge of international humanitarian law within civil society, government bodies and the armed forces.
The ICRC pursued its ongoing dialogue with all arms carriers on these and other matters throughout 2010, regularly presenting the authorities with its findings and recommendations. The ICRC placed special emphasis on an in-depth bilateral dialogue on the rules concerning the conduct of hostilities, a dialogue that was prompted following the military operations in Gaza in December 2008/January 2009. The ICRC also held 40 information sessions on international humanitarian law attended by more than 1,200 people belonging to such bodies as the Israel Defense Forces and Israeli prison services.
The ICRC also maintained and reinforced its interaction with the Palestinian security forces and armed groups. Dialogue was pursued with the aim of facilitating humanitarian activities, enhancing understanding of international humanitarian law and promoting compliance with international human rights law.
In over 40 ICRC-organized presentations, more than 1,000 members of the Palestinian security services learned about the ICRC, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, and human rights standards applicable to law enforcement. In the Gaza Strip, nine workshops on the ICRC, international humanitarian law and first aid were held for 300 Palestinian armed militants of various factions.
The ICRC sponsored the participation of Israeli government and civil society lawyers in courses on international humanitarian law that were held abroad. In addition, ICRC staff was invited to speak publicly on international humanitarian law on numerous occasions. The ICRC also co-organized with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem a conference on the principle of proportionality in armed conflict.
The fourth annual competition on international humanitarian law brought together teams of students from eight Israeli universities. "More universities are participating in the competition every year, and the ICRC is pleased to see the growing interest in international humanitarian law in Israel, where its relevance is so apparent every day," said Cordula Droege, an ICRC legal adviser. "We hope that the universal message embodied in international humanitarian law – that all wars have limits – will stay with the students."
In 2010 the ICRC:
- monitored the humanitarian consequences of Israeli practices and policies on the civilian population in the occupied territories, making confidential representations to the Israeli authorities;
- visited over 2,800 persons detained by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and some 850 persons detained in Gaza by the Hamas authorities to assess their treatment and living conditions;
- monitored the overall situation of some 8,000 Palestinian detainees in Israeli places of detention, and paid particular attention to the observance of legal safeguards and to the treatment and detention conditions of some 4,400 of the detainees;
- enabled 124,000 family members from the West Bank to visit their relatives in Israeli jails;
- assisted more than 13,000 impoverished people in the Gaza Strip through cash-for-work projects;
- working with Palestine Red Crescent volunteers, distributed monthly food parcels to over 6,900 people living in the most severely restricted parts of Hebron;
- assisted over 1,000 people in the West Bank and Gaza through distributions of essential household items after their houses had been destroyed;
- started, continued or completed work on improving access to clean water and sanitation for 660,000 people in the West Bank and Gaza Strip;
- made some 400 monitoring visits to hospitals in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip;
- supported Gaza's ailing health care system by delivering 231 tonnes of drugs and consumables as well as medical equipment spare parts;
- helped the Artificial Limbs and Polio Centre in Gaza to treat 2,500 patients in 2010 by donating supplies and by providing training and technical assistance;
- supported the emergency medical services run by the Palestine Red Crescent Society and Magen David Adom;
- spread knowledge of international humanitarian law among Palestinian law enforcement officials, academics and religious groups.