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Israel, the occupied and the autonomous territories - Recent ICRC action

27-05-2002 Operational Update

A concrete view of recent ICRC activities in Israel, the occupied territories and the autonomous territories in recent weeks, as background to the ICRC Budget Extension Appeal issued on 27 May 2002, with detailed objectives and activities for the remainder of 2002.



 Executive summary  



  • The aim of this update is to give a concrete view of recent ICRC activities in Israel, the occupied territories and the autonomous territories in recent weeks, as background to the ICRC Budget Extension Appeal issued on 24 May 2002, which details objectives and activities for the remainder of 2002.


  • Acting as lead agency for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, the ICRC has mobilized the full extent of its operational capacity to meet growing humanitarian needs arising from the latest violence.

As a result, the ICRC has provided direct aid to thousands of wounded, sick and homeless victims of the recent violence, while continuing to carry out its traditional humanitarian assistance and protection role in the region. In the past few weeks, the ICRC has provided emergency housing, food, clothing, medical and basic household supplies to those rendered homeless and destitute. It has also facilitated the transport of medicines and medical equipment to hospitals and medical centres during the latest crisis.

The aim of this update is to give a concrete view of ICRC activities in Israel, the occupied territories and the autonomous territories in recent weeks. This will serve as background to the ICRC's Budget Extension Appeal for this operation, to be issued on 24 May 2002, which will detail the organization's objectives and planned activities for the remainder of 2002, announce a corresponding budget increase and appeal to donors for extra funds.



Launched on 29 March, a few days after a particularly chilling bomb attack killed dozens of Israeli civilians at a Passover ceremony, the " Defensive Shield " military operation was the biggest ever mounted since the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Prior to the offensive Israel conscripted 20,000 reservists and deployed tanks, armored bulldozers and combat helicopters. Israel declared the incursion was aimed at dismantling an ‘infrastructure of terror’ held responsible for a deadly spate of bomb attacks which have left scores of Israelis dead and many more injured in recent months.

Six major urban areas were initially targeted by the IDF: Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin, Bethlehem, Tulkarem and Qalkilya. The operation rapidly spread to outlying villages and refugee camps, home to two-thirds of the West Bank population. A target priority was Jenin, a focal point of Palestinian resistance to occupation since the Palestinian insurgency erupted some 18 months ago. In Ramallah, seat of the Palestinian government, ministry buildings containing data and records were destroyed.

In the ensuing violence hundreds of buildings and homes were demolished, leaving thousands of people homeless. Water, sewage and electrical power infrastructure was destroyed or incapacitated, hospitals and health care centres ran perilously low on essential supplies, while exhausted medical staff worked around the clock, unable to be replaced by colleagues blocked at home by the curfew. Jenin refugee camp was the scene of a fierce battle which left 23 IDF soldiers and more than 50 Palestinians dead. The camp, housing more than 13,000 Palestinian refugees cramped into a one-square kilometer dense labyrinth of cinder-brick dwellings and rutted alleys, was severely damaged (for more details, see Housing assis tance).

As a result of strict curfews imposed for weeks on end, much of the West Bank population was denied access to the basic and sometimes lifesaving necessities of daily existence. Garbage piled up in streets and homes, posing a general health threat; women in labour gave birth at home; home-confined dialysis, asthma and other patients requiring urgent medical care anxiously monitored depletion of vital medical supplies; families awaited news of relatives not at home when the curfew took effect; precious livestock deprived of food and water withered in back yards; and anyone caught off curfew limits faced the risk of being shot at or arrested.

The Israeli incursion has left the inhabitants of the West Bank struggling to pick up the pieces of their disrupted lives. Although the IDF has now withdrawn from the big towns in the Palestinian autonomous areas, the military presence throughout the West Bank is still considerable. Tight restrictions imposed under Israel’s curfew and closure policy continue to undermine everyday life both in the West Bank and Gaza.

While the intensification of violence and the volatile situation on the ground appeared to dim prospects for an early end to the bloodshed, diplomatic efforts accelerated world wide to bring the parties engaged in the violence back to the negotiating table. To this end, the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations have called for an international peace conference on the issue this summer.


 ICRC priorities  

The ICRC has multiplied efforts to remind all parties of their obligation to respect the basic laws of war and armed conflict amid deplorable perpetuated instances of violations of these laws, while at the same time acting to its fullest capacit y to provide immediate relief to the most needy victims. At the height of the recent violence, ICRC Director General, Mr Paul Grossrieder, traveled to the region on a three-day mission to review ICRC humanitarian response mechanisms. Particular emphasis was placed on attempts to improve ICRC co-ordination with relevant Israeli authorities on the freedom of movement for PRCS medical staff and ambulance crews and ICRC relief teams operating under complex and often hazardous conditions.

Regrettably, IDF restrictions of access have severely hampered humanitarian activities to provide assistance and protection to the sick and wounded and to the growing number of extreme hardship cases in the wake of the latest Israeli military incursion. These restrictions have ranged from total access bans to security clearance delays that have denied victims their inviolable right to immediate humanitarian assistance.

As lead agency for the Movement, and in view of recurring incidents of willful hindrance of its operations on the ground, the ICRC has repeatedly lodged representations with the highest official levels aimed at removing impediments to the pursuance of its humanitarian tasks.

In furtherance of this goal, the ICRC has reinforced efforts to expand and enhance its lines of communication with all relevant authorities, particularly at the local level, in order to maximize the unrestricted pursuance of its activities on the ground.

Operationally, the primary, immediate ICRC concern has focused on the provision of shelter for the large numbers of people whose homes have been destroyed, access to health care services for the sick and wounded, adequate food and water supplies for the most vulnerable groups and the rehabilitation of badly damaged core infrastructure. ICRC teams, working in often complex and hazardous conditions, have helped to bring urgently needed water and food supplies to special hardship cas es in totally isolated villages. During the fighting, the ICRC was sometimes the only international organization present in certain conflict areas. This was the case in Ramallah where ICRC teams were mainly involved in trying to ensure the unhindered mobility of Palestine Red Crescent (PRCS) medical teams to carry out their duties and the transportation of urgently needed medical supplies to local hospitals. ICRC engineers were also engaged in facilitating the repair of damaged water and electric power networks with the Palestinian Electricity and Water Board.

In addition, the ICRC strove under difficult conditions to maintain contact with the authorities to negotiate limited lifting of the curfew to enable people in dire situations to stock up on basic goods. This resulted in periodic curfew stoppages throughout the West Bank.

The fiercest fighting took place in Jenin and Nablus. Nowhere was ICRC action more highly profiled than in Jenin. The ICRC was present in Jenin from April 3 when Israeli tanks and bulldozers entered the town and its refugee camp. It maintained relief operations there throughout the entire incursion period. The priority goal was to ensure access to medical care for the sick and wounded, and water and food for the local population. ICRC medical teams helped set up an emergency medical service field hospital on the perimeter of the Jenin refugee camp shortly after the fighting there broke out but was barred from entering the camp for several days while fighting raged. When access was finally permitted by the IDF, the ICRC helped establish a medical care post inside the camp where it also provided for urgent food and water needs and facilitated access for the evacuation of the dead and wounded. A similar ICRC relief response was undertaken in Nablus and other areas hard hit by the military operations. In Nablus, material damage centered on the old city where historic buildings were destroyed.

(For a detailed account of the ICRC’s response in Jenin please refer to the Annex to this update).


 ICRC Response  


 International Humanitarian Law (IHL) – Fostering Compliance  

The ICRC has repeatedly called on all parties concerned to do their utmost to spare civilian lives and preserve a measure of humanity in line with IHL. It is extremely concerned at the spiraling violence in recent months and the ensuing breaches of basic IHL principles, primarily the continued killing of civilians in Israel and in the Palestinian territories. Confronted with a highly volatile situation, in which tensions continue to run high, the ICRC has relentlessly impressed on all parties concerned the paramount importance of ensuring that no harm is inflicted on civilians.

Pursuant to its mandate, the ICRC continues to take note of abuses of IHL and to relate them to the relevant authorities in the hope that the basic rules of IHL will ultimately prevail. Of most concern are the indiscriminate killing of civilians; the widespread destruction of houses and infrastructure; failure to respect the unhindered conduct of lifesaving medical activities; the closures, curfews and physical barriers restricting the civilian population’s freedom of movement, the illegal detention of civilians outside the territories; and the illegal presence and development of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.

The ICRC has frequently reminded the relevant authorities of their obligation to ensure that civilians are protected from the effects of the violence and that they can live their daily lives as normally as possible.


 Protection/Assistance to the civilian population  

 Medical teams and ambulance crews  

The ICRC has always acknowledged the right of the IDF to check ambulances, provided security controls do not unduly restrict their mobility. However, on repeated occasions, the ICRC was compelled to remind Israeli authorities of the paramount importance of ensuring unrestricted access to emergency medical services at all times, and that ambulances and their staff must imperatively be allowed to move around unharmed and unhindered in the conduct of their duties.

Due to the stringent restriction of movement imposed by the IDF, the Palestine Red Crescent Society said it was only able to respond to some 10% of emergency assistance calls, possibly resulting in unnecessary deaths and suffering. Mr Grossrieder cited the extreme case of an ambulance that had taken 13 hours to travel two kilometers. ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger also took up this and other issues regarding Israel’s obligations under IHL in a letter addressed to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

On repeated occasions, IDF soldiers fired without warning on ambulances and medical staff. In March, four emergency medical workers – two from the PRCS - were killed in four different incidents, while other medical team members were wounded by Israeli fire. PRCS ambulances and an ICRC vehicle were also either destroyed or badly damaged in the recent violence. These serious violations of basic humanitarian law were immediately reported to the Israeli authorities.

When permitted to move, units of the PRCS fleet of some 100 ambulances, in large part financed by the ICRC, were subjected to unnecessary lengthy clea rance and search procedures. Since 30 March, over 50 PRCS Emergency Medical Service and medical staff, including the PRCS President, were arrested and detained by the IDF for varying lengths of time.

In the unfolding chaos, confusion and destruction of the past few weeks, the ICRC has nevertheless done its utmost to limit restrictions on safe and unhindered access for medical teams to reach the wounded and sick, evacuate the dead and ensure delivery of urgently needed medical supplies and equipment to hospitals, medical centres and also to isolated individuals confined to their village homes. The ICRC wishes to commend the unremitting work of the PRCS and to pay tribute to those of its staff members who did not live to witness the outcome of PRCS efforts which undoubtedly saved lives and contributed to alleviating much suffering and hardship in this latest surge of violence.

 Housing assistance  

Wherever freedom of movement permitted, the ICRC stepped up efforts to provide shelter and basic household items to families whose homes were completely or partially destroyed during the latest incursion, or during recent Israeli settlement development in the occupied territories.

ICRC tents, blankets, hygiene kits, kitchen sets, gas stoves, lamps and other household items were distributed to the most needy cases of homeless families reduced to a state of total dependency and helplessness. In April alone, over 300 people in the Gaza Strip and 400 in the West Bank received such ICRC emergency housing relief packages. In March, 600 people were assisted in the Gaza Strip and 180 in the West Bank. 

At the Jenin refugee camp alone at least 140 buildings, mostly multi-family dwellings, were completely destroyed, and severe damage to some 200 others has rendered them uninhabitable or unsafe. An estimated 4,000 people, almost one third of the camp’s population, were reported homeless due to damage caused by missile and tank fire and armored bulldozer destruction.

Since January 2001, the ICRC has provided assistance to more than 7,000 persons whose homes had been destroyed in the Gaza Strip or the West Bank.

 Closure relief assistance  

The rural population is estimated to be approximately two million and the livelihoods of most inhabitants have been severely challenged, largely due to problems of access and mobility under the present closure policy.

In early May, the ICRC resumed relief aid in West Bank rural zones, which had been suspended during the Israeli incursion. In an initial phase, food and hygiene parcels were distributed to 19 villages in Jenin district, and similar assistance will soon resume in other West Bank districts, as part of a programme aimed at assisting 10,000 vulnerable families in the villages worst affected by closures. Each eight-member family receives one food parcel and one hygiene parcel on a monthly basis. Food parcels contain 25kgs of flour, 10kgs of rice, 5kgs of sugar, 5kgs of lentils, 5kgs of beans, 2.5 litres of oil, one kg of coffee and two kg of tea. In the coming months, the ICRC plans to triple the number of beneficiaries in rural areas, and to address the needs of 20,000 families in urban settings.

Since the relief programme started in February 2001, over 21,000 families representing 125,000 individuals in the West Bank have been assisted.


 Food parcels for families in Hebron  

One thousand families living under almost perpetual curfew in Hebron’s old city continue to receive monthly food parcels donated by the Kuwait Red Crescent Soci ety. The parcels contain basic commodities such as wheat flour, beans, lentils, rice, sugar, tea, coffee and oil. This programme, organized by the ICRC and the PRCS and implemented in cooperation with local bodies, has been running since January 2001. The number of beneficiaries here will also be doubled in the coming months.

 Support for hospital structures  

The needs identified in the medical and surgical fields stem more from the consequences of the restrictions on movement than from the shortage of material or staff. The ICRC programme aims to train surgeons in certain specializations for life-saving procedures in peripheral hospitals, in order to reduce the need to transfer patients to central hospitals. Over the past months, three surgeons specialized in neurotraumatology, and thoraco-vascular and orthopaedic surgery worked for three to four weeks each in various hospitals in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The work was concentrated in Gaza city, Nablus and the smaller West Bank hospitals of Tulkarem, Jenin, Jericho and Beit Jala. Surgical instruments were also distributed to hospitals in Tulkarem, Jenin and Gaza as planned.


 Protection of detainees  

The ICRC is still the only organization regularly visiting places of detention under the control and responsibility of the Palestinian authorities, under an agreement it signed with the Palestinian Authority in 1996. In the first three months of the year, ICRC delegates visited some 1,469 detainees held in 22 detention sites. During the recent Israeli incursion, ICRC visits to Palestinian Authority detention sites were interrupted in the West Bank, but continued in the Gaza Strip.

In Israel, in the first quarter of the year, the ICRC visited 4,375 detainees held in 32 places of detention in Israel. In recent weeks, the number of arrests on the Israeli side has increased dramatically, prompting the authorities to open two new detention facilities, Ofer near Ramallah and Qeziot in the Negev desert. The ICRC visited some 1,300 detainees in Ofer military camp and 500 in Qeziot.

The ICRC-sponsored programme to enable Palestinians to visit their relatives who are detained, illegally, outside the occupied territory was again severely disrupted during the past months by the military operations and the tight closure imposed on West Bank towns. Visits were last suspended on 5 March 2002 for the West Bank and on 3 April 2002 for the Gaza Strip. On 20 May, the programme resumed for the Gaza Strip, when 137 people were able to visit their relatives detained in Israeli prisons.

The ICRC continues to promote its mandate to monitor detainee treatment and conditions of detention as a priority obligation and has made representations on access restrictions imposed by both Israel and Palestinian authorities which have regrettably become more frequent in recent months.

For further information, please contact the External Resources Division.




 Jenin refugee camp  

Nowhere was ICRC action more highly profiled than in Jenin.

The ICRC was already present in Jenin from April 3 when Israeli forces took control of the city and entered the camp. Between three and eleven ICRC delegates remained in Jenin city for the duration of the incursion there after.

Although ICRC teams were not granted access to the camp until April 15, despite several earlier requests to the Israeli authorities, they were able to help establish an emergency medical field hospital at the edge of the camp from April 11.

When the ICRC eventually gained access, the stark reality of the humanitarian drama that had unfolded there was depicted in the rubble of wrecked and collapsed houses, with children playing in mounds of debris littered with unexploded ordnance (UXO).

Following is a chronological account of ICRC activities in Jenin from April 3 to April 19. It mirrors in poignant detail many of the tasks undertaken by ICRC teams working in difficult and sometimes hazardous conditions both in Jenin and elsewhere in the West Bank during this particularly violent period.

 April 3-5:  

On April 3, three ICRC delegates arrive in Jenin and their efforts the following day to deliver oxygen cylinders to Jenin hospital are aborted by ongoing military operations; the day after they manage to supply the hospital with ten oxygen cylinders.

 April 6:  

ICRC teams transport urgently need blood supplies, drugs, stretchers, food and body bags to Jenin hospital; three dialysis patients are transferred to Jerusalem for treatment; an ICRC orthopaedic surgeon assists the Jenin hospital surgeon by telephone from Jerusalem in performing a delicate operation; the military cordon blocks ICRC and municipal engineers’ access to sites around Jenin town to repair badly damaged water pumps and electricity lines.

 April 7:  

The curfew in Jenin city is lifted for four hours, but not in the refugee camp where heavy fight ing continues; water and electricity systems are down and Jenin hospital urgently appeals for more oxygen supplies; an ICRC team tries to reach Jenin hospital in two vehicles transporting medicines, food and four patients requiring dialysis treatment; the vehicles are blocked by a tank in sight of the hospital entrance and are not allowed to move closer; the patients and supplies are eventually transferred to a hospital ambulance; three transit warehouses are set up inside the city near Jalame checkpoint to receive incoming medical supplies, food, blankets and water.

 April 8:  

After hours of negotiations with the Israeli Civil Administration, the ICRC manages to get three PRCS ambulances into Jenin refugee camp; the IDF allows each ambulance to evacuate only one patient while ICRC staff are refused entry to the camp; eight hours later, only one of the ambulances reaches the hospital while the other two are still being checked.

 April 9:  

The ICRC is approached by the Israeli Civil Administration to give medical assistance to people inside the refugee camp, particularly to escort ambulance evacuations of dead and wounded; a team of ICRC delegates leaves Jerusalem for Jenin; 10 ambulances, including five from the PRCS, are deployed to enter the camp; the ambulance convoy is prevented from entering the camp by the Israelis and remain on standby throughout the day; an ICRC orthopaedic surgeon is assigned to Jenin hospital.

 April 10 :

For the second consecutive day, ICRC delegates are denied access to the camp from where shooting and shelling are heard through the day; hundreds of women, children and elderly people stream out of the camp and the ICRC and PRCS move them to a safer area; an ICRC truck transport s a privately donated generator, together with food and water, to the government hospital; ICRC delegates transport blood supplies between two hospitals in Jenin; PRCS headquarters in Jenin are surrounded by tanks preventing any movement; six PRCS medical staff are arrested; a written ICRC representation is immediately sent to the Israeli authorities asking for news of their whereabouts, and reminding them of the need for urgent medical relief action in Jenin; the ICRC sends the IDF a written representation restating the obligation to respect civilians and their property.

 April 11:  

For the third consecutive day, ICRC delegates and PRSC ambulances are on standby at the entrance to Jenin camp, ready to evacuate the dead and wounded as soon as permission is granted to go inside; the curfew is lifted for a few hours in parts of the city, but not in the area where the camp and the government hospital are located; the situation in the hospital is critical; ICRC delegates manage to bring in blood, medical supplies and food.

 April 12-13:  

Conditions in the government hospital slightly improve; a second more powerful generator is brought in by the ICRC, as well as supplies of water and bread for patients and staff; ICRC delegates take to hospital a women in labour who had walked out of the camp seeking help; the ICRC escorts a water truck into Jenin. A water tanker is brought into the city from nearby village.

 April 14:  

ICRC teams are still waiting for a green light from the Israelis to enter the camp.

 April 15:  

For the first time, ICRC delegates are allowed into the camp: Three ICRC teams and three PRCS ambulances move into the camp in the morning but withdraw in the early afternoon to reassess their mission due to lack of equipment and expertise to remove the mounds of rubble; part of the camp looks as if it has been ‘hit by an earthquake” with many houses partially or totally destroyed, and streets filled with rubble. One ICRC team returns to the camp in the afternoon to evacuate a severely wounded person; throughout the day, the teams evacuate 12 persons; seven bodies are removed from the camp; civilians in the camp are under shock and report urgent need for medicines, water and food; people are also anxious for news of family members; ICRC teams bring food and water into the camp; milk is distributed to houses around the hospital, and water bottles to families around the camp; to help locate people unaccounted for, the ICRC Jenin office starts a tracing service; an ICRC surgeon works at the government hospital alongside local surgeons.

 April 16:  

Three ICRC teams and two PRCS ambulances go back into the camp to set up a first-aid post where civilians can get treatment, or ask for evacuation; the ICRC closely coordinates its activities with UNRWA which delivers two truckloads of food; the ICRC surgeon continues working at Jenin government hospital; today’s assessment concerning evacuation of the dead shows that the situation is beyond the normal means of ICRC and PRCS medical staff, and requires specialist teams and expertise; the issue is discussed with the Israeli authorities and they are reminded of their responsibilities concerning rescue operations for as long as they are in control of the camp; the possible presence of UXO in the rubble forces ICRC teams to move very cautiously.

 April 17:  

The ICRC asks the Israeli authorities in writing to allow and facilitate, without delay, foreign specialist teams to come in and clear the rubble, remove bodies, and clear explosives in the camp, and to ensure that the camp’s population receives medical care and humanitarian aid; two ICRC teams, together with two PRCS ambulances, work in the camp without being accompanied by the IDF; water remains the most problematic issue; 600 cases of water and water bladders are sent to Jenin; the bladders are handed over to UNRWA which will install them; the PRCS is able to distribute water to the camp during the day.

 April 18:  

ICRC teams are in the camp in an extremely confusing situation; because of the lifting of the curfew, people are trying to find bodies, or to collect private possessions; according to ICRC staff, it is dangerous for people to walk around the camp because of the risk of unstable buildings and possible UXO; a decision is made concerning task- sharing; the UN takes the lead for all activities in the camp; the ICRC will only play a facilitating role and take the lead for all tracing issues.

 April 19:  

No more regular ICRC presence is needed in the camp