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Israel and the occupied territories: violence claims more lives as blockade continues to stifle Gaza

29-04-2010 Operational Update

Restrictions on transfers into Gaza of supplies and on freedom of movement continue to plague the daily lives of Palestinians. This is an update on ICRC activities carried out in Israel and the occupied territories during the first quarter of 2010.

©ICRC / J. Chung / il-e-01868 
Um-Al-Kheir village on the outskirts of Hebron, near Karmel settlement. 

©ICRC / J. Chung / il-e-01938 
A blocked road in Beit Hanoun village in the West Bank. 

©ICRC /il-e-01973 
An ICRC delegate visiting detainees in the Gaza Strip to monitor their detention conditions. 

©ICRC / il-e-01974 
The ICRC has distributed 1,300 olive, pomegranate and almond saplings to farmers whose fields in the West Bank district of Tulkarem are cut off by the West Bank Barrier. 

Gaza hospital. The ICRC supports the Artificial Limb and Polio Center, which provides people, such as this patient, injured during last year's Israeli military operation, with prostheses and orthoses. 

The beginning of 2010 was marred by violence occurring during Israeli incursions in Gaza and law-enforcement operations in the West Bank that claimed the lives of several civilians. In Israel, renewed indiscriminate rocket attacks from Gaza resulted in one person being killed, reigniting fear among the population in the southern part of the country.

In Gaza, the blockade imposed nearly three years ago continued to severely hinder transfers into the Strip of essential medical equipment, thus putting at risk the immediate treatment and long-term health of thousands of patients. Many essential drugs and disposable medical items were unavailable owing to a lack of cooperation between the Palestinian health ministries in Ramallah and Gaza. Moreover, reserves of industrial fuel continued to dry up, resulting in electricity being available only 60 per cent of the time. Power cuts were unpredictable and frequent, and jeopardized the proper functioning of hospitals. All of these factors contributed to a worrisome pattern of declining health-care services.

" It is the sick and the wounded who are paying the price of restrictions imposed on medical spare parts. It is also they who are suffering from patchy cooperation between the ministries of health in Ramallah and Gaza, " said Pierre Wettach, the ICRC's head of delegation in Israel and the occupied territories. " We call on all parties to assume their responsibilities and act quickly to ease the transfer of drugs, disposables and medical spare parts needed for medical treatment. "

Because of the scarcity of building permits, many West Bank families living in areas under Israeli control were still building hous es without permission, despite the risk of seeing their homes destroyed. During the first three months of 2010, the Israeli authorities demolished 14 houses in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, mostly in the Jordan Valley, where nearly 200 people also received house demolition or " stop building " orders.

Fear of settler violence continued to keep many Palestinian farmers away from their land, particularly in areas near Israeli settlements. The ICRC documented several cases of destruction of Palestinian property, in particular olive trees.

For decades, restrictions linked to Israeli settlements in the West Bank have resulted in Palestinian farmers losing land and income. The settlements are illegal under international humanitarian law. Despite recent improvements in the economic situation, an estimated 50 per cent of the West Bank population was living in poverty in early 2010.

The ongoing and long-term incapacity to build and develop, and to cultivate the land, continued to have a severe impact on the lives of many Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

Visiting detainees and restoring family links 

The ICRC carried out nearly 90 visits to around 1,600 people held by the authorities in Israel between January and March. Its delegates also visited about 1,300 people held in nearly 50 Palestinian detention centres in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip.

The aim of the visits is to monitor conditions of detention and the treatment of detainees. The ICRC regularly shares its findings with the authorities concerned and makes confidential recommendations or observations if necessary.

In Israeli prisons, the ICRC paid special attention to the needs of 50 women and 400 minors, but also of 800 Gazans who have been denie d family visits since June 2007. An ICRC programme enabling about 35,800 people living in the West Bank to visit relatives being held in Israeli prisons continued.

The ICRC also visited 2,500 foreigners, mostly from Sub-Saharan Africa, held by Israel in camps for migrants in the Negev desert. " The number of migrants registered by the ICRC in Israeli prisons has increased by 70 per cent over the past year. Many of them face long periods in detention because they do not have the documents required to prove their nationalities, " explained ICRC delegate Olivier Chow. " We do our utmost to help them in any way we can, in particular to obtain the documents they need to return home if they wish. "

The ICRC has again lodged a request at the highest level of Hamas for the exchange of Red Cross messages to be allowed between captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and his family, who have not had direct contact with him since he was captured in June 2006. Both this request and requests to visit Mr Shalit have been repeatedly turned down. The ICRC met with Mr Shalit's parents, Noam and Aviva Shalit, to brief them on its efforts and assured them that the ICRC would continue to press for access to their son and for family contact to be allowed.

Supporting Gaza's ailing health services 

Between January and March, the ICRC delivered 55 tonnes of drugs and disposable supplies, which should be enough to provide emergency surgical treatment for about 10,300 patients, to ministry of health hospitals in the Gaza Strip.

The run-down state of medical equipment in Gaza makes it very difficult to provide adequate care. Because of the blockade imposed on the Strip, broken or damaged machines or tools can seldom be replaced or repaired.

Earlier this y ear, the ICRC did however succeed in importing the spare parts needed to fix 10 of the 20 kidney dialysis machines in Gaza that had been malfunctioning. Some 400 patients in Gaza suffer from kidney failure requiring regular dialysis treatment.

Meanwhile, a lack of coordination between the health ministries in Ramallah and Gaza, coupled with complex and lengthy Israeli procedures for transferring goods into Gaza, severely limited the supply of medicine and disposables such as colostomy bags. Stocks of 110 essential drugs and supplies have been exhausted and can no longer be found in Gaza hospitals. In its regular deliveries of supplies to the hospitals, the ICRC has endeavoured to meet the most urgent needs, for example by providing skin disinfectant and fluorescent dye used in ophthalmologic examination.

The ICRC launched a new programme of organizational support and professional training for emergency services at Shifa Hospital, Gaza's main referral medical facility.

In addition, the ICRC-supported Artificial Limb and Polio Center increased the frequency of the care it provides to twice a week for patients requiring prosthetics and orthotics, thereby enabling specialists to improve the quality of individual consultations. Around 670 patients were treated at the Center in the first quarter of this year.

Helping needy families make ends meet 

The ICRC helped the neediest families in the West Bank to make ends meet through a variety of income-generating and cash-for-work schemes. In particular, the organization helped farmers gain access to their fields behind the West Bank barrier or near settlements so that they could work the land and plant crops.

The ICRC distributed over 30,000 young olive and fruit trees to farmers whose orchards had been da maged by fire or neglect in previous years, when the farmers could not reach the areas at all, or only at harvest time.

In Gaza, the ICRC continued to support the neediest among the unemployed by offering them cash for work such as rebuilding roads and laying pipe. Whenever possible, help provided by the ICRC in the Gaza Strip is designed to compensate for the lack of certain supplies due to the blockade. For example, the ICRC has supported three composting sites to help address the lack of fertilizer.

The ICRC has employed Gazans to help with a survey of children experiencing speech difficulties, which can result from stress and anxiety linked to exposure to armed conflict. The ICRC trained unskilled workers to help specialists identify children suffering from such difficulties in Gaza's schools. The children were then referred to a specialized centre for detailed evaluation and speech therapy, both of which are paid for by the ICRC. In the first phase of the project nearly 90,000 pupils were examined, of whom around nine per cent had speech disorders.

In all, close to 19,000 people benefited from 15 ICRC projects in the West Bank and Gaza Strip during the first three months of 2010.

In March, the ICRC began transferring over 8,000 tonnes of apples through the Kuneitra crossing point between the occupied Golan and Syria proper. The ICRC serves as a neutral intermediary at the request of farmers in the occupied Golan and with the approval of the Syrian and Israeli authorities. Revenue from the apple transfer, representing about a third of the annual harvest proceeds, is an important source of income for the farmers.

Providing water and improving sanitation for tens of thousands 

The ICRC continued to help communities in the West Bank improve the ir access to safe water, thereby enabling them to avoid inadequate and risky alternatives such as collecting rainwater or buying water trucked in at great expense from uncontrolled sources. In total, close to 130,000 Palestinians will eventually benefit from the actions taken by the ICRC.

The ICRC carried on with the renovation of the water supply systems of Dar Salah, Al Hul and Anabta, which have a combined population of 61,000. The organization also started work on a comprehensive water supply system for the 35,000 inhabitants of 11 villages south of Nablus. Finally, the ICRC began improvements on the water transmission line connecting the Dahiryah area and its 32,500 residents with Simiya, south of Hebron.

In Gaza, the ICRC continued construction work on a wastewater treatment plant for Rafah. Importantly, the plant will mitigate the pollution of the aquifer and reduce the degradation of the land and coastal environment.

Teaming up with the Palestine Red Crescent and Magen David Adom 

With the support of the ICRC, the Palestine Red Crescent Society in the West Bank and East Jerusalem conducted disaster management training for over 100 volunteers and staff to boost the society's capacity to respond to emergencies. In Gaza, the Palestine Red Crescent trained staff members in field-hospital management during emergencies.

The Palestine Red Crescent's emergency medical services continued to provide essential pre-hospital emergency care throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with financial and technical support from the ICRC and the Norwegian Red Cross, who conducted joint site visits during the first quarter of the year. The emergency medical services'stations in Jabalia and Gaza City, which were damaged during the conflict with Israel in 2009, and the station in R afah, the construction of which had to be suspended owing to a lack of building materials, underwent considerable transformations under Palestine Red Crescent supervision with ICRC financial support.

With the support of the ICRC, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the German Red Cross, Magen David Adom (MDA), Israel's National Society, held its first course designed to prepare its staff and volunteers to work in international relief operations. Four participants later took part in the aid operation mounted in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in Haiti – the first-ever MDA international emergency response organized together with the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

" MDA has been an important partner for the Norwegian, Canadian and German Red Cross medical teams in Haiti, " said Sabira Baratbaeva, the ICRC's cooperation delegate in Tel Aviv. " Its participation in the international relief effort was a major step in the further integration of MDA into the broader Movement. "

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 work. As part of its efforts to promote compliance with international humanitarian law and other international standards applicable in times of violence and armed conflict, the ICRC maintained its dialogue with the authorities, armed forces and factions, and with influential members of civil society on all sides.

Between January and March, around 2,200 Palestinian and Israel security personnel, students, health professionals, prayer leaders, and representatives of the authorities, the media and NGOs, took part in dozens of training workshops and information sessions organized by the ICRC.