On 28 February 2017, the Israeli State Comptroller released the findings of its investigation into decision-making by the Israeli Cabinet prior to the 2014 hostilities in the Gaza Strip. According to the report, the Cabinet ignored the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza, despite early warnings provided by the military, particularly regarding the state of Gaza’s infrastructure. Addressing issues such as the hardship in Gaza ahead of time, according to the State Comptroller, “could have probably prevented the escalation”. In a briefing to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee on 1 March 2017, the IDF Head of Military Intelligence indicated that the current economic situation in Gaza is grave and the area is on the verge of a crisis.
Two articles in this month’s Bulletin cover long-standing issues affecting the humanitarian and human rights situation in the Gaza Strip. The first cites a UN report published in 2012 examining the challenges that will confront Gaza by 2020, by which time the population is estimated to surpass 2.1 million. Perhaps the most critical of the many pressing concerns raised by the report is the perilous state of the underground aquifer, Gaza’s sole source of water for drinking and irrigation. Persistent over-extraction and seawater infiltration from the Mediterranean has rendered 95 per cent of the groundwater unfit for human consumption and damage to the aquifer may be irreversible by 2020.
In an important step to counter this threat, in January, UNICEF inaugurated Gaza’s largest seawater desalination plant to date, which will initially produce 6,000 cubic metres of desalinated water a day. The ultimate target is to achieve more than three times this volume, which will serve 275,000 people, less than 15 per cent of Gaza’s population. Despite this positive development, the ability of service providers in Gaza to implement critical water and sanitation projects remains significantly impeded by Israeli import restrictions, citing security concerns.
The second article addresses the lack of accountability by all sides for violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law during successive hostilities in Gaza, specifically those of Cast Lead in 2008/09. One of the cases during the latter conflict, profiled in this Bulletin, was an Israeli airstrike on the home of the al-Daya family: a survivor, still awaits redress for the 22 family members killed in that attack, as well as for his house which got destroyed during the 2014 hostilities.
Lack of accountability has been a longstanding concern also in the West Bank. On 21 February, an Israeli military court sentenced to 18-month imprisonment the Israeli soldier who, in March 2016, shot dead a wounded Palestinian in Hebron city after the latter carried out an attack. The ruling confirmed that the injured man was lying on the ground without posing any threat, when he was killed. According to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “while the prosecution and conviction are very welcome steps towards accountability, the punishment - which is excessively lenient - is difficult to reconcile with the intentional killing of an unarmed and prone individual”.
The further two articles in this Bulletin address the humanitarian impact of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank that have been established in contravention of international law. One article examines 18 vulnerable Bedouin communities residing in the so-called E1 area on the outskirts of East Jerusalem, which is allocated for the expansion of the Ma’ale Adumim settlement. The article describes measures adopted by the Israeli authorities since the beginning of 2017 which exacerbate the coercive environment under which these communities live and increase the risk of their forcible transfer.
In his February briefing to the Security Council, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nikolay Mladenov, noted that since the start of the year: “The Israeli authorities promoted some 4,000 housing units in Area C, including tenders for around 800 units, advancement of around 3,000 units and approval of plans for an additional 230 units. These numbers are all the more worrying if compared to the whole of 2016, when 42 units were tendered and some 3,000 were advanced in Area C.”