Monthly Overview: November 2016

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In his 23 November briefing to the Security Council, the Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Stephen O’Brien, warned of the increasing challenges facing the humanitarian community and its ability to deliver assistance to Palestinians in need. This month’s Humanitarian Bulletin highlights some of the challenges in blockaded Gaza Strip. These include additional Israeli restrictions imposed in recent months on the entry of basic building materials it classifies as having a “dual civilian and military purpose”, cement in particular. The restrictions have slowed down the rate of reconstruction of 17,800 homes destroyed or damaged during the 2014 conflict, prolonging the vulnerability of more than 10,000 families who are still displaced, and whose living conditions are expected to worsen as seasonal rains approach.

Israeli-imposed restrictions on the import of “dual use” materials also apply to items such as mobile pumps needed for flood prevention and response. The Under-Secretary General warned that “urgent projects which aim to reduce the risk of flooding that threatens nearly 500,000 people as winter approaches have been on hold for 10 months awaiting clearance of equipment.”

Aid workers have been also affected. The denial rate for permit applications for national staff of UN agencies to enter or exit Gaza had increased from four per cent in 2015 to 40 per cent in the third quarter of  2016. The Under-Secretary General observed that in October, “more than half of our UN applicants were turned-away, with some advised not to apply for 12 months. No explanation other than ‘security’ is cited, leaving us at a loss as to how to respond and a growing morale problem.” Mr. O’Brien concluded his review of Gaza’s restrictions by observing: “Ultimately, real progress in Gaza requires a full lifting of the blockade by Israel, in line with the resolutions of this Council and the General Assembly. Until that happens, Israel must ensure that items needed for reconstruction, relief and emergency preparedness are allowed entry. And that aid workers are able to move about to do their vital work.”

Israeli settlements are a key driver of humanitarian vulnerability for Palestinians in the West Bank. This month’s Bulletin presents the first in a series of articles on de facto expansion of settlements and its humanitarian impact on Palestinian communities, featuring the settlement of Asfar in the Hebron governorate. The official municipal area of this settlement, where Palestinian entry is banned by military order, encompasses 7,800 dunums, or over 50 times the size of the settlement’s built up area. Additionally, settlers have taken de facto control over some 2,300 dunums outside the official boundaries and have largely eliminated Palestinian access to their land in this area. These practices are carried out with the acquiescence of the Israeli authorities. The official and de facto expansion of Asfar has severely impacted the livelihoods of farmers and herders from two nearby towns (Sai’r and Ash-Shuyukh), and contributed to a coercive environment putting the existence of another two smaller herding/farming communities (Al Ganoub and Jurat Al Kheil) at risk of forcible transfer.

O’Brien concluded his briefing to the Security Council with a clear call for action: “We look to you to ensure greater respect for obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law and to enhance the protection of civilians. We look to you to safeguard the operational space aid workers require to provide assistance to those most in need. And we look to you to address the underlying driver of Palestine’s protection crisis through a political resolve to end the occupation, now approaching its 50th anniversary.”