The humanitarian situation in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) in June and July’s has been dominated by two major concerns:
One is the ongoing pandemic. Since mid-June, the number of COVID-19 cases in the oPt has increased from nearly 700 to some 15,000 by the end of July, with the number of fatalities exceeding to 80. The epicenter of the surge has been the Hebron Governorate, followed by East Jerusalem and the Bethlehem Governorate. The humanitarian community has continued to support the Palestinian authorities’ response to the pandemic by addressing critical gaps in medical supplies and equipment, supporting the operation of quarantine and isolation centres, providing psychosocial support to those in need, and conducting a communication and community engagement campaign, among other activities. Further information and analysis about the pandemic and related humanitarian interventions are available at OCHA’s COVID-19 online dedicated page.
For some Palestinians living in Area C and East Jerusalem, the impact of the pandemic has been amplified by Israel’s destruction or seizure of their properties, citing the lack of building permits. Since the start of the state of emergency on 5 March, 285 Palestinian-owned structures have been targeted in this context, including at least 19 inhabited homes that were in place prior to that date, displacing over 100 Palestinians. This is despite the Israeli authorities’ commitment to suspend the demolition of such structures during the pandemic. International humanitarian law prohibits an occupying power to destroy property in an occupied territory, unless this is “absolutely necessary by military operations”.
The second concern is Israel’s stated intention to annex parts of the West Bank. The UN Secretary-General has stated that annexation “would constitute a most serious violation of international law, grievously harm the prospect of a two-State solution and undercut the possibilities of a renewal of negotiations.” This may also exacerbate the risk of forcible transfer of some communities and increase restrictions on access to land and services, among other ramifications.
In response to Israel’s annexation plan, the Palestinian Authority (PA) in late May halted almost all bilateral contacts with Israel, resulting in a range of humanitarian consequences. As elaborated in this Bulletin, this measure has impacted on the access of patients, in particular from Gaza, to health care in East Jerusalem and in Israel. Two Gaza infants died since the halt, before their transfers to specialized hospitals outside Gaza could be arranged. To mitigate the impact of this situation, the UN has agreed with both the Palestinian and Israeli authorities to temporarily facilitate the transfer of the required documentation between the sides, to ensure access for Gaza patients to essential health services.
Another article in this Bulletin focuses on the environmental and health concerns stemming from the increased accumulation of solid waste in certain areas of the Gaza Strip. Abu Ahmad, a father of seven, who is profiled, claims that the informal dumpsite next to which he lives in northern Gaza, has “ruined our lives”. Preexisting gaps in solid waste management have been exacerbated since the outbreak of the pandemic due to the lack of a separate system for the collection and disposal of infectious waste. To address the latter problem, the UN has purchased a specialized device for the management of such waste; however, the importation of this device has been delayed due to the halt in coordination between the PA and Israel.
The third article in this Bulletin addresses the surge in Israeli settler violence: between January and May 2020, OCHA documented 143 attacks, resulting in 63 Palestinian injuries, including 13 children, and in extensive damage to Palestinian property, including over 3,700 trees and saplings, field crops, and more than 100 vehicles. These attacks have compounded the hardship of already vulnerable communities, which have been affected by access restrictions and physical distancing measures imposed by the Palestinian and Israeli authorities to contain the pandemic. As stated by the UN Secretary-General, “while efforts have been made by the Israeli authorities in recent years to prevent, investigate and prosecute particular incidents of settler violence, overall there continues to be a prevailing climate of impunity enjoyed by violent settlers and those taking over private Palestinian land”.