Overview | November 2018
The period between 11 and 13 November witnessed one of the most serious rounds of hostilities in Gaza and southern Israel since the 2014 escalation. It resulted in the killing of 15 Palestinians, including at least three civilians (one of them by Palestinian rocket fire), and one Israeli soldier; dozens of homes in Gaza and southern Israel were destroyed or damaged, displacing at least 33 Palestinian and 15 Israeli families. An informal ceasefire was reached on 13 November, with the support of Egypt and the UN, which is still holding. Since then, there has also been a significant decline in violence and related casualties during the ongoing ‘Great March of Return’ demonstrations near the perimeter fence around Gaza, including in the launching of incendiary devices towards Israel.
An additional positive development in Gaza has been the UN import of fuel funded by Qatar, which has provided a welcome, if temporary, improvement in the electricity supply. This has enabled the Gaza Power Plant to operate two additional turbines and allowed the supply of 16-18 hours of electricity a day, compared to less than five previously. As highlighted in the first of this Bulletin’s articles, this has improved the delivery of basic services, particularly in the area of water and sanitation, which witnessed a 40 per cent increase in the supply of piped water and a 20 per cent rise in the production of desalinated water by public plants, among other improvements.
While key and life-saving service providers still depend on donor-funded emergency fuel distributed by the UN to run back-up generators, the amounts required have significantly declined due to the increased availability of electricity. However, as of the time of writing, funding available to maintain the UN-Assisted Emergency Fuel Program has been exhausted and, unless additional contributions are provided immediately, fuel supplies at critical facilities are expected to run out during December.
Support from Qatar has also allowed over 27,000 civil servants, employed by the Hamas-run government in Gaza since 2007, to receive salary payments in early December for the second consecutive month, as part of a US$90 million commetment to be paid over six months. Over 90,000 people employed by the PA and Hamas in Gaza have been suffering from either no salary, or irregular salary payments, for several years, a factor that is linked to the internal Palestinian political division and contributes to growing levels of need in Gaza.
Despite these encouraging developments, the humanitarian situation in Gaza remains bleak. Unemployment in the third quarter of 2018 reached 54.9 per cent, the highest rate ever recorded in Gaza, and one of the main drivers of food insecurity. As detailed in another article in this month’s Bulletin, the preliminary findings of a comprehensive survey carried out in 2018 indicate that over 68 per cent of households in the Gaza Strip, or about 1.3 million people, are food insecure, a rise of nine percentage points from the equivalent figure for 2014. This is despite the fact that almost 70 per cent of households in Gaza receive some form of food assistance or other forms of social transfers from Palestinian governmental bodies or international organizations.
While the humanitarian situation in the West Bank is less acute than in Gaza, 2018 has also witnessed the continuation of conflict and violence, forcible displacement, and the denial of access to livelihoods, among other concerns. The final item in this month’s Bulletin concerns the increase in the number of incidents involving Israeli forces and/or settlers reported near Palestinian schools in the West Bank since the beginning of the school year. Incidents include delays and harassment of children; clashes with Israeli forces; and violent raids and search operations inside schools. Apart from the physical injury and related absence from school, these incidents impact children socially and psychologically by creating anxiety, trauma and harm to their sense of safety, which ultimately makes learning more difficult. The abovementioned two-day escalation in hostilities also led to a disruption in schooling in Gaza and southern Israel.
In his remarks on the occasion of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, the UN Secretary-General said: “Today, in particular, our hearts are heavy with the suffering of the people in Gaza. Approximately two million Palestinians remain blocked in increasing poverty and unemployment, with limited access to adequate health, education, water and electricity. Young people see little prospect of a better future. I urge Israel to lift restrictions on the movement of people and goods, which also hamper the efforts of the United Nations and other humanitarian agencies, without jeopardizing legitimate security concerns. I call on Hamas and other militant groups to halt their military build-up in Gaza, including the indiscriminate launching of rockets and incendiary devices directed at Israel. On this International Day of Solidarity, let us reaffirm our commitment to upholding the rights of the Palestinian people and to building a future of peace, justice, security and dignity for Palestinians and Israelis alike.”