Despite the heightened hardship and uncertainty that characterized 2020, the year ended with cautious optimism, following the worldwide launch of a COVID-19 vaccination campaign. In the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), this campaign is yet to start; however, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has applied for financial support and has developed a national plan aimed at mass vaccination in the near future. Israel began vaccination in mid-December, and currently ranks first globally in per capita coverage. Health and human rights organizations have called on the Israeli authorities to “live up to their legal obligations and ensure that quality vaccines” are also provided to Palestinians. In bilateral meetings with the UN, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) has expressed its readiness to support vaccinations in both the West Bank (beyond East Jerusalem) and in Gaza, should an official request be forthcoming.
Meanwhile, the pandemic continues to spread across the oPt, with the number of active cases reaching about 22,000 and the cumulative fatalities exceeding 1,500, as of end 2020. One Bulletin article highlights the plight of thousands of families in the Gaza Strip, who were placed in home quarantine. To identify the emerging needs and better customize humanitarian responses, OCHA and humanitarian partners conducted a rapid multi-sectoral assessment on a representative sample of such families. Among other findings, the survey revealed the lack of adequate isolation space, shortages in personal protective equipment, psychological distress, impediments to distance learning and gaps in the provision of water and food assistance on the part of the respondents.
An additional article focuses on refugee families in deep poverty in the Gaza Strip and the additional vulnerability they experience from COVID-related restrictions. A recent assessment carried out by the Gaza Protection Consortium found that, to meet their basic needs, some 90 per cent of these families had accumulated large and unsustainable debts, with a range of negative ramifications. The findings served to inform a cash assistance programme funded by the European Commission’s Humanitarian Office (ECHO), entailing the distribution of five allotments of US$370 per month to the 1,500 most vulnerable families. However, the continuation of this programme beyond February 2021 is yet to be confirmed.
The other three articles address longstanding issues that reinforce the coercive environment affecting vulnerable Palestinians in the West Bank. 2020 witnessed the highest number of demolitions and people displaced by the Israeli authorities in recent years, mainly citing the lack of building permits, which are nearly impossible for Palestinians to obtain. As detailed in one article, this acceleration has taken place amidst the increased use of legislation that limits people’s ability to challenge the targeting of their homes and sources of livelihood in Israeli courts. The humanitarian impact of home demolitions has been exacerbated in recent months by the challenges they pose for those trying to adhere to COVID-19 safety guidelines and for people with the virus who need to isolate.
Another article highlights recent rulings by Israeli courts, ordering the eviction of Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem, and the handover of the properties to Israeli settler organizations. In addition to depriving people of a home, evictions frequently disrupt livelihoods and increase poverty. OCHA estimates that nearly 1,000 Palestinians are currently at risk of forced eviction in East Jerusalem, due to cases brought before Israeli courts, primarily by Israeli settler groups.
The final article provides an overview of the 2020 olive harvest season, which, due to various natural factors, was very poor in yield. Following the PA’s decision to suspend coordination with the Israeli authorities, farmers faced increased difficulties in obtaining the necessary authorization to access their land in restricted areas behind the Barrier and near Israeli settlements. However, following Israel’s easing of some procedures, most farmers who had been authorized to access their land in the restricted areas in previous years, were able to do so this year too. The harvest was also disrupted by Israeli settlers who physically assaulted farmers, vandalized or set fire to their trees, or harvested and stole their produce.