The following text was published as part of the Humanitarian Response Plan 2021.
A protracted protection crisis facing women, men, boys and girls continues in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), leaving many Palestinians struggling to live a life with dignity. It is driven by Israel’s military occupation, including the blockade on the Gaza Strip, insufficient respect for international law, continuing internal Palestinian political divisions, and recurrent escalations of hostilities between Israel and Palestinian armed groups.
In 2020, the humanitarian situation in the oPt was aggravated by two major developments. The first is the outbreak of COVID19: as of 21 October, over 60,000 Palestinians have contracted the virus and nearly 500 have died. The measures imposed to contain the pandemic - including recurrent lockdowns and travel restrictions, school closures, reduction of commercial activities and mandatory quarantines - have severely undermined living conditions across the oPt. The World Bank forecasts that by the end of the year, the Palestinian economy will shrink between 2.6 to 7.6 per cent compared with 2019.
Additionally, the state of emergency, and the subsequent lockdown, have exacerbated women and children’s vulnerabilities, placing them at increased risk of various forms of violence, including intimate partner violence. Fears about the virus, economic stress and quarantine measures, have increased household tension, compounding domestic violence.
The second development in 2020 is the decision by the Palestinian Authority (PA) to halt almost all bilateral contacts with Israel, in response to Israel’s plan to formally annex parts of the West Bank. In this context, the PA has stopped accepting the tax clearance revenues that Israel collects on its behalf. This policy undermined Israeli-Palestinian joint efforts to contain the pandemic, which were implemented during the two months following the initial outbreak. Coupled with the economic slowdown due to the pandemic, the PA has lost 80 per cent of its income, reducing its capacity to pay salaries, deliver services and maintain social safety nets. The burden of this worsening situation falls hardest on vulnerable groups including: women headed households, persons with disabilities, refugees, Bedouin and herders in Area C, internally displaced persons, small-scale farmers, herders and fisher-folk in Gaza, people affected by conflict-related violence and people already living below the poverty line.
So far in 2020, there has been a significant decline in conflict related violence and casualties, primarily in the Gaza Strip, and to a lesser extent in the West Bank. Between January and September, 25 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces, compared with 91 and 229 fatalities in the equivalent periods in 2019 and 2018 respectively, while Palestinian injuries have declined by nearly 85 per cent compared with 2019 (approximately 2,000 vs 13,000). While the occasional shooting of projectiles and launching of incendiary balloons from Gaza towards southern Israel, and Israel’s subsequent airstrikes in Gaza continued, these did not result in casualties or further escalation. However, concerns about excessive use of force by Israeli soldiers resulting in the killing or serious injury of Palestinians, as well as lack of accountability for such possible violations of international law, remain.
These developments have been compounded by the unprecedented funding crisis affecting UNRWA. This HRP was developed under the assumption that the Agency’s large-scale humanitarian operations will continue in 2021; however, as of the time of writing, this scenario remains uncertain.
In the Gaza Strip, the two million Palestinians who have been living under intensified access restrictions for over 13 years, have been further isolated from the external world by COVID-19 related restrictions. Since the outbreak, Israel has allowed only the most serious medical cases to exit Gaza via the Erez Crossing, a situation exacerbated by the PA’s halt in the processing of applications for exit permits. Accordingly, some 7,000 workers, previously employed in Israel, have lost their jobs.
The Egyptian-controlled crossing with Gaza (Rafah) has been largely closed for passengers, except for a few scheduled openings. Although the Kerem Shalom crossing for goods has been operating as previously, longstanding import restrictions imposed by Israel citing security concerns, as well as lack of agreement and coordination between the PA and Israel, continue to impede the implementation of infrastructure projects, economic recovery and employment generation. Continuing insecurity discourages farming activity in land located up to 1,000 metres from Israel’s perimeter fence, while fishing livelihoods are disrupted by Israeli restrictions on access to the sea off the Gaza coast.
Prolonged electricity blackouts of about 12 hours a day negatively affect the delivery of essential services and increase the domestic burden on women and girls, while unresolved divisions between Hamas and the Fatah-led PA undermine the payment of salaries to civil servants, and the local authorities’ ability to meet the needs of the Gaza’s population in general. Combined, these factors have increased unemployment, which reached an historical high of over 49 per cent, in the second quarter of 2020, while further reducing the already low labour force participation rate.
Despite UNRWA’s financial crisis, the assistance and services it provides to the majority of Gaza’s population has not been affected, as of November 2020.
In the West Bank, Palestinian households and communities in Area C, East Jerusalem and the H2 area of Hebron city continue to face a coercive environment, due to a range of longstanding Israeli policies and practices. The restrictive and discriminatory planning regime applied in Area C and in East Jerusalem prevents Palestinians from addressing basic housing, livelihood and service needs. Between January and September, 550 structures were demolished or confiscated for lack of building permits, displacing some 750 Palestinians, a significant increase compared with 2019.Further components of the coercive environment of continuing concern are continuing attacks and intimidation by Israeli settlers, along with the Israeli authorities’ lack of adequate law enforcement.
Palestinian access to areas separated from the remainder of the West Bank by the Barrier has deteriorated in 2020. Following a tightening of the eligibility criteria for farmers to obtain permits to access their land in the closed area behind the Barrier, some 84 per cent of such applications were rejected in the first half of 2020. The halt in PA coordination with Israel has affected Palestinian access to the central part of H2, which is still permitted only to those registered as residents of that area.
Many of the above restrictions are aimed at protecting and providing space for the growth of Israeli settlements and their gradual annexation to Israel, some de jure (as in East Jerusalem) and others de facto (as in Area C), in contravention to international law. Despite a slowdown in the number of building permits issued, and housing unit starts during the first half of 2020 compared with same period in 2019, settlement activities continued.