This month’s Bulletin is again devoted to the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza, except for one article dealing with the upcoming olive harvest in the West Bank. Between 9 July and 15 August, the Israeli authorities tightened the blockade on Gaza, severely restricting the movement of goods through the Kerem Shalom crossing between Gaza and Israel, and reducing the permissible fishing area by sea to three nautical miles. According to the Israeli authorities, the tightened restrictions were adopted in response to security incidents along the fence and the launching of incendiary kites and balloons from Gaza, which have resulted in extensive property damage in Israel. Only food, medical supplies and animal fodder were allowed to enter into Gaza, while the exit of goods was entirely banned. The restrictions further undermined the already devastated economy, which in the second quarter of 2018 recorded the highest unemployment rate ever recorded in the Gaza Strip: 53.7 per cent.
Since 30 March 2018, Palestinian casualties in the Gaza Strip have increased significantly due to the mass demonstrations taking place along the perimeter fence with Israel and, to a lesser extent, hostilities and other incidents.
Between 9 July and 15 August, the Israeli authorities severely tightened restrictions on the movement of goods through the Kerem Shalom crossing between Gaza and Israel, and further reduced the area permitted for fishing at sea from six/nine to three nautical miles. According to the Israeli authorities, these measures were in response to the launching of incendiary kites and balloons from Gaza into Israel that have resulted in extensive property damage. In May, over the course of the demonstrations, the crossing was set on fire and damaged twice by demonstrators, and closed for a few days on each occasion.
The 2018 olive harvest season will last approximately from mid-September to mid-November. However, a pest that infects olive trees, particularly in the norther West Bank, is expected to significantly reduce this year’s yield compared with 2017 (see box). In recent years, the olive harvest has also been affected negatively by Israeli settlers stealing or damaging olive trees, and by restrictions on access by Palestinian farmers to olive groves behind the Barrier and near Israeli settlements.
In July, Israel tightened its longstanding blockade on the Gaza Strip, worsening the already desperate humanitarian situation. Measures adopted by the Israeli authorities included restricting imports to mainly food and medicine; a complete halt to the exit of all goods; and a reduction of the fishing area from six to three nautical miles from Gaza’s coast. The entry of fuel and cooking gas was also suspended during July for over one week, and again since 2 August (ongoing as of the time of writing). By the end of the month, the Palestinian Federation of Industries in Gaza indicated that over 4,000 workers in the construction sector had been temporarily laid off, primarily due to the shortage of construction materials.
Funding for humanitarian activities is at an all-time low this year for the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). At the end of July, the 2018 Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) requirements were only 24 per cent funded; this is a significantly lower level of funding compared with the same period over the past eight years. Humanitarian financing to the oPt has typically fluctuated in response to significant shifts in the context, with notable peaks in financial contributions in response to active hostilities in Gaza. Following the last escalation of hostilities in 2014, humanitarian financing to the oPt has been gradually, but definitively, decreasing year on year.
The immense electricity deficit affecting the Gaza Strip, alongside the longstanding shortage of adequate sanitation infrastructure, continues to result in the discharge of 100-108 million litres of poorly treated sewage into the sea every day. This situation poses serious health and environmental hazards, particularly during the summer when swimming in the sea is one of the few recreational activities available to the population of Gaza. According to WHO, water-related diseases are estimated to account for over one-fourth of illnesses and are the primary cause of child morbidity in the Gaza Strip. The current operation of wastewater treatment plants may be undermined further in the near future due to the funding gaps facing the UN programme of emergency fuel to run backup generators at critical facilities, as well as the recent tightening of the blockade.
In recent months, citing security concerns, the Israeli authorities, and to a lesser extent Hamas, have tightened restrictions on the movement of Palestinian humanitarian staff out of Gaza. Measures by the Israeli authorities include an increase in the processing time for exit permits, a rise in denials and one-year bans, restrictions on the type of items allowed to be taken out of Gaza, and new crossing procedures at the vehicle terminal. The Hamas authorities have established a new registration point at the entrance to Gaza. These measures have increased uncertainty, delays and logistical impediments, and have a negative impact on humanitarian operations. The UN continues to conduct negotiations with all relevant actors in Israel and Gaza to alleviate these challenges.
Recent developments have exacerbated the vulnerability of Palestinians living in, or dependent on access to, an area in eastern Nablus governorate designated in the 1970s as closed for Israeli military training: “Firing Zone 904A”. These developments have included military exercises involving temporary displacement, property damage, disruption to life and new access restrictions. In recent years this area has witnessed increasing settlement activities, including violence and intimidation, alongside a reduced Palestinian presence.
The main article in this month’s Bulletin concerns the rehabilitation needs of the thousands of Palestinians in Gaza who have been seriously injured since 30 March in the ‘Great March of Return’ demonstrations along Israel’s perimeter fence. It is estimated that over 1,400 Palestinians may suffer from a long-term disability due to the severity of the injuries incurred. The Ministry of Health in Gaza is coordinating rehabilitation care for discharged patients, with the support of a variety of Health Cluster partners. This additional burden to the already fragile health system in Gaza is taking place against the backdrop of deteriorating living conditions and severe funding shortfalls for humanitarian agencies.