An estimated 1.6 million Palestinians across the occupied Palestinian territory, or 27 per cent of households, are food insecure (as of the end of 2015). This results from high unemployment, low household incomes and a high cost of living. The former two are the result of the protracted conflict, repeated shocks and continued restrictions on freedom of movement, constrained productive capacities and a lack of economic opportunities. Although food is available, it is priced out of reach for many. Numerous households are food insecure even though they already receive food and other assistance.
The 2016 olive harvest season, which lasted from 15 October to the end of November, was reported to have proceeded relatively smoothly. However, sporadic incidents of settler violence and restrictions on access to olive groves behind the Barrier and near Israeli settlements continue to pose challenges for Palestinian farmers.
The revenue from agricultural exports and transfers from the Gaza Strip during the first half of 2016 totaled $5.6 million, representing a three-fold increase compared with the equivalent period of 2015. Around 65 per cent of these revenues came from three types of produce: tomatoes, lemon, and cucumbers. The marketing of Gazan strawberries in the West Bank resumed in January 2016 following a ban by the Israeli authorities during the previous 12 months. Due to the late start (January as opposed to November), the volume of strawberries sold declined by 41 per cent compared with the previous season.
Since September 2000, Israel has tightened restrictions on Palestinian access to the sea and to land located near the fence with Israel – Access Restricted Areas – citing security concerns. These restrictions have been enforced through the firing of live ammunition, destruction of property, arrests, and the confiscation of equipment. While sea restrictions have varied, for the most part since 2006 fishermen have been allowed to access less than one third of the fishing areas allocated to them under the Oslo Accords: six out of 20 nautical miles (NM). Fish, particularly sardines, is a major source of protein, micronutrients and essential Omega 3 fatty acids for Palestinians in Gaza and contributes to nutritional diversity The fish available in the six NM area tend to be smaller in size, limiting the type of nets that can be used, reducing the value of the catch and undermining the sustainability of marine resources. Over 35,000 Palestinians depend on this industry for their livelihoods.
At the end of January, UNRWA completed a comprehensive revision of the contents of its food assistance rations aimed at improving them against three main criteria: (i) health and nutritional values; (ii) public acceptability and local food habits; (iii) availability and logistical practicalities. The new baskets will be launched during the April-June food distribution round for all 960,000 beneficiaries.
Twice a year, from April to mid- June and from mid-September to November, the sardine season dominates the agenda of fishermen in the Gaza Strip. Sardines historically make up 60 percent of the total fish catch and form the bulk of the income of Gazan fishermen.
The olive harvest season started during October amidst escalating clashes and attacks (see section on Escalation). There were also recurrent concerns about restrictions on the access of farmers to their olive groves in certain areas and about inadequate law enforcement in the face of settler violence.