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“Humanitarian space” refers to an operational environment that allows humanitarian actors to provide assistance and services according to humanitarian principles and in line with international humanitarian law. In the occupied Palestinian territory, humanitarian organizations face a range of obstacles from the Israeli authorities regarding the access of personnel and of materials needed for humanitarian projects, which hampers their ability to provide assistance and protection to Palestinians. These obstacles include physical and administrative restrictions on the access and movement of personnel, especially national employees, restrictions on the delivery of materials needed for humanitarian projects; and limitations on the implementation of projects that involve building, expanding or rehabilitating infrastructure in the Gaza Strip and Area C of the West Bank. In the Gaza Strip, humanitarian operations are also hampered by counter-terrorism legislation and the "no contact" policy adopted by many countries and donors, prohibiting contact with Hamas or any of the other armed groups, even on an operational level. The work of international NGOs have also been impeded by the de facto authorities.
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I am deeply concerned about the significant reduction in funding for UNRWA, which is critical to the provision of humanitarian assistance in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). Some 2.5 million Palestinians in this area, or about half of the population, need humanitarian aid, including 1.4 million Palestine refugees, who are among the most vulnerable groups in the oPt. The reduction is particularly worrying against the backdrop of an overall decline in humanitarian funding in the oPt in recent years.
The number of Palestinians allowed to move in and out of Gaza declined significantly in 2017 compared with 2016. At the Erez crossing, movement via Israel has been in decline since mid-2016. Palestinian access via Rafah, the Egyptian-controlled crossing, also declined during the year from an already extremely low level. As the internal Palestinian divide escalated, access for medical purposes was also restricted during most of 2017 by the PA Ministry of Health, which delayed or suspended payments for patients referred for medical treatment outside Gaza.
Israeli restrictions on the entry of national staff of aid organizations to and from the Gaza Strip have intensified during 2016. The denial rate for permit applications by national staff of UN agencies surged from four per cent in 2015 to 40 per cent in the third quarter of 2016 (see table). Available information indicates that the rate of denial for national staff of other humanitarian agencies has also risen.
As part of a ‘separation policy’ to separate West Bank Palestinians from Palestinians in Gaza, the Israeli authorities prohibit the passage of Palestinians in and out of Gaza. Exceptions are made for certain categories, principally businesspeople and traders, medical patients and their companions, and employees of international organizations issued with Israeli permits. During the easing of access restrictions following the 2014 hostilities, the number of Palestinians from exceptional categories crossing through Erez more than doubled in 2015 compared to the previous year. Nevertheless, numbers remain significantly lower than at the start of the second intifada in 2000, when some 26,000 Palestinians crossed Erez daily for wider purposes. In 2016, data for July show a 15 per cent decline in exits from Gaza versus the monthly average for the first half of the year, with a 27 per cent decline in the number of exits for businesspeople and traders.
In 2015, humanitarian organizations continued to face a range of obstacles from the Israeli authorities regarding the access of personnel, especially national employees, and the materials needed for humanitarian projects. These include physical and administrative restrictions on the access and movement of humanitarian actors; restrictions on the delivery of materials needed for humanitarian projects; and limitations on the implementation of projects that involve building, expanding or rehabilitating infrastructure in the Gaza Strip and Area C of the West Bank. Such obstacles have hampered the ability of humanitarian organizations to provide assistance and protection to Palestinians throughout the oPt. Humanitarian operations in Gaza were also impeded by restrictions imposed by, and the prohibition on contact with the Hamas authorities, in addition to the prolonged closure of the Rafah crossing with Egypt.
Approval rates for permit applications for national staff working with international organizations (UN and INGO) to exit and enter the Gaza Strip have decreased significantly in 2016. Of the 128 local staff members (mostly UNRWA) who submitted an application in January, 119 permits were granted, an approval rate of 93 per cent. This declined to 83 per cent in February (53 approvals from 64 applications), to 57 per cent in March (35/62), before declining significantly to only 24 per cent in April (18/74). For the past five years, the annual approval rate has varied between 72 and 84 per cent.