Palestinians are facing their fifth successive year of crisis. Closure has led to one of the worst recessions in modern history. Unemployment has increased to 34.3%, and poverty now affects 47% of the Palestinian population. 64% of Gazans are poor and around a quarter live in deep poverty, unable to meet adequately their food needs even with aid. Health standards have also been falling since 2000: Palestinians have reduced both the quality and quantity of food, public sanitation has been degraded, and the sick are frequently unable to reach or afford medical care. Growth in the number of jobs has not been sustained in 2004, and unemployment is rising again. Palestinian children, in particular, are suffering from difficulties in travelling to school, affording university fees, and from the effects of daily exposure to violence and humiliation.
The dense network of over 700 checkpoints, road blocks and other movement restrictions established by Israel as a mean to protect its civilians from attacks following the outbreak of the conflict in 2000, remains in place, preventing movement inside the West Bank and Gaza. This internal ‘closure’ regime is accompanied by measures preventing Palestinian goods and people from leaving the occupied Palestinian territory. The Gaza Strip is already completely enclosed, and Israel continues to build a Barrier inside the West Bank, which, in July, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) deemed illegal.
In this context, humanitarian agencies are appealing for US$ 302,601,889 to maintain their assistance to Palestinians. The continued provision of food aid in 2004 has helped to limit the rise in malnutrition, and emergency relief has served to lower the proportion of those living in deep poverty. International assistance has also contributed to a slight improvement in some health indicators. Humanitarian agencies will therefore keep on supporting Palestinian livelihoods and help to prevent further depletion of their assets.
Humanitarian agencies are appealing for this amount because they expect that humanitarian needs will continue gradually to increase during 2005. While the Palestinian Authority Medium Term Development Plan takes into account a possibility of development in certain areas, this appeal complements the Plan for emergency needs for one year. Given current levels of violence and stalled negotiations, there is limited hope that closure will be lifted. Economic and demographic trends suggest that if current conditions do not improve, poverty will rise further and Palestinian dependence on external aid will increase over the coming year. Educational standards, as well as the physical and psychological health of the population, will continue to decline. Aid agencies cannot expect, under current circumstances, to achieve substantial improvement in the living conditions of Palestinians. Priorities therefore for humanitarian action in 2005 will be to prevent further decline of humanitarian and development indicators, increase awareness of the root causes of the crisis in the oPt, increase the participation of the population in humanitarian programming, build national capacity to provide services and increase coordination.
Israel’s plan for unilateral disengagement from Gaza has dominated the political debate during 2004. Disengagement has, so far, offered no hope for improvement in the humanitarian situation: the level of violence and restrictions on access to the Gaza Strip has intensified considerably since February 2004. The plan is not scheduled for implementation until the end of 2005. Even if implemented, disengagement, as agreed by the Israeli cabinet, will have very little impact on Palestinian economic prospects: the World Bank expects poverty to rise from 47% to 56% by the end of 2006 if the disengagement proceeds as envisaged. The lifting of closures is more the precondition for growth and improvement. Even if the disengagement was accompanied by the lifting of internal closures in the West Bank and an opening of external borders - preconditions for normal economic activity - and an additional US$ 1.5 billion from donors, both unemployment and poverty would still be significantly above pre-2000 levels in 2006. If preconditions were met, recovery from four years of tight closure and conflict would take time. Revival does not depend only on basic economic freedoms: the population’s health and education standards must be maintained. In this context, trauma arising from the conflict and declining standards of education and health are a particular concern for the future.
The short to medium term prospects looks bleak. While occupation and closure are still in place, humanitarian agencies’ impact on the situation can only be limited. Agencies must also work in a coordinated manner to improve humanitarian access, which has been denied repeatedly by Israeli authorities during 2004. Advocacy is therefore an important aspect of the humanitarian response. Humanitarian agencies are guided by the imperative to deliver assistance to people in need. However, they are acting within a complicated international legal context: Israel, as the occupying power, has the obligation to provide for the welfare of the Palestinian population but fails to do so; and the advisory opinion issued by the ICJ on the Barrier in July 2004 is likely to create dilemmas for humanitarian agencies in 2005, as agencies should seek to assist the Palestinians without inadvertently promoting demographic changes or helping to maintain the illegal situation created by the Barrier.
Year 2004 in Review
There was little progress towards the implementation of the ‘Road Map’ - the plan for progress towards a two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - in 2004. Despite the provisions of the Road Map, Israeli settlement activities and military operations in Palestinian areas continued. Palestinian suicide bombings and the launching of homemade rockets from Gaza on Israeli civilian areas also continued. The reform of the Palestinian Authority (PA) security apparatus did not advance much according to the provisions of the Road Map.
In the absence of negotiations, the political debate throughout 2004 has been dominated by Israel’s plan for unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank. An initial disengagement plan was announced by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in February 2004, and adopted by the cabinet on 6 June in a slightly revised format. The PA welcomed the Disengagement Plan “only to the extent that the evacuation represents the first step to ending Israel’s occupation of all of the occupied Palestinian territory” and stressed “bilateral negotiations are the only way to end this conflict.” Throughout the summer of 2004, preparations pertaining to the implementation of the plan proceeded. The Knesset is slated to vote on the revised plan in October 2004.
The United Nations (UN) continued to call for full implementation of the Road Map and urged the parties involved to utilise the disengagement plan as a first step towards return to the negotiating table. Despite the unilateral character of the plan and concerns over its economic consequences, the international community has been working with both the Israelis and Palestinians to ensure that the disengagement proceeds in a manner that contributes to the reinvigoration of the Palestinian economy and a revival of the peace process.
The UN General Assembly had requested in December 2003 that the ICJ render an advisory opinion on the “…legal consequences arising from the construction of the wall being built by Israel…” On July 9, 2004, the ICJ delivered its advisory opinion. The Court found that the “construction of the wall …constitutes breaches by Israel of several of its obligations under the applicable international humanitarian law and human rights instruments.”
24 November 2003: The report of the Secretary-General prepared pursuant to General Assembly resolution ES-10/13 demanding that Israel stop and reverse the construction of the wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, states that Israel has not complied with that demand.
8 December 2003: UN General Assembly adopts resolution A/ES-10/14 requesting ICJ to render an advisory opinion on the legal consequences arising from the construction of the Barrier being built by Israel.
17 December 2003: UN General Assembly adopts resolutions A/RES/58/97 reaffirming the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the occupied Palestinian territory, and A/RES/58/98 demanding complete cessation of Israeli settlement activity in oPt.
17 May 2004: UN General Assembly adopts resolution A/RES/58/292 expressing determination to contribute to a peace settlement in the Middle East, resulting in two states based on the pre-1967 borders.
19 May 2004: UN Security Council adopts resolution S/RES/1544, expressing grave concern regarding the humanitarian situation of Palestinians made homeless in the Rafah area by IDF demolitions; calls on Israel to respect obligations under IHL and not to undertake home demolitions contrary to that law.
30 June 2004: Israeli High Court of Justice orders government of Israel to redraw Barrier route northwest of Jerusalem, stating that original Barrier route would cause too much hardship for Palestinians.
9 July 2004: ICJ issues its advisory opinion, stating that the Barrier represents a breach of IHL and that Israel should cease construction and dismantle the sections already constructed.
20 July 2004: The 10th emergency special session of the UN General Assembly adopts resolution A/ES-10/15, demanding that Israel comply with the legal obligations identified in the ICJ advisory opinion.
19 August 2004: The Israeli High Court of Justice orders Israeli government to address the implications of the ICJ advisory opinion on construction of the Barrier in the West Bank. It excludes East Jerusalem from the order since it does not recognise this part of the city as occupied territory.
The year 2004 was the fourth successive year of crisis in the occupied Palestinian territory. In the two years after the outbreak of conflict, Palestinian living standards declined sharply as the economy fell into one of the worst recessions in modern history. Humanitarian agencies responded to escalating poverty and falling health, educational and other standards by providing high levels of emergency assistance.
The overriding goal of humanitarian action in 2004 was to continue to provide emergency relief to Palestinians made vulnerable by the conflict, and to build on the population’s mechanisms for coping with the continuing crisis. Agencies also sought to support livelihoods and to prevent further asset depletion.
Emergency humanitarian assistance has helped to alleviate some of the worst effects of the conflict. Although figures for 2004 are not yet available, experience from previous years suggests that the continued provision of food aid during the year to almost 1.5 million Palestinians has helped to limit the rise in malnutrition, and emergency relief has served to lower the proportion of those living in deep poverty. International assistance has also contributed to a slight improvement in some health indicators, and assistance to Palestinians has been well targeted to those in need.
Assistance can only however slow the deterioration in Palestinian living standards and such deterioration has undoubtedly continued throughout 2004. The primary cause of decline in consumption, educational and health standards described below is the sustained imposition by Israel of heavy movement restrictions - known as ‘closures’ - throughout and around the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Closures, which are intended to address Israel’s legitimate security concerns, constitute a severe impediment to economic activity.
Despite the limited economic stabilisation during 2003, living standards among the poorest sections of the population during 2004 did not improve. Modest economic growth fell well short of the necessary to lift the living standards of a population that has been locked into a humanitarian crisis characterised by a collapse in output, poverty, malnutrition and widespread destruction of infrastructure. The limited economic improvement of late 2003 was fragile, and apparently founded on unsustainable factors. Growth in the number of jobs has not been sustained in 2004, and unemployment is rising again. Continued closures also prevent many Palestinians from accessing education, health and other essential services. Sustained economic recovery and reliable service provision cannot take place until Israel dismantles the closure system.
Humanitarian agencies and donors have faced a number of dilemmas in delivering assistance. Major incursions by Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip, particularly in Rafah, left thousands homeless and destroyed public infrastructure and agricultural facilities. Agencies responded immediately to food, water and medical needs created by the incursions. However, options for re-housing of those made homeless created dilemmas for the respect of international humanitarian law (IHL): agencies could begin construction of permanent new homes away from the conflict zone, which would arguably facilitate displacement, or accommodate displaced people in inadequate temporary structures. The imperative to deliver adequate shelter forced agencies to choose the former option, despite its inherent problems.
Agencies face similar dilemmas responding to needs arising from Barrier construction. The ICJ noted in its advisory opinion that the Barrier has already led to changes to the demographic composition of the West Bank, and that there is “a risk of further alterations to the demographic composition of the occupied Palestinian territory resulting from the construction.” Humanitarian agencies therefore must avoid projects which might permanently alter the social and economic behaviour of populations living in areas affected by the Barrier - which is intended to be a temporary structure - by, for example, building new roads that promote the growth of some Palestinian towns over others, or by encouraging a shift in livelihoods. This effort to avoid permanent demographic or social change sometimes conflicts with the principle that assistance should, to the greatest extent possible, “be provided in ways that will be supportive of recovery and long-term development.”
While the structures for aid provision have strengthened over the past four years, the notion of emergency assistance to Palestinians becomes increasingly problematic with each successive year of crisis: for how long can this situation be seen as an ‘emergency’? Signs of change in the political situation - notably Israel’s plan for unilateral disengagement from Gaza - are unlikely to have any impact on the deteriorating humanitarian picture.
Underlying all humanitarian action in the oPt is the principle, set out in the Fourth Geneva Convention, that Israel is obliged as Occupying Power to ensure the welfare of the Palestinian population. Israel fails to fulfil this obligation and continues to hamper other organisations providing assistance, through frequent refusal to grant humanitarian access and demolition of donor-funded aid projects. Humanitarian access to the Gaza Strip has been especially problematic in 2004. This situation clearly presents a dilemma to UN humanitarian agencies, which are guided by the imperative to relieve suffering but which also seek to uphold the IHL from which their mandates are derived.
Humanitarian plans developed during the past two years included appeals for US$ 294 million for 2003 (Humanitarian Plan of Action) and US$ 305 million for 2004 for the oPt Consolidated Appeals Process (CAP). The proportion of funding received has been relatively stable i.e. 37% in as of October 2003, and 46% as of October 2004.
Funding has been pledged and disbursed gradually during 2004. A total of 14 donor countries have contributed to the 2004 CAP. Over 60% of the total CAP contributions have been provided by four donors (the United States (US), the European Union (EU), the United Kingdom (UK) and Japan). Donors’ contributions have concentrated on two major sectors: food security (23.2%) and recovery, infrastructure and employment (13.2%). Funding to these sectors represents 36.4% of the total. Nearly 49% of the total CAP funding requirements met is not earmarked for a particular sector. All of this ‘non-attributed’ funding has been contributed to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
The United Nations Security Coordination (UNSECOORD), the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and CARE International have received no funds under the 2004 CAP oPt.
A number of lessons have emerged during the course of 2004. Agencies have drawn on the following during development of the 2005 CAP:
The CAP needs early planning, to ensure that agencies can monitor humanitarian indicators over time;
Agencies also need time to examine the data together, to develop a joint analysis of humanitarian needs and priorities for action for the coming year;
There should be a clear connection between the assessment of humanitarian problems in the oPt - in the Common Humanitarian Action Plan (CHAP)- and projects subsequently proposed by agencies;
Links between sectors should be enhanced and clarified;
The PA should be involved extensively in the preparation of the CAP;
CAP mechanisms should not duplicate those already established in the oPt, such as the Local Aid Coordination Committee (LACC) Sector Working Groups or other sector groups such as Health Emergency Coordination Meeting (HECM). Rather, these existing mechanisms should be used as co-ordination resources that feed into a consolidated thematic analysis in the CAP;
The CAP would be strengthened with greater inclusion of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs).