Israel’s policies of land confiscation, expanding settlement colonies, and discriminatory building permit restrictions are forcing more Palestinians — especially children — into a desperate economic and humanitarian crisis in the occupied West Bank, according to a report by Save the Children UK (STCUK).
STCUK’s report, entitled “Life on the Edge,” was first published in October 2009 but was statistically updated and re-released in late June 2010.
STCUK states that forced displacement as a result of Israel’s ongoing land confiscation, combined with lack of basic services such as food, water, shelter and medical clinics in areas in the West Bank under full Israeli military control, has created “a crisis point” with food security problems even worse than those seen in the occupied Gaza Strip.
“Seventy-nine percent of communities surveyed recently in Area C don’t have enough nutritious food,” documents STCUK. “[T]his is higher than in blockaded Gaza where the rate is 61 percent.”
Under the Oslo accords signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in the mid-1990s, the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip were carved up into areas A, B and C, the latter of which indicates full Israeli control. Sixty percent of the West Bank is designated Area C, including East Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley. Under the Oslo regulations, Area C is administered and controlled by the Israeli government and its military. Approximately 40,000 Palestinians live in Area C.
The report says that as a direct result of Israel’s refusal to provide Palestinian communities with clean water, basic services and international humanitarian assistance, Palestinian children growing up in Area C face severe malnutrition and stunted growth at levels double the rate found in Gaza.
Forty-four percent of children surveyed by STCUK have chronic diarrhea, a potentially lethal symptom of malnutrition. “Israel’s restrictions on Palestinian access to and development of agricultural land — in an area where almost all families are herders — mean that thousands of children are going hungry and are vulnerable to killer illnesses like diarrhea and pneumonia,” states the report.
STCUK says that international humanitarian assistance is more accessible in Gaza than in these pockets of deep poverty in the occupied West Bank. According to the organization’s director in the occupied Palestinian territories Salam Kanaan, quoted in the report: “the international community has rightly focused its attention on the suffering of families in Gaza, but the plight of children in Area C must not be overlooked … Palestinians in the West Bank are widely thought to enjoy a higher standard of living; but tragically many families, particularly in Bedouin and herder communities, actually suffer significantly higher levels of malnutrition and poverty.”
Richard Falk, United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and an international law expert, told The Electronic Intifada that he shares a similar concern about the West Bank, including East Jerusalem: “It is these two occupied territories that matter to the Israelis, where their policies seem to involve an indefinite process of delay with respect to withdrawal so that more irreversible facts on the ground — what I would describe as ‘creeping annexation’ — can be accumulated.”
The STCUK report calls on Israel to “halt the demolition of Palestinian homes and land confiscation and other related policies that result in displacement.”
Jihad al-Shommali of Defense for Children International-Palestine Section told The Electronic Intifada that this kind of daily reality has a serious and troubling effect on Palestinian children in particular: “A lot of children from poor and rural areas come to the bigger cities in the summertime to sell gum and chocolate in the streets because their families can’t provide for them.”
“During the school year,” al-Shommali added, “many of them drop out of classes. Children are being forced to cross settlement areas and risk beatings and harassment by settlers, or walk for hours, just to get to school … many children are losing hope in the future. Their situation, living under this kind of occupation, breeds hatred.”
Falk added that Israel is ultimately responsible for the humanitarian crisis in Area C: “Israel, as the occupying power, is obligated by Article 55 of the Fourth Geneva Convention to ensure that the basic needs of the civilian population of an occupied territory, specifically referring to food and medical supplies are being satisfied.”
He added: “This provision is reinforced by Article 69 of the 1977 Geneva Protocol that supplements the 1949 Fourth Convention, and although Israel is not a party to the protocol, it is generally accepted that it is still bound by rules of customary international law. There are other provisions in the protocol that exhibit a special responsibility on the part of the occupying power to protect and care for children living under occupation.”
STCUK’s report comes at a time when the current Palestinian Authority, led by Mahmoud Abbas and former International Monetary Fund official Salam Fayyad, have been working to re-brand the entire West Bank as an “economic prize” to foreign investors at the expense, many Palestinians say, of the Gaza Strip and of human rights across occupied Palestine.
But according to al-Shommali, the reality on the ground in the West Bank, not far from the Palestinian Authority’s plush business centers in Ramallah and Bethlehem (where the Palestine Investment Conference was held in June), continues to paint an entirely different picture in terms of economic justice in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
“We have a big disaster,” al-Shommali explained. “A lot of money is pouring into the Palestinian Authority, but that money goes directly to the PA’s security services. In the end, as always, the biggest victims are the children.”