United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs – 2010-08-21 22:00:40
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THE HUMANITARIAN IMPACT OF ISRAELI-IMPOSED RESTRICTIONS ON ACCESS TO LAND AND SEA IN THE GAZA STRIP
Over the past ten years, the Israeli military has gradually expanded restrictions on access to farmland on the Gaza side of the “Green Line,” and to fishing areas along the Gaza Strip coast, with the stated intention of preventing attacks by Palestinian armed factions. The findings of this study indicate that this regime has had a devastating impact on the physical security and livelihoods of nearly 180,000 people, exacerbating the assault on human dignity triggered by the blockade imposed by Israel in June 2007.
Over the past ten years, the Israeli military has gradually expanded restrictions on access to farmland on the Gaza side of the 1949 “Green Line,” and to fishing areas along the Gaza Strip coast, with the stated intention of preventing attacks on Israel by Palestinian armed factions, including firing projectiles.
This study aims at assessing the scope of these restrictions, as well as their impact on physical security, livelihood and access to services. The information and analysis presented is based on over 100 interviews and focus group discussions carried out during March-April 2010, and complemented with analysis of quantitative data available from other sources.
Since late 2008, Palestinians have been totally or partially prevented from accessing land located up to 1,000-1,500 meters from the Green Line (depending on the specific area), and sea areas beyond 3 nautical miles from shore.
Overall, the land restricted area is estimated at 17 percent of the total land mass of the Gaza Strip and 35 percent of its agricultural land. At sea, fishermen are totally prevented from accessing some 85 percent of the maritime areas they are entitled to access according to the Oslo Agreements.
An estimated 178,000 people — 12 percent of the population of the Gaza Strip — are directly affected by the access regime implemented by the Israeli military. This includes approximately 113,000 people affected by such measures in land areas, and 65,000 people affected by restrictions to maritime areas.
Access restrictions are primarily enforced by opening live fire on people entering the restricted areas.
While in most cases it is “warning shots” that force people from the area, since the end of the “Cast Lead” offensive in January 2009, the Israeli army has also killed a total of 22 civilians and injured another 146 in these circumstances. Despite the potential for civilian casualties, the Israeli authorities have not informed the affected population about the precise
boundaries of the restricted areas and the conditions under which access to these areas may be permitted or denied.
Additional risks to the affected population stem from military activities of Palestinian armed factions in the restricted areas and their confrontations with the Israeli military. Since the end of the “Cast Lead” offensive 41 Palestinian militants and four Israeli soldiers were killed in the restricted area or its vicinity in these circumstances and another 26 Palestinian militants and ten Israeli soldiers were injured.
A complementary method used by the Israeli military to discourage access is the systematic leveling of farm land and the destruction of other private property located in restricted areas. Given that leveling operations usually target fruit trees and greenhouses, some farmers have re-planted previously leveled areas with rain-fed crops, which demand less care and have better chances of survival. However, the ability of farmers to harvest these crops is limited and the income is only a fraction of the income of the original crops.
The value of agricultural and other property destroyed in the past five years in the land restricted area is conservatively estimated at USD 308 million (replacement cost). Agriculture-related assets include fruit trees, greenhouses, chicken and sheep farms and water wells, and account for 90 percent of this cost.
It has been further estimated that access restrictions and the related destruction of agricultural assets results in a yearly loss of approximately 75,000 metric tons of potential produce.
The market value of this produce is conservatively estimated at USD 50.2 million a year. Most farmers interviewed for this study indicated that since the expansion of the restricted area in 2008, their income from agriculture has been reduced to less than a third of its previous amount.
Others reported having their income wiped out. In the fishing sector, the potential fishing catch lost as a result of access restrictions is estimated at approximately 7,000 metric tonnes, with a related income loss of some USD 26.5 million over a period of five years.
The erosion of livelihoods has forced affected families to develop a variety of coping mechanisms aimed at generating alternative income and reducing expenditure. Some of these practices raise significant concerns, including reductions in the quantity of food consumed; gradual shifts in diets (from vegetables and animal products to low-cost and high-carbohydrate items); reductions in the length of school enrolment for children; and increased inclination of parents to marry off daughters earlier.
The current regime also affects access to schools, seven of which are located within the restricted areas. The safety of students and staff attending these institutions (4,600), the quality of education provided and the level of educational achievement have been seriously undermined by the frequent exposure to Israeli fire at people present in open areas, be they farmers or armed militants.
Finally, access restrictions have significantly impeded the maintenance and upgrade of existing wastewater and electricity infrastructure, negatively impacting the provision of services to the entire population of the Gaza Strip. In particular, the prolonged delay in the construction of three wastewater treatment plants has contributed to the daily release of some 80 million litres of raw and partially-treated sewage into the sea and streams, thus adding a significant environmental and health hazard.
To start addressing the dire situation of one of the most vulnerable segments of Gaza’s population, the current restrictions on civilian access to Gaza’s land and sea must be urgently lifted to the fullest extent possible. All parties must abide by their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law, including full implementation of Security Council Resolution 1860.1
The findings of this study also indicate that larger and better-targeted humanitarian assistance is required to mitigate the impact of the ongoing erosion to livelihoods and to prevent further deterioration.
Israel’s 2005 “Disengagement Plan” entailed the unilateral redeployment of the Israeli army out from the Gaza Strip and the evacuation of the military installations and civilian settlements established there since 1967. Despite these measures, Israel has continued exercising significant control over key aspects of the lives of its 1.5 million residents.
One such aspect pertains to the access of people to farming areas within Gaza located along the 1949 Armistice Line between Israel and Gaza (also known as the Green Line), and to fishing areas along Gaza’s coast — hereafter “the restricted areas.”
Reference to a special regime regulating Palestinian access to these areas can be found in the Gaza- Jericho Agreement, between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1994. This agreement provided for the establishment of a 1,000 meter-wide “security perimeter” on the Gaza side of the Green Line, with the Palestinian Police to enforce “special security measures” to prevent the entry of people into Israel, and the introduction of arms or ammunitions into that area, without coordination with the Israeli army.
A separate provision established that maritime areas 20 nautical miles off Gaza’s coast into the Mediterranean Sea would be open (under certain conditions) to Palestinian use for fishing, recreation and economic activities, while responsibility for law enforcement in this area would be shared between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
These provisions were only partially implemented before the beginning of the second Intifada in September 2000. Since then, Palestinian access into the above areas has been entirely subject to Israel’s unilateral measures, which have become increasingly restrictive and dangerous.
The Israeli authorities justify these measures as a means to protect Israeli civilians and soldiers from attacks by Palestinian armed factions. Indeed, since the ‘Disengagement’ the lives of hundreds of thousands of Israeli civilians in southern Israel have been frequently disrupted and put under threat as a result of the intermittent firing of rockets and mortars by Palestinian armed groups. This fire also resulted in the killing of 11 Israeli civilians over the course of the past five years.
However, the main parameters of the access regime implemented by the Israeli military have since remained vague and unpredictable, including the precise boundaries of the restricted areas, the conditions under which access to these areas may be permitted or denied, and the consequences of prohibited entry.
Similarly, while evidence from the field indicates that the impact of these restrictions on the physical security and economic livelihoods of the population is significant, so far, no in-depth assessment of this impact has been carried out. This study aims to fill this gap.
The first section provides working definitions for the restricted areas and the affected populations referred to in the remainder of the report.
The following five sections address the impact of restrictions on various areas of concern, including civilian protection, livelihoods, coping mechanisms, access to education, and the provision of electricity and sanitation services.
The information and analysis presented in this report is based on 101 semi-structured interviews and focus group discussions carried out among affected populations and key informants, most of them during March-April 2010. This is complemented with an analysis of quantitative data available from other sources.6
A total of 77 semi-structured interviews were conducted targeting individuals from different regions and holding different positions relevant to this study, including farmers (26), fishermen (10), municipal officials in affected localities (11), representatives from agricultural cooperatives (5), representatives from the Fishermen’s Syndicate (5), personnel and students attending affected schools (10), and key informants from a variety of public utilities, local NGOs and UN agencies (10). In addition, 24 focus group discussions were held involving men and women living in the affected localities, of which, 11 groups were exclusively composed of farmers, five of women, and one of fishermen.
Figures on the size of the different areas affected by access restrictions were calculated with GIS software on the basis of the information collected in the interviews and focus group discussions. Other figures, including the size of the affected population, the amount of land allocated in the past for various crops, the income loss per year, and
the replacement value of destroyed property, are estimates produced on the basis of official statistics (PCBS and MoA), which were then analyzed and extrapolated in light of initial information collected in the interviews and focus groups. The source of casualty figures provided in this report is OCHA’s Protection of Civilians Database.
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