Six Months in Review: Palestine

January 2017 — July 2017

This six months review of Palestine is derived from a collection of reports that I have written over the past six months for civil society organizations and governments. It provides a concise, and naturally incomplete, picture of the political, economic and social challenges in Palestine over the past six months.

This year marked the 50th year of the occupation of the Palestinian territories (oPt). Dozens of local and international organizations commemorated the 50th year with publications of special reports and media campaigns, in addition to events and activities. According to the United Nation’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affair’s annual report, Israel’s occupation practices and policies are the key cause of humanitarian needs in the oPt.

While casualties related to violence decreased, forced displacement of Palestinians by the Israeli military continues particularly in Area C and East Jerusalem.

Unemployment continued to grow with 30% unemployment in the oPt, which is particularly high among women and youth. In Gaza, unemployment is among the highest in the world, presently estimated at 44 percent, and 80 percent of all Gazans are dependent on humanitarian assistance. In March, the Palestinian Authority (PA) decided to reduce the salaries of tens of thousands of its employees in the Gaza Strip. The money provided by the PA had played an essential role in keeping the struggling economy afloat.

Gaza

Israel has continued it’s now 10 year siege on the Gaza Strip contrary to urging by international organizations to end the siege and the UN’s warning that Gaza will be uninhabitable by 2020. As of now, less than 4% of freshwater in Gaza is drinkable. The sea is increasingly polluted with raw sewage due to Israel’s limitation on importing building materials to build a sufficient sewage network and lack of electricity available to treat sewage. Dramatic reductions in electricity started in June as Israel reduced the supply per the request of President of the Palestinian Authority (PA), Mahmoud Abbas, adding tension to the political dispute between the PA has with Hamas. Gazans now have access to less than 2 hours of electricity a day.

Recent polls of the Palestinian public show that the overwhelming majority of the public rejects the recent PA measures to deduct part of the salaries of public sector employees in the Gaza Strip and to stop covering the cost of Israeli-supplied electricity.

During the reporting period, Israel stopped issuing new permits to Gaza’s terminally ill patients who started to travel to Israel to receive treatment previously available in Gaza before the electricity cuts. Increasing numbers of deaths related to this issue are being documented. Israel also began construction of an “anti-tunnel barrier” on land and sea surrounding Gaza.

In the first few months of the reporting period, there was a 40% increase in the suicide rates in Gaza in comparison to the previous years. This rate can be expected to increase if power-holders do not take action urgently to improve conditions for the 2 million people living in the Gaza Strip.

Al Aqsa Mosque — Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem

In June, three Palestinian Citizens of Israel killed 2 Israeli soldiers in the Old City of occupied East Jerusalem. In response, the Israeli military and Jerusalem police took control of the security at Al Aqsa mosque and installed metal detectors, violating the jurisdiction that the Waqf Ministry of Jordan has held over the mosque since 1967. Palestinians and their supporters held mass non-violent protests in Jerusalem, West Bank, Gaza and throughout the world.

In the wake of a deadly shoot-out at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in July, the PA announced a freeze to security coordination with Israel, aside for coordination needed for humanitarian issues, until a list of demands are met. This freeze continues until today.

In relation to this conflict, six Palestinians were killed by the Israeli military and a settler, over 1,000 Palestinians were injured and countless arrested. After over a week the Jerusalem police removed the metal detectors and returned security to the Waqf Ministry of Jordan. The following day, tens of thousands of Palestinians went to Al Aqsa to pray and celebrate the return of the mosque to the Waqf. Israel continued to provoke the crowd by removing Palestinian flags at the mosque, shooting tear gas and stun grenades at the non-violent crowd.

Freedom of Speech

Israeli and Palestinian governments continued to limit freedom of speech and restrict access to journalists. Notably in June, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas decreed a new “Electronic Crimes” law that will imposes fines, prison and hard labor on Palestinians who violate “public manners” or harm “social harmony” with online comments. According to the most recent poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Research, 62% of the public want president Abbas to resign (55% in the West Bank and 75% in the Gaza Strip).

Corruption

In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is being investigated for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, and many sources expect him to be indicted. However, according to Israeli law, this does not mean that he will have to resign.

Settlement, Land Annexation

On 6 February 2017, the “Regularisation Law” was passed, allowing for the legalisation of unlawful Israeli colonies on private Palestinian land. As a result, 4,000 housing units in 55 colonial outposts, built on private Palestinian land, will be legalised. While land annexation and appropriation has been an Israeli policy since 1967, this law will provide a significant tool for the Israeli government to confiscate private Palestinian property.