While Palestinians and Israelis are arguing whether cutting off Gaza's electricity supply will lead to a humanitarian disaster or if it is just a cynical attempt by Hamas to gain points at the expense of unfortunate children, the largest Palestinian emergency appeal ever, to raise funds to cover the population's basic needs, was announced yesterday.
The consolidated appeal for $462 million in contributions, planned by 12 UN agencies and 28 nongovernmental organizations, including 15 international ones, is the third largest in the world, larger than the appeals on behalf of the residents of Somalia, Zimbabwe and Chad.
Doomsayers in the human rights organizations have warned of the "Somalization" of Gaza, should the central power collapse and the rule of law cease. But meanwhile, from humanitarian standpoints, Somalia is already right on our doorstep. Only the consolidated appeals for Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo rank ahead of it.
Less than two months after the Annapolis Conference and a month after the meeting of donor countries in Paris, this indicates a huge, depressing gap between U.S. President George W. Bush's festive declarations about peace and the sad reality.
The appeal heads claim that if the situation in the territories does not change drastically, the $7 billion that the Paris donors promised to save the Palestinian economy will go down the drain. If the policy of closures and roadblocks continues, even $70 billion won't help Mahmoud Abbas' Palestinian Authority.
Alongside the announcement of the appeal in Jerusalem yesterday, the United Nations released a particularly pessimistic report summarizing 2007 in the territories, indicating things can only get worse.
"Continuing the closures in the occupied territories will lead to further deterioration in the living conditions of 3.8 million Palestinians," the document stated. "The restrictions on the movement of people and goods is choking the Palestinian economy and affecting quality of life in the occupied territories. Because of all this, even the UN agencies and other humanitarian organizations are facing new obstacles, increased operating costs, and restrictions on the distribution of aid to beneficiaries in the West Bank and Gaza Strip."
After every meeting with Abbas over the last few months, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert promised his colleague that he would reduce the number of roadblocks, which are disrupting the lives of West Bank residents. They said it was important to show the Palestinians the difference between Fatahland and Hamastan.
But something is happening to the promises on the way from Jerusalem to Nablus. The report confirms the claims of Palestinians and Israeli human rights organizations that not only did the situation not improve, it even got worse.
"Despite repeated pledges by the Israeli authorities to ease the closure regime, the number of physical obstacles in the West Bank increased from 528 to 563 between January and September 2007. These fixed physical obstacles are augmented by flying checkpoints, estimated at 560 per month, as of October 6. The closure regime, which controls and restricts access to workplaces, markets, health and education services, and impedes normal economic activity, is the main cause of the deteriorating humanitarian situation."
Those who claim that the checkpoints and the separation fence save human lives will be glad to read in the new report that in the preceding year, the number of casualties dropped on both sides.
From January to September 2007, 269 Palestinian were killed by Israel Defense Forces fire, including 38 children, as opposed to 464 killed in the same period in 2006. The number of injured also dropped from 2,450 to 1,428. The number of Israeli casualties dropped from 22 killed and 316 injured to 8 killed and 279 injured.
On the other hand, there was a dramatic increase in the number of killed and injured as a result of internal Palestinian violence, primarily in the Gaza Strip: 439 killed, compared to 70, and 2,315 injured, compared to 374 in 2006.
The other side of the fence
The roadblocks and the fence, of course, have another side. The report notes that almost all of the obstacles restricting Palestinian movement are located along a vast road network reserved first and foremost for the Israeli residents. This is because around 40 percent of the West Bank is covered by settlements, outposts, military infrastructure, nature reserves and closed areas west of the fence. The fence route even was adjusted to meet the settlers' needs.
According to the figures, around 10,000 Palestinians who live in enclaves west of the fence are cut off from vital health and education services, and from family and social networks. Many Palestinians, mainly farmers who live east of the fence, need "visitors' permits" to reach their lands, water sources and other resources to the west.
A survey taken among 67 communities affected by the fence in northern Samaria found that only 20 percent of those who worked land along the Seam Line in the past currently hold permits. The restrictions on movement and the fence are splitting markets, increasing transport charges and threatening livelihoods in agriculture.
According to the report, 34 percent of Palestinians face "food insecurity" (defined as households with income and consumption of $1.6 per day). This is without factoring in the last stage of the crisis that has yet to appear in the report: UN relief agency data indicates that 57.5 percent of babies aged 36 months and 44.9 percent of pregnant women in the Gaza Strip (in the West Bank, 37.1 percent of babies and 31.1 percent of pregnant women) suffer from anemia due to a lack of iron. Access to medical care, particularly to monitor pregnancies, is affected by health worker strikes, restrictions on movement and the declining economic situation.
Hospitals have cut back on the services they offer, mostly due to a lack of drugs and equipment. The water supply dropped last year to 75 liters per person per day in the Gaza Strip, and to 80.5 liters in the West Bank, about half the international standard of 150 liters per person per day. About two-thirds of Palestinians are not hooked up to the sewage system, and 70-80 percent of domestic wastewater flows into the surrounding areas untreated.
Through the middle of September, 75,000 workers had been dismissed from the private sector in the Gaza Strip after the Israeli government refused to make arrangements for the import of raw materials to the area (manufacturers in Gaza import 95 percent of raw materials). The cumulative losses totaled some $50 million. Thus, almost half the households in the West Bank and 80 percent in the Gaza Strip live in poverty, and more than 80 percent of Gaza residents are dependent on agencies such as the UN Relief and Work Agency and the World Food Program.
Continuing the closure of Gaza's borders will further intensify the dependence on those organizations. In mid-2007, the recorded unemployment rate in the West Bank reached 22.6 percent, and in Gaza it reached 32.3 percent. These figures are incomplete, however, as many have stopped looking for work.
This year there was an additional increase in the number of school dropouts, especially among junior high school boys and high school girls. There are fewer girls in the classrooms, and student achievements are in a downward spiral. Eighty percent of Gaza students between grades four and nine failed a UN relief agency survey; 90 percent of ninth-grade students failed a basic math test; and 53.3 percent of mothers in the West Bank and 48.5 percent in the Gaza Strip reported that one of their children aged 5-17 had been exposed to violence during 2005.
Furthermore, women and teenage girls are suffering from higher levels of domestic violence.
Anyone who cannot provide the public with the most basic goods - bread, water, health and education - cannot provide Israel with painful concessions on the issues of Jerusalem, refugees, borders and settlements. According to figures released yesterday, 57 percent of Palestinian households live in poverty - 49 percent in the West Bank and 79 percent in the Gaza Strip. Max Gaylard, the senior UN humanitarian coordinator adds: "The tight regime of closures affects not only the economic situation of households in the territories, but also erodes the basic self-dignity of the population."
Manuel Bessler, the director of the UN office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs (OCHA), adds that despite the encouraging developments on the political horizon, if the closures in the territories continue, the situation is likely to deteriorate even further.
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