Annual Report: Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories 2011

May 28, 2011

Annual Report: Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories 2011

Gaza blockade and humanitarian crisis

The blockade of the Gaza Strip, in force since June 2007, suffocated the economy and drove people there further into poverty. Amid continuing health and sanitation problems, poverty and malnutrition, some 80 per cent of Gazans were forced to depend on international humanitarian aid, the flow of which was impeded by the blockade. Severe shortages fueled high prices. Most UN reconstruction projects to provide clinics and schools had to be delayed; as a result, some 40,000 Palestinian children eligible to enroll in UN schools in September had to be turned away.

Virtually all Gazans were effectively trapped in the small enclave, including seriously ill patients who needed treatment elsewhere and many students and workers wishing to study or take up jobs abroad. Only relatively few were allowed to exit Gaza.

In May, Israeli troops forcibly intercepted an international aid flotilla aiming to break the blockade. They killed nine of those aboard and injured more than 50, some seriously. Several Israeli soldiers were injured. Several inquiries were established into the attack, including two by the UN. In September, the investigative body appointed by the UN Human Rights Council concluded that "lethal force was employed by the Israeli soldiers in a widespread and arbitrary manner which caused an unnecessarily large number of persons to be killed or seriously injured." An Israeli government-appointed commission of inquiry lacked independence and transparency.

Following international criticism of the attack, the government announced a partial easing of the blockade, although insufficient to markedly improve conditions in Gaza. Israel continued to ban all export of goods from Gaza until 8 December, and the announced easing of restrictions on exports had not been implemented by the end of the year. Amnesty International considered the blockade to constitute collective punishment in breach of international humanitarian law and called repeatedly for it to be lifted.

Restrictions in the West Bank

Hundreds of Israeli military checkpoints and barriers restricted the movement of Palestinians in the West Bank, hindering or blocking access to workplaces, education and health facilities, and other services.

By the end of 2010, the construction of around 60 per cent of the planned 700km fence/wall had been completed; more than 85 per cent of its entire route is on Palestinian land inside the West Bank. The fence/wall separated thousands of Palestinians from their farmland and water sources, while access to East Jerusalem by West Bank Palestinians possessing entry permits was possible through only three of 16 checkpoints at the fence/wall. This had particularly serious consequences for patients and medical staff trying to reach the six specialist Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem.

Palestinians continued to be denied access to large swathes of land near to Israeli settlements established and maintained in breach of international law; the settler population in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, reached over half a million. Palestinians were also barred from or had restricted access to around 300km of "by-pass" roads used by Israeli settlers. However, travel time for Palestinians between most towns, particularly in the north, was reduced in 2010 by Israel's removal of some barriers and by some improvements to the road network for cars with Palestinian license plates, although journeys remained slow and arduous.