Israel/Palestine — January 2010

Sociopolitical Situation

Israel’s closure of Gaza’s borders has exacerbated the humanitarian crisis there. Reports indicate that 61% of Gaza’s households are now “food insecure” and a further 16% are “vulnerable to food insecurity.” Israel’s ban on most construction materials entering the Gaza Strip continues to hinder severely all efforts to rehabilitate homes and buildings that have been left in rubble since the war. Thousands of families are still living in houses with shattered windows. U.N. agencies have begun building mud brick homes in response to the hundreds of families still living in makeshift tents. Lack of proper water and sanitation infrastructure in addition to electricity outages has also increased health concerns for the general population. Gaza’s Ministry of Health warns that due to the border closure, there is a lack of medical equipment at Gaza hospitals and a shortage of at least 140 types of medication used to treat cancer patients and others suffering from blood-related diseases. Although a large majority of goods are still being smuggled through tunnels, the Egyptian government has intensified its counter-smuggling effort, dispatching more border patrols and constructing a 9-10 kilometer iron wall with depths of 20-30 meters along the Rafah border.

Area C of the West Bank (which is under the jurisdiction of the Israeli government and constitutes 61% of the West Bank) remains a high risk area. Israel’s High Court of Justice recently ordered the state to issue demolition orders and has already demolished 180 Palestinian structures this year, displacing 319 Palestinians, including 167 children.

House demolitions and displacement of East Jerusalem Palestinians continues. In 2009, 64 structures were demolished, displacing 300 people, including 149 children. Israeli settlers and settler organizations are increasing efforts to take over Palestinian homes, particularly in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan. The U.N. reports at least 475 Palestinians are at risk for forced eviction, dispossession and displacement due to settler plans in Sheikh Jarrah alone.

Israel’s access restrictions continue to fragment the West Bank and impede upon the livelihoods of West Bank Palestinians. There are some 578 closure obstacles in place in addition to the Separation Wall and permit and gate regimes. In the closed area or “Seam Zone” in the northern West Bank, Palestinians (especially farmers) are severely restricted from agricultural land, health and education services, and social networks. The Israeli government has extended this closed area strategy to the central and southern West Bank. In the Bethlehem Governate, the planned construction of the Separation Wall will reduce access to land and water resources for some 21,000 Palestinians. Israeli daily water consumption per capita is four times higher than that in the West Bank and is affecting approximately 350,000 Palestinians, most of whom live in the southern West Bank. Water is so scarce that in some Palestinian communities, residents only have access to 20 liters of water per day.

Religious Situation

Israeli authorities assured Christian leaders in early December that Gaza’s Christians would be issued permits to exit Gaza and visit Bethlehem for 24 hours. According to a human rights group investigation, Gaza Christians between the ages of 15 and 35 from both sexes were denied a permit for no apparent reason, resulting in a total of at least 550 Christians being denied travel permits to Bethlehem. Of the 450 permits that were actually issued, 70% were children under the age of 15. Many of those under 15 who were granted travel permits could not in fact travel because their parents were denied a permit. The issuance of visas for Christian clergy is still problematic as many are unable to receive a visa for an extended period. The problem is being shoved under the table as many Christian groups have stopped applying for visas, knowing that such requests will be denied. This has given the impression that the problem has eased.

There are difficulties within the Palestinian Greek Orthodox community. The day before the Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem there was a fight in Manger Square between groups opposing and supporting the patriarch. The Palestinian authority had to intervene and agreed to minimize public participation in the Christmas celebrations. The criticism of the Patriarch Theophilos III stems from his not delivering on his promises made over disputed Greek Orthodox property and other issues when elected patriarch.

Jewish extremist settlers in the Old City attacked young Armenian seminarians in the Armenian Quarter in early September, deliberately insulting the seminarians and their faith.

The Jerusalem municipality has undisclosed plans—dubbed Plan 2020—that will eventually make the Old City of Jerusalem a “tourist museum.” This plan initially calls for the reduction of Christian and Muslim residents as much as possible by 2020. It is reported that over 250 Palestinian-owned shops have already closed, either to seek work elsewhere or to avoid high taxes. House demolition orders were issued against four Christian families in the Old City of Jerusalem in late June. Churches are also facing difficulty obtaining the necessary renovation permits and expansion rights for properties in the Old City.

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