UN office that bears witness is under threat for promoting ‘illegal’ acts
July 15, 2012
Israel is weighing measures to sanction an UN agency that works with the Palestinians over “illegal activities” including “illegal construction,” media reported on Sunday, citing local officials.
Haaretz newspaper reported that Israel wants to “reassess” the role of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, in particular in response to the agency’s promotion of “illegal” construction in the West Bank.
The newspaper said measures being considered included limiting visas for OCHA employees and removing work and travel permits issued to Palestinian employees of the agency.
Haaretz said Israeli officials were “furious” about OCHA activities in the part of the West Bank under full Israeli administrative and military control.
They accuse OCHA of promoting construction in the area without Israeli permits and the newspaper said that the head of the Israeli military office that oversees the area has ordered the demolition of any such “illegal construction.”
Several international organisations and aid groups support construction in the region known as Area C, in many cases without seeking Israeli permits, which activists and Palestinians say are almost impossible to obtain.
Earlier this month, British-based charity Oxfam urged international donors to support development projects in Area C “even if they have not been explicitly approved” by the Israeli authorities.
Maariv newspaper carried the same story, saying senior foreign ministry officials described OCHA’s behaviour as “madness.”
An Israeli foreign ministry spokesman declined to confirm or deny the reports.
The newspapers said Israel’s ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor has raised the issue with the UN’s leadership, saying “there is a need to review OCHA’S role” in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Haaretz said Prosor requested a list of all the agency’s employees in the West Bank and Gaza “including full name, location and job description.”
The letter also requests clarification about the role of OCHA and other UN agencies that assist the Palestinians, the newspaper said.
An OCHA spokeswoman was not immediately available for comment.
The Barrier consists of concrete walls, fences, ditches, razor wire, groomed sand paths, an electronic monitoring system, patrol roads, and a buffer zone.
� The Barrier’s total length (constructed and projected) is approximately 708 km, more than twice the length of the 1949 Armistice (‘Green’) Line, which separates Israel from the occupied West Bank.
� Approximately 62.1% of the Barrier is complete, a further 8% is under construction and 29.9% is planned but not yet constructed.
� When completed, some 85%, of the route will run inside the West Bank, rather than along the Green Line, isolating some 9.4% of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
� 71 of the 150 Israeli settlements in the West Bank and over 85% of the total settler population are located on the ‘Israeli’ side of the Barrier’s route.
� Palestinians with West Bank ID cards who are granted special permits can only enter East Jerusalem through four of the 14 Barrier checkpoints around the city.
� Around 7,500 Palestinians who reside in areas between the Green Line and the Barrier (Seam Zone), excluding East Jerusalem, require special permits to continue living in their own homes; another 23,000 will be isolated if the Barrier is completed as planned.
� There are about 150 Palestinian communities which have part of their land isolated by the Barrier and must obtain ‘visitors’ permits or perform ‘prior coordination’ to access this area.
� Access to agricultural land through the Barrier is channelled through 80 gates. The majority of these gates only open during the six weeks olive harvest season and usually only for a limited period during the day.
� During the 2011 olive harvest, about 42% of applications submitted for permits to access areas behind the Barrier were rejected citing ‘security reasons’ or lack of ‘connection to the land.’
� Despite the presence of the Barrier, Israeli sources estimate that some 15,000 Palestinians without the required permits smuggle themselves from the West Bank to look for employment in Israel every day in 2011 (Israeli Government Special Committee).
� The UN Register of Damage (UNRoD) has to date collected over 26,000 claims for material damage caused by the construction of the Barrier in the northern West Bank.
1. Construction of the Barrier began in 2002, following a wave of suicide bombings inside Israel by West Bank Palestinians. However, the vast majority of the Barrier’s route is located within the West Bank, isolating Palestinian communities and farming land, and contributing to the fragmentation of the oPt. The inclusion of Israeli settlements, including areas planned for their future expansion, on the ‘Israeli side’ of the Barrier is the single most important factor determining the route of the Barrier and its deviation from the Green Line.
2. The Barrier has reduced the access of thousands of Palestinians living in communities located behind the Barrier to workplaces and essential services. To continue living in their own homes and to maintain family and social relations in
the rest of the West Bank they must obtain permits and pass through Barrier checkpoints. The access of service providers to these communities, including ambulances and fire brigades, has been also impaired.
3. The agricultural livelihoods of approximately 150 communities have been severely undermined due to the permit and gate regime which restrict their access to farmland behind the Barrier. The majority of permit applications are regularly rejected on grounds that the farmer failed to prove his ‘connection to the land’ to the satisfaction of the Israeli authorities. The limited opening of the ‘agricultural gates’ has forced permit-holders to stop cultivation or to shift from labour-intensive to rainfed and low-value crops.
4. The Barrier has transformed the geography, economy and social life of Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, as well as the life of those residing in the wider metropolitan area. Neighbourhoods, suburbs and families have been divided from each other and walled out from the urban centre, and rural communities separated from their land in the Jerusalem hinterland.
5. In its 2004 Advisory Opinion, the International Court of Justice established that the sections of the Barrier which runs inside the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, together with the associated gate and permit regime, violate Israel’s obligations under international law. The ICJ called on Israel to cease construction of the Barrier inside the West Bank; dismantle the sections already completed; and repeal all legislative measures related to that.