Between the Fence and a Hard Place – an Ocha/Wfp report

August 19, 2010
Richard Kuper


The Humanitarian Impact of Israeli-Imposed Restrictions on Access to Land and Sea in the Gaza Strip

Published by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA – oPt) and the World Food Programme (WFP), August 2010

Executive Summary

Over the past ten years, the Israeli military has gradually expanded restrictions on access to farmland on the Gaza side of the 1949 ‘Green Line’, and to fishing areas along the Gaza Strip coast, with the stated intention of preventing attacks on Israel by Palestinian armed factions, including firing projectiles.

This study aims at assessing the scope of these restrictions, as well as their impact on physical security, livelihood and access to services. The information and analysis presented is based on over 100 interviews and focus group discussions carried out during March-April 2010, and complemented with analysis of quantitative data available from other sources.

Since late 2008, Palestinians have been totally or partially prevented from accessing land located up to 1,000-1,500 meters from the Green Line (depending on the specific area), and sea areas beyond 3 nautical miles from shore. Overall, the land restricted area is estimated at 17 percent of the total land mass of the Gaza Strip and 35 percent of its agricultural land. At sea, fishermen are totally prevented from accessing some 85 percent of the maritime areas they are entitled to access according to the Oslo Agreements.

An estimated 178,000 people – 12 percent of the population of the Gaza Strip – are directly affected by the access regime implemented by the Israeli military. This includes approximately 113,000 people affected by such measures in land areas, and 65,000 people affected by restrictions to maritime areas.

Access restrictions are primarily enforced by opening live fire on people entering the restricted areas. While in most cases it is ‘warning shots’ that force people from the area, since the end of the “Cast Lead” offensive in January 2009, the Israeli army has also killed a total of 22 civilians and injured another 146 in these circumstances. Despite the potential for civilian casualties, the Israeli authorities have not informed the affected population about the precise boundaries of the restricted areas and the conditions under which access to these areas may be permitted or denied.

Additional risks to the affected population stem from military activities of Palestinian armed factions in the restricted areas and their confrontations with the Israeli military. Since the end of the “Cast Lead” offensive 41 Palestinian militants and four Israeli soldiers were killed in the restricted area or its vicinity in these circumstances and another 26 Palestinian militants and ten Israeli soldiers were injured.

A complementary method used by the Israeli military to discourage access is the systematic levelling of farm land and the destruction of other private property located in restricted areas. Given that levelling operations usually target fruit trees and greenhouses, some farmers have re-planted previously levelled areas with rain-fed crops, which demand less care and have better chances of survival. However, the ability of farmers to harvest these crops is limited and the income is only a fraction of the income of the original crops. The value of agricultural and other property destroyed in the past five years in the land restricted area is conservatively estimated at USD 308 million (replacement cost). Agriculture-related assets include fruit trees, greenhouses, chicken and sheep farms and water wells, and account for 90 percent of this cost.

It has been further estimated that access restrictions and the related destruction of agricultural assets results in a yearly loss of approximately 75,000 metric tons of potential produce. The market value of this produce is conservatively estimated at USD 50.2 million a year. Most farmers interviewed for this study indicated that since the expansion of the restricted area in 2008, their income from agriculture has been reduced to less than a third of its previous amount. Others reported having their income wiped out. In the fishing sector, the potential fishing catch lost as a result of access restrictions is estimated at approximately 7,000 metric tonnes, with a related income loss of some USD 26.5 million over a period of five years.

The erosion of livelihoods has forced affected families to develop a variety of coping mechanisms aimed at generating alternative income and reducing expenditure. Some of these practices raise significant concerns, including reductions in the quantity of food consumed; gradual shifts in diets (from vegetables and animal products to low-cost and high-carbohydrate items); reductions in the length of school enrolment for children; and increased inclination of parents to marry off daughters earlier.

The current regime also affects access to schools, seven of which are located within the restricted areas. The safety of students and staff attending these institutions (4,600), the quality of education provided and the level of educational achievement have been seriously undermined by the frequent exposure to Israeli fire targeting people present in open areas, be they farmers or armed militants. Finally, access restrictions have significantly impeded the maintenance and upgrade of existing wastewater and electricity infrastructure, negatively impacting the provision of services to the entire population of the Gaza Strip. In particular, the prolonged delay in the construction of three wastewater treatment plants has contributed to the daily release of some 80 million litres of raw and partially-treated sewage into the sea and streams, thus adding a significant environmental and health hazard.

To start addressing the dire situation of one of the most vulnerable segments of Gaza’s population, the current restrictions on civilian access to Gaza’s land and sea must be urgently lifted to the fullest extent possible. All parties must abide by their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law, including full implementation of Security Council Resolution 1860.1

The findings of this study also indicate that larger and better targeted humanitarian assistance is required to mitigate the impact of the ongoing erosion to livelihoods and to prevent further deterioration.

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