31 December 2013 |

Palestine: Internal displacement in brief

As of December 2013

 

IDMC estimates that there were at least 146,000 IDPs in Palestine as of the end of 2013, some of whom fled their homes as long ago as 1967. As confirmed cumulative figures do no go back beyond 2006, the estimate provides only a snapshot of the long history of displacement in Palestine, which is both a cause and a consequence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Since Israel’s creation in 1948, displacement in Palestine has been triggered by Israeli policies that aim to acquire land, redefine demographic boundaries and divest Palestinians of ownership guaranteed under international law. Military incursions such as those into Gaza in 2008 and 2012, and violence and human rights violations associated with them, have also forced people to flee.

The Israeli authorities’ demolition of civilian property in the West Bank displaced at least 1,100 Palestinians, including 558 children, during 2013. OHCHR has highlighted the serious nature of these displacements, noting that the number of demolitions was 20 per cent higher than in 2012. It also expressed its concern about the forced eviction and potential forcible transfer of herding communities in Makhul in the north of the Jordan Valley and Az Za’ayyem on the edge of Jerusalem. The Israeli authorities offered no alternative housing options to those affected, and denied humanitarian organisations access to provide emergency shelter assistance. As of December, this group of IDPs faced the risk of multiple displacements, because of the lack of tenure security in Area C of the West Bank and the Israeli’s army’s restrictive and prohibitive planning and permit systems. The homes of 41 Palestinians were destroyed on the eve of winter storm Alexa, which hit the Middle East in December, leaving them without shelter or livelihood opportunities just as the weather was deteriorating.

These cases are the most well documented examples of new displacement, but countless more Palestinians have also been forced to flee their homes or remain in protracted displacement. The causes of their displacement include military incursions and clearing operations, land appropriation measures, evictions, settlement expansion, movement and access restrictions, settler violence, revocation of residency rights and restricted access to livelihood opportunities and services. 

In the Gaza Strip, the air, land and sea blockade entered its seventh year, leading to a severe loss of livelihoods and the further impoverishment of already vulnerable IDPs. Extensive restrictions on the movement of people and goods prevented the reconstruction of homes and hampered the delivery of assistance to more than 12,600 IDPs who fled their homes during Israeli military operations in 2008 and 2012. Most construction materials, including concrete, aggregate and steel, remain on Israel’s “dual use” list of items designated for civilian use but which it deems useful in military situations, and as such are heavily restricted.

The imposition of “access restricted areas” (ARAs) covering more than 35 per cent of Gaza’s most fertile land also continued, resulting in an estimated annual loss of $50 million in agricultural produce. This at the same time as OCHA reported that 57 per cent of Gaza households were food insecure and 80 per cent dependent on aid. Access to ARAs and reconstruction in them is not allowed, making an already deteriorating economic and humanitarian situation worse for IDPs displaced by their imposition in the first place.

Towards the end of July, the humanitarian situation in Gaza was made worse still when Egyptian security forces destroyed 80 per cent of the smuggling tunnels beneath the Egypt-Gaza border. The tunnels had become a vital unofficial coping mechanism, providing many people in Gaza, including IDPs, with essentials such as food, medicine, fuel and building materials that are otherwise restricted or prohibitively expensive.

The West Bank and Gaza have been under belligerent occupation since 1967, and as such Israel remains legally responsible for the wellbeing of Palestinians and should take all necessary steps to prevent their displacement. Instead, it has actively contributed to it in the areas under its direct control. The Israeli authorities have also routinely seized, confiscated or destroyed assistance provided by humanitarian agencies responding to displacement and development agencies working to prevent communities at risk of it. These measures prompted the usually taciturn ICRC to speak out against them.