Last Updated: Monday, 05 December 2016, 14:52 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2004 - West Bank and Gaza

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 25 May 2004
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2004 - West Bank and Gaza , 25 May 2004, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/40b4594b8.html [accessed 5 December 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) reported 923,000 Palestinian refugees in Gaza, and 665,000 in the West Bank in 2003. House demolitions left more than 7,000 Palestinians homeless and internally displaced in 2003, added to some 26,000 Palestinians who have been internally displaced in the territories since the start of the conflict.

New Developments

Conflict in the occupied territories of the Gaza Strip and West Bank continued throughout 2003, ending much like in previous years – with more turmoil and bloodshed and no end in sight.

With Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas negotiating the "Roadmap to Peace" with the European Union, UN, Russia, and the United States, Palestinian factions unilaterally pledged a cessation of violence, or hudna, for three months beginning in July. The calm lasted less than a month when an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) raid on suspected militants in a Nablus refugee camp killed two Palestinians – setting into motion a new cycle of violence, and a series of targeted assassinations by the IDF. Palestinian groups ended the hudna after just 50 days, and tension between Yasser Arafat and Abbas over the Roadmap – specifically regarding the rights of refugees – led Abbas to resign in September. The peace talks ground to a halt as Arafat formed a new government with Ahmad Qureia as the new prime minister.

Israeli construction of its separation barrier resumed in October, when the United States vetoed a UN Security Council draft resolution declaring it a violation of international law. The UN General Assembly called an emergency session and passed a resolution urging Israel to halt and dismantle what was already built but Israel did not comply.

The year ended with Israeli and Palestinian peace activists – led by former Israeli Justice Minister Yossi Beilin and former Palestinian Authority Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo – launching the unofficial Geneva Accord. The accord – first signed in Jordan in October – proposed a shared Jerusalem and Israeli turnover of 97 percent of the West Bank to the Palestinians, in exchange for the forfeit of any right of return for some 3.8 million refugees. Critics on both sides called the drafters traitors, and labeled the accord unworkable and unfair.

Israeli raids on refugee camps and other locations in the territories sharply escalated with the end of the hudna. In August, Israeli troops assassinated an Islamic Jihad military leader in Hebron. Two days later, a suicide bombing of an Egged bus in Jerusalem killed 21, prompting the retaliatory assassination of Hamas leader Ismail Abu Shanab. A female suicide bomber detonated a bomb in a Haifa restaurant on the eve of Yom Kippur, killing some 20 people and wounding almost 50 more.

For Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip, the last three months of the year proved to be the most violent. Five days after the Yom Kippur bombing, the IDF sealed off the Rafah camp in southern Gaza for almost two weeks. The military cut electricity and water supplies and in the first three days, destroyed more than 140 refugee homes. By the end of the incursion, at least 3,200 Palestinians were homeless and more than 15 dead.

Later in the month, the IDF used Apache helicopters to launch multiple air strikes on a car traveling near Nuseirat, killing 10 and wounding 40. Raids on the Khan Yunis refugee camp in mid-December destroyed more than 20 homes and left some 200 residents homeless. The year ended with an IDF raid on the Balata refugee camp in the West Bank in search of several wanted men. The siege began on December 26 and lasted for ten days, during which Israeli soldiers arrested dozens of Palestinians and killed three, none of whom were the original targets.

By year's end, the IDF assassinated 37 Palestinian leaders and some 10 bystanders, and Palestinian suicide bombers conducted 26 attacks against Israeli targets. The death toll for 2003 stood at nearly 900 Palestinians and 200 Israelis, with more than 100 Palestinian and 20 Israeli children killed. Still, the level of violence against Israelis decreased by 30 percent from the previous year, and the number of Israeli casualties dropped by half.

A total of 1,817 Israeli checkpoints and roadblocks crossed the Territories by the end of the year. Israel maintained its general closure policy for the territories – in place since 1989 with respect to the Gaza Strip and 1993 for the West Bank – preventing Palestinians, with the exception of residents of East Jerusalem, from traveling into Israel or East Jerusalem. During the year, Israel sealed off villages and areas in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in many cases for weeks at a time. The Israeli army also imposed curfews on Palestinians in the areas under its control, only permitting them to leave their homes for several hours each week, creating a devastating impact on the economy, health care, education, and other aspects of life in the territories. Israel's separation barrier contributed to the restrictions on movement that prevented many Palestinians from receiving medical care in emergencies. UNRWA estimates that the barrier, when completed, will block more than 150,000 Palestinian refugees from reaching schools, hospitals, and other humanitarian services. The Israeli authorities require all Palestinians residing in the areas under Israeli control to obtain permits before traveling to other countries, but Palestinians rarely travel abroad for fear of being denied reentry.

UNRWA and Emergency Relief

UNRWA tried to rebuild hundreds of homes and shelters in the West Bank and Gaza destroyed in IDF raids during the year. A funding shortfall of roughly 60 percent coupled with the daily burden of occupation – roadblocks, closures, curfews, and military operations – impeded the effort. By the end of 2003, as the humanitarian situation deteriorated dramatically and the demands on the agency increased, UNRWA had only received 45 percent of its budgetary needs, forcing the Agency to cutback severely their education, health, and shelter repair and reconstruction programs.

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