U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2007 - Israeli-Occupied Territories

Israeli-Occupied Territories


Refoulement/Physical Protection

In 2006, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) killed nearly 700 Palestinians in the Occupied Territories (including more than a hundred minors), a majority of whom were not engaged in hostilities at the time, and injured about 3,200. Of the overall total, Israeli forces killed nearly 70 Palestinians inside refugee camps (including 13 minors), about half of them noncombatants. Factional strife and clan feuds increased late in the year, with 17 Palestinians killed and 75 injured. Palestinians killed 17 Israeli civilians (1 a minor) and 4 soldiers in the West Bank and Israel.

In February, the IDF attacked Nablus and the Balata refugee camp in the West Bank, killing five and injuring more than 24. In July and August, conflict with Israeli authorities following the June capture of Israeli soldier Gilat Shilat by Palestinian militants resulted in more than 200 Palestinians killed and more than 700 injured. In early October, fighting between Hamas and Fatah supporters killed 11 Palestinians and left more than 100 injured, mostly civilians.

In November, Israel's six-day incursion into the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanoun, whose residents are nearly all Palestinian refugees, killed 82 and injured 260. In one pre-dawn attack, the IDF fired at least a dozen 155 mm artillery shells into a densely populated area, killing 18, mostly women and children from the same extended family, and injuring dozens. Hamas and Islamic Jihad retaliated with indiscriminate rocket attacks on Israel, killing a 57-year-old woman in the town of Sderot and injuring others.

From July through December, the IDF injured 26 Palestinians it found within 164 yards (150 meters) of the perimeter fence between Israel and Gaza. In August, an IDF helicopter killed two men in Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank. In December, fighting between Fatah and Hamas killed 17 in Gaza. Hamas and the IDF both used civilians as human shields throughout the year, although hundreds of refugees in Jabalia camp in Gaza also voluntarily protected with their presence a number of houses threatened with an Israeli attack.

There were no reports of forcible transfer by Israel of Palestinians from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip.

Israel withdrew its military and its settlements from the Gaza Strip in 2005, but retained control over the entry and exit of people and goods, airspace, territorial waters, tax revenue, utilities, and population registry. In July 2006, Israel invaded and reoccupied three former Jewish settlements.

Detention/Access to Courts

Israel held more than 9,000 Palestinians, including refugees, at year's end. Of the overall number detained, a military tribunal sentenced about 6,000, some 2,100 were in proceedings, and about 800 were in administrative detention. Authorities could hold administrative detainees without charge or trial for up to six months, with unlimited possibility of extension in six-month increments by military judges. Appeal was possible to a military judge, but there was little chance of success as the IDF based the detentions on secret information. Israel held about 900 Gazans in prisons in Israel proper except for one in the West Bank that did not permit family visits.

According to a UN Special Rapporteur after a June visit, arrests "were frequently accompanied by destruction and trashing of property, beatings, the unleashing of dogs into houses, humiliating strip searches, and early morning raids." The IDF conducted nearly 400 search campaigns in West Bank refugee camps during the year.

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) issued registration cards to refugee families. Israeli authorities granted identity documents to individual refugees according to their place of residence (Jerusalem or West Bank ID cards). Palestinians present in East Jerusalem and other Israel-annexed areas held permanent residence status, as did some of their descendents.

Military police forwarded to the military attorney general the findings of their investigation into the 2005 shooting of an unarmed 13-year-old boy during an IDF raid on the Askar refugee camp near Nablus. An IDF inquiry had earlier concluded that the soldiers violated rules of engagement. Investigations into the 2005 IDF raid on Tulkarm refugee camp that killed five unarmed Palestinians also remained incomplete. The IDF conducted an internal inquiry into its shelling of Beit Hanoun but did not address either accountability or whether the attack was a violation of international law. Human Rights Watch (HRW) called for a more comprehensive investigation to allocate individual and command responsibility, including any criminal responsibility, for the IDF's firing of some 15,000 shells into Gaza since September 2005, which killed 49 civilians and injured dozens more. HRW also criticized the IDF for dismissing physical evidence contradicting the IDF account of events in its investigation into the June 2006 Gaza beach shelling that killed eight. The Israeli human rights nongovernmental organization, Yesh Din, reported that police closed 90 percent of Palestinian complaints against Israelis without filing charges, including some 79 percent of complaints involving violence.

Freedom of Movement and Residence

Authorities did not restrict refugees' places of residence but the entire Palestinian population, including refugees, was subject to severe movement restrictions and required Israeli permits to travel between West Bank and Gaza, to enter East Jerusalem, to enter Israel, or to travel abroad. The Government could deny permits for any or no reason without meaningful appeal.

About 186,000 Palestinian refugees, more than a fourth of the refugees in the West Bank, lived in 19 camps. Some 478,000 refugees (47 percent) lived in eight camps in Gaza, some of the densest human settlements in the world. In August, the IDF said it would allow Palestinians to cross into the Jordan Valley at the Hamra, Tayasir, Ma'ale Efrayim, and Yitav checkpoints if they had Valley residency written on their IDs (about 50,000 did), permits to work in Israeli settlements in the Valley (in August, the IDF issued 7,000), or Jericho IDs with a West Bank checkpoint permit.

Some 330 refugees moved and transferred their registration to the West Bank from other fields of UNRWA operations. About 500 refugees registered in the West Bank moved and changed their registrations to other countries of UNRWA operations, mainly for marriage.

About 25 percent of the 230,000 Palestinians with East Jerusalem residence permits resided east of the separation barrier and had to wait in line to cross at one of four terminals to enter Jerusalem for services and jobs. A complex and erratic system of permits for specific barrier gates curtailed the movement of Palestinians to Jerusalem and the areas between the barrier and the Green Line of the 1949 armistice.

Curfews in the West Bank, combined with about 520 checkpoints (up from 470 the year before) and the barrier and its associated regulations, cut the territory into three areas and impeded refugees from visiting families, places of work, schools, medical facilities, and farmland. The IDF deployed an average of nearly 600 mobile flying checkpoints per month (up from nearly 200 the year before) for a few hours at a time, often on key transit roads during peak travel times. Israel maintained 40 permanent, staffed checkpoints, preventing movement between Palestinian communities inside the West Bank, and another 32 checkpoints as the last inspection points between the West Bank and Israel, some of which were well inside the West Bank. Israel also put up hundreds of physical obstructions, closing off roads and preventing access to and from Palestinian communities. These obstructions included more than 200 dirt piles at entrances to villages, towns, refugee camps, or roads; about 24 miles (40 km) of fences along roadways; 21 miles (35 km) of meter-high fence, primarily in the southern Hebron hills; some 18 miles (30 km) of trenches to prevent vehicles from crossing; and 69 locked gates at entrances to villages.

Palestinians who left Gaza could do so only through the Rafah border terminal with Egypt. The Rafah terminal was closed for much of 2006, so only about 5,100 persons were able to exit and a similar number return through this crossing. Rafah was open for only 21 days between June and November for an average of less than two hours each day. Israel controlled the Palestinian population registry and denied tens of thousands the identity papers necessary for return after any crossing.

In 2002, Israel began erecting a physical barrier to separate Israel and the West Bank. In most areas, it consisted of an electronic fence with dirt paths, barbed-wire fences, and trenches on both sides with an average width of 66 yards (60 m), but in some areas the barrier was a wall up to nine yards (8.5 m) high. In the 2004 Beit Sourik case, Israel's High Court ruled that much of the original route was illegal and that the state must propose another. The cabinet approved a new route in 2005, but one that would leave 80 percent of the barrier inside the West Bank and cut off nearly 12 percent of the West Bank, including all of East Jerusalem. At year's end, Israel had completed almost 60 percent of the total 423 miles of the barrier.

Thousands of Palestinians left the territories – some 10,000 between June and October alone – especially from Gaza. Many left for either Canada, which allowed legal immigration, or Cuba, in which many did not actually arrive – having applied for asylum in Europe while in transit. Travel agencies in Gaza raised their prices for fictitious invitations, hotel bookings, and Cuban visas from $200 to $1,500 because of high demand and risk. Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, and some of their descendents, could live where they wished in Israel with much the same rights as non-citizen immigrants, but with no right to return if they left the country.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

Israel and major donors virtually froze banking transactions following the January election of a new, Hamas-led government in the territories. This freeze resulted in the nonpayment of salaries of some 160,000 employees of the Palestinian Authority (PA), of whom some 75,000 were refugee families. The PA employed some 32 percent of the refugee population, compared to 20 percent of non-refugees. Since February, Israel withheld monthly payments to the PA of $50 to $55 million in taxes and customs duties collected on behalf of the PA but approved the transfer of $100 million of these frozen taxes to the PA president in December.

The number of Palestinians from Gaza working in Israel dropped from about 100,000 before the second intifada to about 4,500 sporadically granted access between January and March. From April onwards, Israel permitted only Palestinian traders holding special permits and emergency humanitarian cases to cross.

Israel frequently closed the Karni crossing, the only export route from the Gaza Strip and a major import terminal, with devastating impact on small- and medium-sized businesses in the territory. When it was open, it was often only for a limited amount of goods or time. The average number of trucks leaving Gaza was 17 per day, far fewer than the 400 per day Gaza needed to serve its 1.4 million inhabitants and set by the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access. Israel allowed an average of 42 traders per month to cross, compared to 107 in 2005.

Israel closed Karni for nearly half of the winter agricultural season, causing $30 million in losses from January to March to the sector that employed 4,200 manual workers. Of the total 2005-06 harvest in the former Israeli settlement areas in Gaza, which was a little less than 15,400 tons of produce, Palestinian farmers could only export fewer than 551 tons or about three percent. Although they sold about 3,750 tons in local markets and through Israeli wholesalers, they had to give away or destroy the vast majority of the crops.

Israel limited fishing to within six nautical miles off Gaza for most of 2006. Following the June abduction of an Israeli soldier, Israel restricted fishing to within one nautical mile and, during IDF operations, banned fishing entirely. In November, authorities extended the limit to 10 nautical miles. Israeli warships patrolling the area often shot at or arrested Palestinian fishermen for exceeding the limit.

By the end of the year, unemployment in the West Bank stood at more than 25 percent and was even higher among refugee camp dwellers. Employment in Israel or Israeli settlements declined to about 70,000 from 116,000 before the intifada. Tens of thousands of Palestinians living around Jerusalem lost access to jobs and commercial services in the city due to the separation barrier. Demolitions by the Jerusalem Municipality and the Ministry of the Interior left about 100 families (more than 500 individuals) homeless in 2006, while Israel built 90,000 homes for Jews in East Jerusalem. Some 15,000 other buildings in the area also had demolition orders. The IDF demolished at least 153 Palestinian structures in the West Bank – nearly 26 percent of which belonged to refugees and included 73 residential houses, 41 farm structures, 31 stores, and eight public facilities – for reasons including lack of construction permits (63 percent), proximity to completed sections of the barrier (six percent), or ownership by a wanted Palestinian (24 percent). In the Gaza Strip, Israel destroyed nearly 300 homes housing more than 1,700 people, many during military operations. In addition, Israel demolished houses it claimed housed weapons or militants and nearly 50 houses built without permits, which were difficult for Palestinians to get in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Israeli authorities confiscated land along the planned route of the separation barrier, including that of refugees. They offered some compensation, but most Palestinians refused it fearing to legitimize the seizures. In addition, those who tried to accept it had difficulty establishing their title to the standards Israeli courts demanded. The barrier's construction had already isolated over 88 square miles (230 km2) of the West Bank's most fertile land – about 15 percent of all West Bank agricultural land. Palestinian communities east of the barrier had difficulties reaching farm and grazing land. Based on its planned route, the barrier would isolate the 60,500 Palestinians living near it or between it and the Green Line from the rest of the West Bank and their main sources of livelihoods and completely encircle some 31,400. The telephone company and others refused to carry out maintenance in Shu'fat refugee camp, which was inside the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem but cut off by the barrier.

Public Relief and Education

Some 2.7 million Palestinians – about two-thirds of all households – lived below the poverty line, up 40 percent in the first half of the year over the previous year, with more than 2.4 million in extreme poverty, i.e., unable to provide for food, clothing, and housing. More than 72 percent of refugee households were below the poverty line, compared to about 61 percent of nonrefugee households in the territories. UNRWA gave about 82,500 refugee families emergency food aid; an additional 36,500 refugee families emergency cash; and employed over 20,000 refugees, who themselves supported more than 148,000 dependants, in emergency job creation/rotation schemes. Palestinians registered with UNRWA received more humanitarian aid than the general population.

UNRWA ran 95 free elementary and preparatory schools, three vocational training centers, 37 health facilities, and one hospital in the West Bank. Between late May and mid-July, the IDF wounded Palestinian medical emergency personnel and damaged ambulances at least six times in Gaza, in two cases using unmanned surveillance drones capable of precision targeting.

In February, the IDF entered an UNRWA girls' school in Balata refugee camp and made it a detention center and military post for three days, disrupting education and damaging the buildings. There were seven such incursions into UNRWA schools and training centers, during the year, and one in the UNRWA hospital in Qalqilya.

On more than 800 occasions in the West Bank, the IDF delayed or denied UNRWA and its contracted vehicles passage to deliver humanitarian aid, including food, medicine, mobile health, and food distribution teams. Tens of thousands of Palestinians living around Jerusalem lost access to schools in the city due to the separation barrier. The barrier also cut off the two most advanced Palestinian hospitals, one of which, Augusta Victoria, is the primary hospital serving Palestinian refugees. The Shu'fat refugee camp in Jerusalem, home to about 10,000, was outside the barrier's route and separated from the rest of the city, hindering access to education, medical facilities, and services.

Refugees in Gaza were entitled to UNRWA education, health, relief, and social services. Unemployment rose from about 33 percent to nearly 42 percent during the year, and already high poverty levels rose by over two percent. By the middle of the year, nearly 57 percent of Gaza households received emergency aid. UNRWA ran nearly 200 elementary and preparatory schools and one vocational training center in Gaza, most with two shifts and up to 50 pupils per class. UNRWA had 18 free primary clinics in Gaza and provided food, cash, and housing aid to refugees. The number of repeat visits to UNRWA's free clinics increased by nearly 330,000 during the year, mostly due to an inability to pay at the PA clinics, which charged for some services.

Israeli border and crossing point closures and restrictions on crossing permits for local staff hindered humanitarian aid delivery to refugees in Gaza. By year's end, UNRWA had nearly 400 empty containers inside Gaza awaiting return to depots in Israel and 154 containers in Israel awaiting delivery to Gaza – all were accruing additional charges and hampering aid delivery. Such restrictions cost the agency about $2 million throughout the year.

During the six-day Beit Hanoun incursion in November, nearly 10,500 refugees lost six school days. The UNRWA health clinic also closed for the six days, except for one three-hour period, preventing up to 4,200 consultations or medical services. More than 400 UNRWA staff members residing and/or working in Beit Hanoun – often refugees themselves – could not reach their duty stations – a loss of more than 17,300 working hours. In December, fighting between Fatah and Hamas in Gaza closed schools in Khan Younis city and the Jabalia, Beach, and Bureij refugee camps.

In October, Palestinian gunmen broke into the UNRWA office in Rafah in Gaza, fired shots in the air and inside the building, and demanded money to reconstruct their home, which the Israeli Air Force had destroyed five days earlier.


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