Siân Ruddick looks at a new report that reveals how life for Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank has got even worse in the last 12 months
The human rights group B’Tselem reveals the horrific reality of daily life for Palestinians living under Israeli occupation in its annual report for 2011.
The experience varies from children arrested and detained for throwing stones to people barred from leaving Gaza to visit their families in the West Bank.
Jerusalem-based B’Tselem’s report shows that Israel’s repression has been unaffected by the revolutions throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
The country that loves to claim it is the only democracy in the region has been untouched by the democratic wave.
In 2011 Israeli authorities demolished 176 Palestinian homes in the West Bank, making 1,138 Palestinians homeless including 532 children.
This is an increase on the previous year when 108 homes were bulldozed, leaving 663 people without shelter. The majority of the demolitions are carried out against the Palestinian Bedouin in the Jordan Valley.
The Bedouin minority have been living and working in the West Bank for decades, since before the Israeli occupation began in 1967.
But Israel tells them they have no right to be there. The Israeli occupation force has always had a policy of heavy restrictions on construction in Palestinian areas. Therefore it deems hundreds of houses illegal—and bulldozes them.
Planning bodies are administered solely by Israeli officials. They use 70 year old rules from when Palestine was part of the British Empire and this part of the West Bank was classified as agricultural. The building ban does not apply to Israeli settlements.
The Israeli Civil Administration plans to expel some 27,000 people living in Bedouin communities. This will forcibly remove 2,300 Bedouin from their villages, moving them near the Abu Dis rubbish dump east of Jerusalem.
In contrast to the way that Palestinian homes are treated, Zionist settlements are expanding dramatically in the occupied territories.
Settlements are supposed to be illegal under international law. However the Israeli state calls its 100 illegal settlements “outposts” to mask the brutality necessary for their creation.
The settlers steal Palestinian land and act alongside Israeli troops, sometimes doing their bidding in the harassment and public beatings of Palestinians, including children.
From September 2000 to the end of 2011, B’Tselem made complaints about 57 incidents where Israeli state forces looked on while settlers attacked Palestinian homes. Investigations were opened in just four cases. In two of these no further measures were taken.
115 Palestinians killed by Israeli troops. 18 of them were aged under 18. 105 of these were killed in Gaza
12 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank by settlers shooting at villages
473 complaints of Israeli security forces using violence against Palestinians
200 cases were opened against soldiers. 134 were closed without any measures taken
244 complaints made against the police. 113 had no measures taken. In 77 cases no investigation was opened. Only 17 indictments were filed
On 7 January 2011 Israeli soldiers raided a small apartment block in the city of Hebron in the West Bank. On the bottom floor lived a Hamas activist wanted by the Israelis. On the top floor was Omar al-Qawasmeh, aged 66, and his wife and son.
Soldiers broke into Omar’s home and shot him dead while he was lying on the bed. He had bullet wounds in his head, chest and limbs.
It was only after the shooting that Israeli soldiers asked Omar’s wife his ID card. There was no investigation into the death.
Palestinians in Israeli prisons where they are held indefinitely without charge or trial are taking part in coordinated hunger strikes.
The Israelis held 307 Palestinians in administrative detention at the end of December 2011. This figure is up from 219 a year earlier and is the highest figure for three years. The Israeli Prison Service holds 4,281 Palestinians in total.
Israel’s blockade on Gaza has led to intense shortages of electricity, water and building supplies. More than one million Gazans rely on Israel for electricity.
There is a 30 percent gap between demand and supply of electricity. Electricity shortages hit water supply and treatment.
Only 5-10 percent of water in Gaza met World Health Organisation standards. The rest was polluted with chloride and nitrates. Some 45 percent of residents have running water for only six to eight hours every two days.
In May 2011 Egypt permanently opened the Rafah border allowing Palestinians to enter Egypt. But the crossing does not allow for legal transfer of goods.
This means that Gazans rely on Israel for imports and exports of food in particular. Alongside this, Israel’s prohibition on the import of raw materials has led to 95 percent of Gaza’s factories closing.
Unemployment in Gaza stood at 28 percent in December 2011. More than 70 percent of the population relies on food aid. Israel retains control of all tax and customs on the crossings.