The year 2015 marked the highest number of deaths and injuries among West Bank Palestinians caused by Israeli forces in a decade, a United Nations report has said. Israeli casualties – soldiers, civilians and settlers – in the West Bank and Israel were also the highest in that same period, according to the report.
Entitled Fragmented lives: Humanitarian overview 2015, the report has been released each year by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) in the occupied territories since 2011. It provides an overview of the causes of the humanitarian vulnerabilities in the occupied Palestinian territory in a given year.
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The 2015 report found the Israeli occupation “to be the main trigger of humanitarian needs among Palestinians in the occupied territory.”
“This month, Palestinians enter their 50th year under Israeli occupation. ‘Fragmented Lives’ shows clearly the devastating impact of this ongoing situation, mainly on 4.8 million Palestinians who are increasingly vulnerable due to violations of international humanitarian and human rights law,” said David Carden, head of UNOCHA in the occupied Palestinian territory, on Monday.
“We need a fundamental shift in the approach to the [occupied territory], particularly far greater respect for international law and concrete efforts towards accountability for those who violate it,” he said.
What this report highlights is that the years of coddling Israel through diplomacy have only created a sense of impunity in Israel whereby it can do whatever it wants and not pay a price.
The UN attributed the death of 146 Palestinians and 25 Israelis to the “policies and practices related to the Israeli occupation, including settler violence,” and an “upsurge in violence … marked by a sharp rise in stabbing, ramming, and shooting attacks by unaffiliated Palestinians against Israeli civilians and forces, and widespread clashes”.
The last quarter of 2015 saw a wave of lone-wolf attacks, largely by young disgruntled Palestinians, leading to the highest number of casualties among Israelis since 2005. The majority were killed in the West Bank, the rest in Israel proper, the report said.
But these incidents also raised concerns, the UN said, about Israel’s “excessive use of force and arbitrary deprivation of life, both in the context of clashes and in response to Palestinian attacks, including multiple cases where perpetrators and alleged perpetrators were shot and killed on the spot by Israeli forces.”
Among the Palestinian deaths were 30 children killed by Israeli soldiers and settlers, the highest figure recorded since 2006.
The report showed that the absolute majority of Palestinian injuries took place during clashes, mainly from tear gas inhalation, rubber-coated steel bullets and live ammunition shot by Israeli forces. “What this report highlights is that the years of coddling Israel through diplomacy have only created a sense of impunity in Israel whereby it can do whatever it wants and not pay a price,” said Diana Buttu, a lawyer and former adviser to the Palestine Liberation Organization.
“This serves to highlight the need to press for sanctions against Israel and to hold it accountable for these human rights abuses.”
While the number of settler violence incidents resulting in Palestinian deaths or damage to property dropped compared with in 2014, an arson attack by Israeli settlers left three members of a Palestinian family dead, and the lone survivor – a five-year-old boy – with burns over 60 percent of his body.
The number of damaged, stolen or uprooted trees in 2015 was the highest since 2006, the UN found.
“It is clear that Israeli state action – as manifested by killings, demolitions and imprisonment of children – is also matched by Israeli state inaction, namely the impunity granted to Israeli settlers to terrorise Palestinians,” Buttu said.
By the end of 2015, more than 6,000 Palestinians were incarcerated for “security” offences, the highest such number since 2010. More than 420 children were also imprisoned, including six held in administrative detention without charge or trial. Most of the offences were related to stone-throwing.
The report documented that Israeli practices in Area C – which covers 60 percent of the West Bank – and East Jerusalem, have helped to create “a coercive environment that undermines a Palestinian physical presence and exacerbates the risk of individual and mass forcible transfers.”
It said that the Israeli authorities’ planning system in Area C favours settlement interests, as it denies Palestinians from obtaining building permits: Between 2010 and 2014, Israel approved only 33 out of more than 2,000 applications submitted for building permits in Area C.
A similar system is in place in East Jerusalem, which “has resulted in only 13 per cent of the municipal area zoned for Palestinian construction, most of which is already built up.”
“The report recognises the Israeli intention of displacing Palestinian inhabitants of Area C, which is a step forward by an international organisation to unmask the real colonial objectives of the Israeli occupation towards expelling the Palestinians from their lands,” said Tariq Dana, a senior research fellow at Birzeit University.
“But generally speaking, such reports don’t end up in conclusions that blatantly call for the end of the occupation,” Dana added. “For example, the report recommends Israeli authorities to review the ‘rules of engagement,’ which may give a false impression that there are two relatively symmetric parties in conflict, or for calling for halting the ‘expansion of settlements’ rather than entirely dismantling them [for] violating international law.”
At least 70,000 Palestinians remain displaced after their homes were destroyed in the 2014 Israeli war, with Egypt’s closure of the Rafah crossing and the inter-Palestinian political feud contributing to the dire humanitarian situation.
The UN said there were positive increases in the movement of people and goods in and out of the Gaza Strip, but that access is still being impeded by permit requirements, with the nine-year-long blockade continuing to “undermine livelihoods and prevent the realisation of a broad range of human rights.”