Humanitarian Access to West Bank decreasing in spite of growing need.

The occupied West Bank’s supposedly favored status over Gaza is not protecting ordinary Palestinians’ health, safety, or welfare, reports the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).  “Already, UN agencies are seeing increasing restrictions at crossings into the West Bank similar to those already in place into Gaza.”

OCHA Fact Sheet: Increasing need, decreasing access:
Humanitarian access to the West Bank

UN agencies have been informed by Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) and Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials that all crossings into the occupied Palestinian territory will be standardized by the end of 2007 by which time much of the construction of the Barrier will be completed. Already, UN agencies are seeing increasing restrictions at crossings into the West Bank similar to those already in place into Gaza. This Fact Sheet explains how existing and planned restrictions will seriously impair the ability of humanitarian organisations to operate.

Humanitarian supplies into the West Bank:

Until January 2007 the crossing regime consisted of twelve crossings at which humanitarian organisations could truck supplies through the Barrier. Trucks were allowed to drive directly into the West Bank from Israel and containers cleared at the port of entry could be taken directly to West Bank destinations.

The IDF was the sole controlling authority at all crossings; final responsibility rested with the Ministry of Defense through the office of Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories.

Since January there has been a steady tightening of restrictions on the access for humanitarian goods and a reduction in the number of crossings that can be used.

By early 2008 the planned regime will include:

A reduction from 12 crossings to five for all import and export trucks. A sixth crossing near Bethlehem (Mazmouria) is scheduled to open towards the end of 2008. Three of the six crossings – Beitunya, Mazmouria and Tarqumiya – are inside the Green Line on Palestinian territory.

A ‘back-to-back’ system will be installed whereby goods will have to be unloaded from trucks on the Israeli side of the Barrier, scanned, and then loaded onto trucks on the Palestinian side, and vice versa.

Goods will have to be on palettes and scanned. Container loads may have to be ‘palettised’ in Israel before crossing into Israel or into the West Bank. Even if UN goods can remain in containers, UN agencies are concerned that the Palestinian transport sector will not have sufficient trucks requiring multiple contracts and resulting in long delays. They are also concerned that certain commodities may be restricted, as is currently the case in Gaza. For example, 20% of UNRWA’s humanitarian supplies are not amenable to containerisation.

A variety of authorities will be at the barrier crossing points including IDF, Border Police, civil Police, private security firms and Customs Department officers, answering to at least three different Ministries which will preclude a common and coherent chain of command.

Impact: The impact on humanitarian services will be serious. There will be large additional costs for more trucks, drivers, and handling. Long delays, and damage to goods through extra handling can be foreseen. The security of goods will not be guaranteed. Humanitarian organisations anticipate major difficulty meeting the needs of the population.

UNRWA has stated; “We will be unable to meet the needs of the population if these conditions exist”.

Full_Report (pdf* format – 1.2 Mbytes)

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