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Palestinians on Verge of Humanitarian Catastrophe

Palestinians on Verge of Humanitarian Catastrophe -

By Genevieve Cora Fraser

Over 9% of children under-5 suffer irreversible brain damage Due to Israeli policies, UN Right to Food Report reveals

Last May, as part of the Road Map to Peace, the Bush Administration pushed hard and Israel capitulated in an effort to stay on President Bush's good side. So in July, Israel welcomed a UN sponsored mission to investigate conditions in the Palestinian Territories occupied by Israel since 1967. The United Nations has now released a summary of "The Right to Food, a Report by the Special UN Rapporteur Jean Ziegler," one of the world's foremost specialists in the field.

For openers, Ziegler reports that the Occupied Palestinian Territory is "on the verge of humanitarian catastrophe, as the result of extremely harsh military measures that the occupying Israeli military forces have imposed in response to the outbreak of the second intifada in September 2000."

Over 22% of Palestinian children less than five years old are suffering from either acute or chronic malnutrition; of these 9.3% now suffer from irreversible brain damage due to the starvation conditions brought on by Israeli policies. Food consumption has fallen 30 per cent on average per person and 60 per cent of Palestinian households now live in acute poverty. Half of them depend on international food aid, which is increasingly in short supply. Zeigler finds these conditions absurd considering that Palestine was formerly a middle-class economy.

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The extensive imposition of closures, curfews and permit systems constitutes a violation of the obligation to respect the right to food, Ziegler states. It threatens the physical and economic access to food, as well as food availability. While acknowledging that Israelis live under the threat of suicide attacks by Palestinians bombers, Palestinians also live in fear, the report states. "Women and children are often killed in their homes or on crowed streets by Israeli military operations targeting Palestinian leaders."

"The Israeli government has the right and obligation to assure the security of its citizens," Ziegler said. "As any other sensible human being, I deeply regret the violence that has cost the lives of over 800 Israelis and 2,700 Palestinians in the past three years."

"But the widespread denial of adequate food and water to people living under occupation constitutes an act of collective punishment prohibited under international law," he said. Water shortages in the Occupied Palestinian Territory are very serious.

"Closures have also caused water shortages," according to Zeigler. "With the system of checkpoints and road closures in place, water tankers cannot always reach villages or are not permitted to cross checkpoints, leaving communities without water for days at a time."

Communities outside of Nablus such as Burin have no independent water supply. They are therefore completely dependent on water deliveries, which are severely disrupted by closures. The village of Beit Furik was deliberately prevented from receiving water for at least nine consecutive days since no water tankers were allowed in the village, the report asserts.

Approximately 280 rural communities have no access to wells or running water. These communities are completely dependent on water deliveries by municipal and private water tankers whose main supply of water is from an Israeli water company. The price for this water, which is substandard and frequently contaminated with water borne diseases, has been raised by 80% in the last three years as a result of the transport costs due to the closures.

According to the World Bank, Israel has caused about $140 million dollars worth of damage to Palestine's water and wastewater infrastructure. Damage inflicted on agriculture has reached $217 million. Between September 2000 and May 2003, the occupying forces uprooted hundreds of thousands of olive, citrus and other fruit trees. They also destroyed 806 wells and 296 agricultural warehouses, tore up 2,000 roads and blocked thousands of others with concrete and dirt mounds.

The Palestinian Hydrology Group reports that in the nine months between June 2002 and February 2003, there were 42 water tankers and 9,128 Palestinian roof top water tanks destroyed by Israel. And in the Bethlehem area, the occupying army severed the water connections by destroying the pipes.

Oxfam reports that the occupying Power extracts more than 85% of the water from the West Bank aquifer despite the fact that it is the Palestinians who are entitled to this water. Palestine is also entitled to the Gaza aquifer and the water from the Jordon River; however, irrigated farmland along the Jordon River has been declared a closed military area which Palestinians cannot use.

Along the Gaza strip, there are 6,429 Israeli settlers occupying 45% of the land, while 1 million Palestinians live on the remainder. This results in a population density for the Palestinians that is one of the highest in the world, and almost 100 times greater than that of the Israelis. Meanwhile, statistics suggest that Israelis receive and use five times more water than Palestinians.

Under international law, as the occupying Power, the State of Israel bears an obligation to facilitate and ensure access to food and water to the civilian Palestinian population as well as to facilitate access for impartial organizations providing emergency assistance. A year ago last December, the occupying army exploded a warehouse containing 537 tons of food aide largely funded by the European Union.

It is clear from the UN Report on the Right to Food that instead of meeting their obligation, the State of Israel has done everything in its power to deny adequate access of food and water to the Palestinians. The result is that acute malnutrition and dehydration conditions exist for many if not most Palestinians.

These conditions render the population especially vulnerable to diseases, some of which are supplied through water-borne carriers found in the substandard water resources provided. Israeli policies also target the hope of Palestine, the youngest, most vulnerable children who will never thrive, because they have been horribly, irreversibly damaged by withholding the basics of life, the right to food and water.

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