Israeli restrictions hinder Palestinians’ access to health care: World Bank

Israeli restrictions hinder Palestinians’ access to health care: World Bank
Poverty in the Palestinian territories was on the rise, with one out of four Palestinians living below the poverty line, the Washington-based global lender said (AFP)
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Updated 18 September 2023
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Israeli restrictions hinder Palestinians’ access to health care: World Bank

Israeli restrictions hinder Palestinians’ access to health care: World Bank
  • Thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip cross annually into Israel for medical treatment unavailable in the impoverished Palestinian territories

JERUSALEM: Israel’s restrictions and rising fiscal constraints in the Palestinian territories are severely impacting the economic conditions of Palestinians and hindering their access to timely life-saving health care, the World Bank said Monday.
In a report titled “Racing Against Time,” the World Bank said that overall the Palestinian economy was performing below potential, with per capita income expected to stagnate.
Poverty in the Palestinian territories was on the rise, with one out of four Palestinians living below the poverty line, the Washington-based global lender said.

FASTFACT

Poverty in the Palestinian territories was on the rise, with one out of four Palestinians living below the poverty line, the World Bank said.

Israel’s restrictions on movement and trade in the occupied West Bank, the blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip and the divide between the two Palestinian territories were among several factors that had put the Palestinian economy at high risk, the report said.
“The fiscal constraints weigh heavily on the Palestinian health system and particularly on its ability to cope with the mounting burden of non-communicable diseases,” Stefan Emblad, the World Bank’s director for the West Bank and Gaza, said in a statement released with the report.
The restrictions, including “a lengthy, bureaucratic regime of permits,” often makes it hard to provide timely life-saving health care to Palestinians, he said.
Access to outside medical referrals for treatment of cancers, heart diseases, and maternal and child birth conditions are significantly affected due to physical and administrative constraints, the statement said.
“The situation is particularly critical in Gaza, which suffers from a more limited health system capacity and where patients struggle to get needed medical exit permit applications on a timely basis,” it said.
“Research figures show that the near-blockade of Gaza has had an impact on mortality, as some patients do not outlive the length of the permit process.”
Thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip cross annually into Israel for medical treatment unavailable in the impoverished Palestinian territories.
Israel has occupied the West Bank — now home to some three million Palestinians — since the 1967 Six-Day War, when it also seized the Gaza Strip, the densely populated coastal enclave it has since withdrawn from.
Last year, Israel issued entry permits for more than 110,000 medical visits for West Bank residents, according to COGAT, the Israeli defense ministry body overseeing civilian affairs in the Palestinian territories.
More than 17,000 such permits were issued during the same period to Palestinians from Gaza, where 2.3 million people live.
An Israeli blockade imposed by Israel since the Islamist movement Hamas rose to power in 2007 has also obstructed medical supplies to the enclave.
The World Bank urged Israel and Palestinian authorities to better manage such medical cases and ease the permit process in a bid to provide timely health care assistance to patients and their companions.
Overall the Palestinian economy has been stagnating for the past five years, Emblad said, adding it was not expected to improve unless policies on the ground change.
“Given population growth trends, income per capita is thus expected to stagnate,” the World Bank said.


How Israeli settlers are exploiting Gaza conflict to seize more Palestinian land in the West Bank

How Israeli settlers are exploiting Gaza conflict to seize more Palestinian land in the West Bank
Updated 13 sec ago
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How Israeli settlers are exploiting Gaza conflict to seize more Palestinian land in the West Bank

How Israeli settlers are exploiting Gaza conflict to seize more Palestinian land in the West Bank
  • Forced evictions and disputes over land in the West Bank have increased since the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack
  • Israeli authorities are accused of actively undermining decades-old prohibition on settlement expansion

LONDON: As Israel’s military campaign in Gaza approaches its sixth month, Western governments have upped the pressure on “extremist” settlers who critics say are taking advantage of the conflict to illegally occupy more Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank.

In recent months, violence by extremist Israeli settlers has triggered Western sanctions, with more such penalties expected to be announced in the coming weeks and months. But that did not deter Bezalel Smotrich, Israel’s finance minister, from approving last week the construction of more than 3,000 new settlement homes in response to a deadly shooting attack in the West Bank.

Peace Now, an Israeli nongovernmental organization that advocates for the two-state solution and which condemns the behavior of Israeli settlers in the West Bank, said 26 new communities had sprung up over the past 12 months, making 2023 a record year for new illegal settlements.

Yonatan Mizrachi, part of the Settlement Watch Team at Peace Now, said it was not unusual to see new outposts pop up in the West Bank during periods of violence in Gaza when the international community was distracted.

“Since the war there is much less, if any, enforcement from the Israeli Civil Administration to remove the illegal outposts,” Mizrachi told Arab News. “The settlers are using these periods to increase their illegal work and build new outposts, roads and other bits of infrastructure.”

On Friday, the US restored its longstanding policy that settlements are inconsistent with international law, just hours after Smotrich announced the plan to advance the construction of thousands of new settlement homes.

“It’s been long-standing US policy under Republican and Democratic administrations alike that new settlements are counterproductive to reaching an enduring peace,” Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, said on Friday.

The approval of a record number of settlement homes last year and the expansion of settler presence in the West Bank led the Biden administration to summon the Israeli ambassador in Washington for the first time in over a decade.

Under the far-right coalition government led by Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli authorities appear to have actively undermined the decades-old prohibition on settlement expansion, marrying Israeli law to settler practices.

Those changes have helped legalize 15 West Bank outposts, with the government also moving to promote the construction of 12,349 housing units across the West Bank — another new record.

In a recent statement, Peace Now cited data from the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem: “In direct relation to the establishment of these outposts, approximately 1,345 Palestinians were forced to flee from their homes due to violent attacks by settlers.”

These new outposts have spelled disaster for Palestinians, with 21 communities forced from their homes over the past 12 months — 16 of them since the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attacks on southern Israel that sparked the current war in Gaza.

Such forced evictions and disputes over land use have long contributed to localized violence between settlers and Palestinian residents. According to the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, such violence has escalated since the war began.

Using data from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the NGO highlighted 532 settler attacks on Palestinians between Oct. 7 and Feb. 14, which included shootings and the burning of homes, resulting in casualties and property damage.

“Prior to Oct. 7, settlements and settler-driven displacement had already been increasing in the occupied West Bank in recent years,” a spokesperson for GCR2P told Arab News.

“Since Oct. 7 the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has reported that settlers carrying out these attacks are at times acting with the acquiescence and collaboration of Israeli forces and authorities.”

UN data also reveals the extent of the resulting displacement in the occupied West Bank, with 4,525 Palestinian-owned structures demolished or destroyed since 2019.

INNUMBERS

• 26 Israeli settlements established in the West Bank in 2023 alone — a new annual record.

• 21 Palestinian communities displaced over the past 12 months — 16 of them since Oct. 7.

• 532 Recorded settler attacks on Palestinians between Oct. 7 and Feb. 14.

Source: Peace Now, OCHA

Although Western governments have been slow to censure Israel for its conduct in Gaza, they have taken a clearer stance on the need to prevent the expansion of West Bank settlements, which they view as undermining the potential for a future Palestinian state.

Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits an occupying power from transferring parts of its civilian population into occupied territory, also known as “settler implantation.”

GCR2P’s spokesperson said: “This settler implantation and settler activity is therefore in violation of Israel’s obligations as the occupying power under international humanitarian law.

“Settlement expansion effectively guarantees that the occupied territory will remain under Israeli control in perpetuity leading to de facto annexation.” 

Canada, France, the UK and the US have all moved against Israeli settlers, with sanctions ranging from travel bans to restrictions prohibiting trade and the blocking of assets, while some Israeli financial institutions have followed suit, freezing the accounts of four men.

A spokesperson for the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office told Arab News there has been a long-held opposition in the UK to Israeli settlement expansion.

“Settlements are illegal under international law, present an obstacle to peace and threaten the viability of a two-state solution,” the spokesperson said.

“We repeatedly urge Israel to halt all settlement expansion in the West Bank and hold those responsible for settler violence to account.”

Announcing sanctions against four “extremist” settlers on Feb. 14, David Cameron, the UK’s foreign secretary, said: “Israel must also take stronger action to put a stop to settler violence.”

Mizrachi of Peace Now said the sanctions had been a “big deal” in Israel. “I think and hope it will have an effect on all levels, but we also need the Israeli public to be more active against the settlements,” he said.

“I think we have to wait and see how and if the Israeli government will change its policy when it comes to the ‘settlements enterprise.’

“I believe that a different government — a less pro-settler government — will definitely think twice before allowing the settlers to violate the law and build so many new outposts. With the current government, though, we will have to wait and see.”

Lawmakers in Israel have responded angrily to the measures. Amit Halevi of Netanyahu’s Likud party called an urgent meeting of the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee to explore how to aid the “simple families working in agriculture” who had been sanctioned.

Rights monitors, meanwhile, have described the sanctions as mere political window dressing by governments that are otherwise content to continue funding, supplying arms and providing diplomatic cover to Israel’s war effort.

Budour Hassan, an Israel-Palestine researcher for Amnesty International, said the sanctions were something of a double-edged sword. She told Arab News that while they indicated the international community had taken notice, they ignored the real issue.

“They’re deceptive, contributing to an idea that it is individual settlers, not the settlements, being the problem, ignoring the violence inherent to the settlement enterprise,” said Hassan.

“The majority of settlers are not violent; they don’t attack Palestinians. But it is not just physical violence. It is forced acquisition of Palestinian land, segregation of communities. The rights and privileges of settlers discriminating against Palestinians. It is all inherently violent.

“It is checkpoints, Israeli soldiers, the legal, physical, and political infrastructure combining to promote the enterprise that is the issue. Punishing individuals ignores these root problems.”

Hassan reiterated Amnesty International’s long-held view that “settlements that are illegal under international law” must be dismantled for peace to be achieved. 

However, the notion of dismantling these settlements raises questions about the fate of settler families, “if and when Israel withdraws,” said Mizrachi.

“Israel evacuated settlers twice in the past. First in 1982 from Sanai and then again in 2005 from Gaza Strip and the north of the West Bank. As we know, if there is a will, there is a way.

“It might take time and you can’t evacuate hundreds of thousands in one day, but there are possibilities to achieve this that exist.”

 


Tunisian opposition figure sentenced to six months: lawyer

Tunisian opposition figure sentenced to six months: lawyer
Updated 49 min 13 sec ago
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Tunisian opposition figure sentenced to six months: lawyer

Tunisian opposition figure sentenced to six months: lawyer
  • Ben Mbarek was tried over his rebuke of legislative elections in 2022 which he had called a “ridiculous coup d’etat”
  • Held over “conspiracy against state security,” Ben Mbarek remains behind bars as he awaits proceedings in other cases

TUNIS: A Tunisian court has slapped a six-month prison term on opposition figure Jawhar Ben Mbarek, detained since February 2023, over remarks criticizing the country’s latest elections, his lawyer said Saturday.
Ben Mbarek, co-founder of the National Salvation Front opposition alliance who is on hunger strike to protest his detention, was tried over his rebuke of legislative elections in 2022 which he had called a “ridiculous coup d’etat.”
Held over “conspiracy against state security,” Ben Mbarek remains behind bars as he awaits proceedings in other cases.
Tunisian and international rights groups have described the article under which Ben Mbarek was sentenced as a form of “repression” of free expression in the North African country, where President Kais Saied has ruled by decree since a 2021 power grab.
“Jawhar Ben Mbarek was sentenced without having the option to defend himself” due to his health condition after 13 days without food, his lawyer Ayachi Hammami told AFP.
Along with other figures detained since February 2023 over national security charges, Ben Mbarek has been on hunger strike to protest what he called the “arbitrary and unfounded” grounds for his arrest.
Ben Mbarek “was unable, due to the state of his health, to... be present at the hearing,” the lawyer said, adding that the judge had proclaimed the verdict despite a request to postpone the proceedings.
Ayachi said the defense plans to appeal the ruling.
Ahmed Nejib Chebbi, another co-founder of the National Salvation Front, told AFP that Ben Mbarek “was sentenced to six months in prison for an opinion. I am truly outraged.”
Rached Ghannouchi, the jailed leader of the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party which is part of the opposition alliance, suspended his hunger strike on Wednesday for fear of health complications.
Rights groups have repeatedly condemned the proceedings against Tunisian opposition figures and called for their release.
Elected democratically in October 2019 with a five-year mandate, Saied launched a power grab in July 2021, dismissing the prime minister and suspending parliament.
He later pushed through sweeping changes to concentrate power in his office, shaking the foundations of the only democracy born out of the first Arab Spring uprisings in 2011.


Dead horses, scraps, leaves: Gaza’s hungry get desperate

Dead horses, scraps, leaves: Gaza’s hungry get desperate
Updated 24 February 2024
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Dead horses, scraps, leaves: Gaza’s hungry get desperate

Dead horses, scraps, leaves: Gaza’s hungry get desperate
  • Food is running out, with aid agencies unable to get in to the area because of the bombing

GAZA STRIP: At the Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza, Abu Gibril was so desperate for food to feed his family that he slaughtered two of his horses.
“We had no other choice but to slaughter the horses to feed the children. Hunger is killing us,” he said.
Jabalia was the biggest camp in the Palestinian territories before the war, which began after Hamas fighters attacked southern Israel on Oct. 7, leaving some 1,160 dead, based on Israeli figures.
Gibril, 60, fled there from nearby Beit Hanun when the conflict erupted. Home for him and his family is now a tent near what was a UN-run school.
Contaminated water, power cuts and overcrowding were already a problem in the densely populated camp, which was set up in 1948 and covers just 1.4 square kilometers.

A Palestinian couple cooks on a fire, at a school where they shelter, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Jabalia refugee camp, in the northern Gaza Strip February 22, 2024. (REUTERS)

Poverty, from high unemployment, was also an issue among its more than 100,000 people.
Now food is running out, with aid agencies unable to get in to the area because of the bombing — and the frenzied looting of the few trucks that try to get through.
The World Food Programme this week said its teams reported “unprecedented levels of desperation” while the UN warned that 2.2 million people were on the brink of famine.
On Friday, the Health Ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said a two-month-old baby died of malnutrition in hospital in Gaza City, 7 km away from Jabalia.

A displaced Palestinian child carries a ration of red lentil soup, distributed by volunteers in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 18, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the militant group Hamas. (AFP)

In the camp, bedraggled children wait expectantly, holding plastic containers and battered cooking pots for what little food is available.
With supplies dwindling, costs are rising. A kilo of rice, for example, has shot up from seven shekels ($1.90) to 55 shekels, complains one man.
“We the grown-ups can still make it but these children who are four and five years old, what did they do wrong to sleep hungry and wake up hungry?” he said angrily.
The UN children’s agency UNICEF has warned that the alarming lack of food, surging malnutrition and disease could lead to an “explosion” in child deaths in Gaza.
One in six children aged under two in Gaza was acutely malnourished, it estimated on Feb. 19.
Residents have taken to eating scavenged scraps of rotten corn, animal fodder unfit for human consumption and even leaves to try to stave off the growing hunger pangs.
“There is no food, no wheat, no drinking water,” said one woman.
“We have started begging neighbors for money. We don’t have one shekel at home. We knock on doors and no one is giving us money.”
Tempers are rising in Jabalia about the lack of food and the consequences. On Friday, an impromptu protest was held involving dozens of people.
One child held up a sign reading: “We didn’t die from air strikes but we are dying from hunger.”
Another held aloft a placard warning “Famine eats away at our flesh,” while protesters chanted “No to starvation. No to genocide. No to blockade.”
In Beit Hanun, Gibril used two horses to harvest a parcel of land. But the conflict destroyed that, along with his house, leaving him with nothing. Over the weeks and months, Israel’s relentless bombardment has left Gaza largely a place of shattered concrete and lives.
Gibril kept the radical decision to slaughter his horses to himself, boiling the meat with rice, and giving it to his unwitting family and neighbors.
Despite the necessity, he said he was still wary of their reaction. “No one knows they were in fact eating a horse.”
In another development, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has reaffirmed Washington’s opposition to any reoccupation of the Gaza Strip by Israel as well as any reduction of the Palestinian territory’s size.
Blinken’s remarks were in response to a plan for post-war Gaza put forward by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in which his country’s army would have “indefinite freedom” to operate throughout the Gaza Strip once Hamas is defeated.
“Gaza ... cannot be a platform for terrorism. There should be no Israeli reoccupation of Gaza. The size of Gaza territory should not be reduced,” Blinken said in Buenos Aires, after attending a G20 meeting of foreign ministers in Brazil.
Israel’s far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich called for a “firm security response ... and colonization” by building thousands of new housing units in settlements like Maale Adumim and across the West Bank.
Blinken said that “new settlements are counterproductive to reaching enduring peace, and also inconsistent with international law.”
“Our administration maintains firm opposition to settlement expansion. In our judgment, this only weakens, it doesn’t strengthen, Israel’s security.”

 


Tunisia court sentences ex-president Marzouki to 8 years in absentia

Tunisia court sentences ex-president Marzouki to 8 years in absentia
Updated 24 February 2024
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Tunisia court sentences ex-president Marzouki to 8 years in absentia

Tunisia court sentences ex-president Marzouki to 8 years in absentia
  • Most opposition chiefs were arrested since last year, including Rached Ghannouchi, the head of the Islamist Ennahda party, and Abir Moussi, the leader of Free Constitutional

TUNIS: A Tunisian court sentenced former President Moncef Marzouki to eight years in prison in absentia on Friday on charges of assaulting the state security and inciting Tunisians against each other, a judicial official said.
This is the second prison sentence against Marzouki, who resides in Paris, after a judge sentenced him in 2021 to four years in absentia.
Mohamed Zitouna, the spokesperson of the Tunis court, said the verdict was based on statements by Marzouki that included incitement in a speech he gave in Paris, without giving further details.
Marzouki, who was president from 2011 to 2014, is a fierce critic of President Kais Saied.
Saied closed Parliament, sacked the government and began ruling by decree in 2021, a step that Marzouki and main opposition leaders described as a coup.

BACKGROUND

Mohamed Zitouna, the spokesperson of the Tunis court, said the verdict was based on statements by Marzouki that included incitement in a speech he gave in Paris, without giving further details.

The Tunisian president, who enshrined his new constitutional powers in a referendum with a low turnout in 2022, has denied his actions were a coup and said they were needed to save Tunisia from years of chaos.
Most opposition chiefs were arrested since last year, including Rached Ghannouchi, the head of the Islamist Ennahda party, and Abir Moussi, the leader of Free Constitutional.
Authorities also detained prominent opposition figures Jawher Ben Mbarek, Khayam Turki, Ghazi Chaouachi, Issam Chabbi, Abdelhamid Jalasi and Ridha BelHajj last year in a crackdown on suspicion of plotting against state security.
The opposition accuses Saied of muzzling the press and imposing authoritarian rule, and says his constitutional changes have pulled apart the democracy built after a 2011 revolution.
Saied rejects those accusations and has called his critics criminals, traitors and terrorists and warned that any judge who freed them would be considered abetting them.


‘Environmental disaster’: Yemeni govt demands help to secure Houthi-hit ship

‘Environmental disaster’: Yemeni govt demands help to secure Houthi-hit ship
Updated 24 February 2024
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‘Environmental disaster’: Yemeni govt demands help to secure Houthi-hit ship

‘Environmental disaster’: Yemeni govt demands help to secure Houthi-hit ship
  • US Central Command said that a fuel leak from Rubymar had created an 18-mile-long oil slick in the Red Sea
  • The Yemeni government urged the international community to act quickly

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s internationally recognized government has requested international assistance to control an oil spill and potential chemical leak in the Red Sea caused by a Houthi strike on a cargo ship.
US Central Command, in a statement on Friday, said that a fuel leak from Rubymar — a vessel struck last week by a Houthi missile and abandoned by its crew — had created an 18-mile-long oil slick in the Red Sea.
The 41,000 tons of fertilizer on board the Lebanese-operated, UK-owned and Belize-flagged vessel also risks spilling into the sea and causing an environmental disaster, the statement added.
SABA, Yemen’s state news agency, said Prime Minister Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak had launched an emergency committee, urging other countries and environmental organizations to help prevent ecological damage to the Red Sea.
The Yemeni government urged the international community to act quickly and prevent the ship’s “large amount” of fuel and ammonia from leaking into the sea, adding that Rubymar was struck and abandoned south of the Hanish Islands.
In Sanaa, the Houthis blamed the Rubymar incident on the US and UK, accusing targeted vessels of disregarding warnings and violating the militia’s embargo on Israel.
“The purpose of our military actions is to modify the route of Israeli ships, not to capture, divert or sink them; nonetheless, America’s and Britain’s insistence on breaching Israel’s partial embargo is what prompted this escalation,” Houthi leader Mohammed Al-Bukhaiti said on X.
Since November, the Houthis have seized a commercial ship and launched hundreds of drones and missiles against commercial and naval vessels in the Red Sea, Bab Al-Mandab and the Gulf of Aden, while deterring Israel-linked ships from traversing the Red Sea.
The militia claims that its campaign intends to force Israel into lifting its siege on Gaza.
The Houthi Red Sea assaults have spurred the US to organize an alliance of countries to protect the Red Sea and unleash hundreds of airstrikes on Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen.
On Saturday, CENTCOM said that its forces had destroyed seven Houthi mobile anti-ship cruise missiles that were poised to be launched from Yemen at US Navy and foreign commercial ships.
Despite heavy bombardment by the US and UK, the Houthis have pledged to continue assaulting ships in the Red Sea unless Israel permits humanitarian supplies into Gaza.
A group of Yemen specialists have urged the US to supply military aid to the Yemeni government in an effort to undermine the Houthi’s campaign in the Red Sea.
In a joint piece for the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based think tank, Nadwa Al-Dawsari, Casey Coombs, Ibrahim Jalal, Kenneth M. Pollack, Baraa Shiban and Katherine Zimmerman questioned the utility of US and UK airstrikes in ending the Houthi Red Sea campaign.
Though the strikes have reduced the frequency and intensity of Houthi attacks, the US must arm and train Yemeni government troops to win against the militia, they said.
“The US should begin fully supporting the government it recognizes in Yemen and providing it with the necessary means to win against the Houthis,” the experts said, adding: “Weakening the Houthis within the context of the civil war is the only way to prevent them from further consolidating their position as the power broker in Yemen and projecting more power abroad, including in the maritime domain.
“And only when they are under direct threat and in a losing position will the Houthis — and perhaps the Iranians — rethink their current behavior.”