In response to unseasonable extreme winter weather characterised by sub-zero nights and severe frost, Premiere Urgence, supported by the OCHA-HERF fund, joined a coordinated effort across the West Bank to deliver emergency cold weather supplies to herding communities and Palestinian families living in temporary housing made of fabric, wood or zinc.
The extreme winter weather resulted in the death of many of the livestock and agricultural production that provide these Palestinian families with minimal incomes. The communities targeted by the Premiere Urgence – oPT mission were among the most vulnerable in the occupied Palestinian Territories with subsistence poverty rates (incomes of less than 1.6 USD/day) of 40 to 50 % and with almost all inhabitants facing some degree of food insecurity.
Consequently, these communities are unable to respond and adapt to any external shock, and were placed in a critical situation by the extreme cold nights. Inadequate shelter and heating supplies (including blankets and mattresses) resulted in the death due to hypothermia of an 8 year old girl. The sudden onset of the cold weather precipitated an emergency situation and the entire Premiere Urgence team in the occupied Palestinian Territories was able to respond within 72 hours to deliver blankets, mattresses, kerosene heaters, and fuel to over 800 people thereby ensuring that families will have a minimum level of protection against the winter cold.
This crisis underscores the continuing need for Premiere Urgence, and other NGOs to maintain operations in the occupied Palestinian Territories. Since 2000, Israeli occupation policies – often in contravention of international humanitarian law – have increasingly denied Palestinians a basic standard of life. Severe restrictions on movement that have led to the near total isolation of communities have undermined a once vibrant Palestinian economy. Unemployment rates have reached levels of nearly 30% across the West Bank, with some communities experiencing poverty rates of over 60%. The construction of the Separation Barrier and the continued expansion of Settlement construction – both ruled illegal under international law – have resulted in the confiscation or destruction of over 40% of Palestinian lands in the West Bank.
The impact of these occupation policies is particularly severe in those communities that have found themselves between the Separation Barrier and the 1967 Green Line which forms the internationally recognised border of Israel. These 'enclave' communities are completely isolated from the West Bank and Israel, and endure strict restrictions on movement, the entry of goods and materials, and on the construction or rehabilitation of buildings. Consequently, it is in these areas which Premiere Urgence concentrates its relief efforts.
In response the critical situation in the West Bank and ongoing blockade of the Gaza Strip, Premiere Urgence calls upon all parties to fulfill their obligations under international law – including the cessation of all attacks against Israel, the cessation of all illegal settlement construction, the removal of the Separation Barrier and return of all confiscated land, and the dismantling of all movement restrictions imposed on Palestinians within the occupied Palestinian Territories.