Palestine: overview of 2022 and prospects for this year

Thursday 2nd February 2023

Ray Dolphin worked in the West Bank and Gaza for over 30 years, most recently for the UN office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), where he was Senior Analyst. In addition to numerous UN reports, his book ‘The West Bank Wall: Unmaking Palestine’ was published by Pluto Books in 2006 and he collaborated with Magnum photographer Joseph Koudelka for the photo-book, ‘Wall’, published by Aperture in 2013.




So what I’m going to talk about today is I’m going to look at some of the key humanitarian indicators for 2022. Namely, the Palestinian casualties, that’s fatalities and injuries, settler-related violence, and demolitions and displacement, specifically in the West Bank, which includes East Jerusalem. I’m not going to talk about Gaza, although there was an escalation back in August, which did cause fatalities. But I think, obviously, demolitions and settler violence doesn’t relate to Gaza. But the upsurge in violence, and the concerns mainly relate to the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, so I’m going to be concentrating on that.

The data I’m going to present is from the UN OCHA database. If you go to the OCHA OPT website, which is coming up now, you can see there’s off the top there, there’s something called ‘Data’. If we click on that, there are two databases, one is casualties, which is for casualties from Israeli forces, and also settler violence, that’s the Protection of Civilians database, it’s called. And then the one on the right is the demolitions and displacement.

These are not databases as such online, their dashboards which mirror the database. But for example, if we look at the demolition displacement, you can see there’s quite a lot of data there. That goes back to 2006, when OCHA started systematically gathering data on these, you can see the number of structures that are demolished, and the number of people displaced, and you can see it per year, etc, etc.

So people who are who are happy with databases can go there, and they can get all this data. And then for researchers who need more specific, you can apply, again, if you go to the OCHA OPT database, you can send a query if you have specific data requests.

And a lot of OCHA’s colleagues have access to the database itself, some of it is protected, because obviously, there is sensitive information there.

So just to say that the figures we’re going to look at now are the official UN figures. Every two weeks, or sometimes three weeks now, OCHA produces something called a Protection of Civilians Report, I think the latest is out today covering January more or less. The figures I’m going to talk about are the ones which are produced in that. And also there’s a monthly briefing on the situation in the Middle East, which is given by the UN Special Coordinator. These figures are used in that and by reports for the Secretary General, the annual settlement report, and by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, etc, etc. So these figures are the official UN figures. And they do go back to 2005 or 2006. And they are the official record. And they’re, as I said, publicly available.

So let’s look at 2022, starting with the Palestinian casualties by Israeli forces, if I can pull up the chart. I’ve given figures going back to 2017, the last six years, just to give some type of context. So if we look at Palestinians killed by Israeli for so you can see that 2022 was the highest in the last six years. In fact, it’s the highest since he started collecting the data in 2006. We had 151 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. As you can see, it’s almost double the number of the previous year 2021. That includes 35 children killed which again, as you can see was the highest in recent years and again, I think was the highest since OCHA started collecting data.

Palestinian injuries, we had almost 10,000 injuries by Israeli forces in the West Bank last year. It’s not the highest, as you can see 2021 was higher. But remember we had that serious escalation of violence in 2021 in May, which push the figures up, otherwise, as you can see, last year was the highest in recent years.

I also have the figures for January 2023, which I’ll mention in a second, but of the Palestinians killed (in 2022), they were 55 Palestinians killed in Jenin, and 33 in Nablus, so those two cities accounted for more than half of the of the fatalities. And over 70% of the casualties were as a result of search and arrest operations, which is part of this new Israeli campaign specifically targeting those  two northern West Bank cities.

Just some context, there were 21 Israelis killed last year by Palestinians from the West Bank, either in the West Bank itself or in Israel, which again, was the highest in recent years. This is something that the Secretary General and the international military have been saying for quite some time, is that these figures bear out the concerns about excessive use of force by Israeli forces, and the fact that lethal weapons are usually used as a first measure. And also, the fact that there’s almost total lack of accountability for any Israeli forces.

If we look at 2023, I haven’t put the figures there, but I actually just got them this morning. So far, in 2023. In January, we’ve had 35 Palestinians killed in the West Bank, which if you extrapolate that, that’s a much higher monthly rate than happened in 2022. And unfortunately, this high rate of Palestinian fatalities seems to be continuing. And that includes six children killed so far, and of the 35, 19 are in Jenin. Again, Jenin is continuing as the centre. and the operation last week in Jenin camp on the 26th, in which 10 Palestinians were killed, that’s the highest number of Palestinians killed in a single operation since 2005, since the end of the of the Second Intifada.

The attack outside the synagogue in Ne’ev Yakoob that occurred over the weekend where 7 Israelis were killed, was also the highest number of Israelis killed in a single incident. Unfortunately, these high figures for 2022 for Palestinian fatalities and injuries is continuing into 2023, if January is indicative and is continuing at the same high rate or an even higher rate than last year.

Let’s look at settler-related violence next. Now this is quite complicated and there’s quite a number of different indicators here.

How do we calculate settler violence? It’s not actually as simple as it may seem. The general definition as applied by OCHA is to have there’s two major categories; one is Palestinian casualties from settlers. That’s fatalities and injuries. And the other is property damage by settlers, which in practice is mainly damage to olive trees. And then we have incidents where both of these occur and then we have a cumulative total, which is the fourth line there.

However, this is complicated by the fact that what we’ve seen in recent years increasingly, is that the distinction between injuries or casualties by settlers and by Israeli forces is not totally clear. So we have increasingly instances where, for example, settlers will enter a Palestinian village, which will lead to clashes with the Palestinian residents that may or may not actually result in casualties or property damage. But then the army comes, now of course, the army is supposed to be there in the context of law enforcement. But in practice, what we see, of course, is that the Army is there to protect settlers. And we have increasingly in recent years, seen particularly injuries to Palestinians in settler-related incidents. That’s why I’ve actually called it settler-related rather than settler violence, because it is by settlers, but it’s also casualties by the Israeli army who enter with settlers and protect and actually take part in the violence themselves.

So, you can see that in all of the indicators in those top four columns, they’re all progressively increasing. Last year was by far the highest number of incidences of property damage at 621. It was also the highest number of casualties at 124. Also the highest number of incidents, resulting in both, and that the cumulative figure there the fourth line, 849, those were the total number of instances in the West Bank including East Jerusalem last year, settler-related instances which resulted in injury fatality or property damage.

And you can see it’s by far, that actually is the highest, since OCHA j started recording this in 2006, by far the highest number, which is, of course of great concern. And again, the data actually bears out anecdotally what we’ve been saying, that there has been a huge increase in settler violence.

There were two Palestinians killed by Israeli settlers last year, which is actually fewer than the year before. More injuries last year – 265. I think the next line is perhaps the most worrying, there were 12 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces last year. This was included in the 251 figure above, but these were an instance which the Israeli army intervened after settlers had entered a Palestinian village or initiated some type of incident. And that’s by far the largest number of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces intervening in settler-related incidents.

If we go down by injuries, you can see again, last year, it was the highest number of Palestinians injured by Israeli forces – over 2000. Again, intervening during a settler incident. And last two indicators. The number of trees vandalised, again, the highest in recent years. And the number of vehicles damaged as you can see last year was again, the highest.

So all of the indicators there are either the highest in recent years, or in many cases the highest going back to 2006, which again bears out the newspaper reports. The data does bear out that. We have seen a huge increase in settler-related violence, not just by settlers themselves, but by the Israeli military intervening on behalf of settlers.

Again, there’s a total lack of accountability when it comes to any prosecution of settlers. Yesh Din, which is an Israeli NGO which concentrates on this issue, they have figures between the years 218 and 2020. The police opened a total of 370 investigations in cases of Israeli settle violence, of which only 11, or 3%, led to a prosecution. And then the ratio of conviction as, if any, is unknown. So there’s almost total impunity for settler violence, nothing new there.

And again, I emphasise that settler violence does intimidate Palestinians from accessing their land, and practicing their livelihoods. And it is used to facilitate a takeover of land by settlers, and for the establishment and expansion of separate outposts.

Again, just looking at the figures for January of this year, we’ve already had two Palestinians killed by settlers in January, which is the same number of all of last year. These are in  settlement outposts. And in both cases, the Palestinians are alleged to have tried to attack the settlers and were killed. And we’ve had already about 80 settler-related instances.

In 2022, we had 849 incidents, and 80 in January 2023, so if we multiply that by 12, you can see that it’s continuing at the same level, or indeed, it’s continuing at a slightly higher level than in 2022. So again, another of the key indicators, where it seems that the rate of settler violence is actually increasing.

And then finally, let’s look at demolitions and displacement. Now a bit of context is needed here. We’re looking primarily at demolition of Palestinian structures, not just residential structures, but also livelihood structures and commercial structures, for lack of the requisite Israeli issued permit.

Now, if you talk to the Israeli authorities, which I used to do, what they’ll say, of course, is that there’s nothing unusual here. If you build a structure in London or Dublin without a permit, you could have that structure demolished as well. What they never tell you, of course, is the number of permits which are actually issued, and Peace Now did looked at Area C, and they got the data for between the years 2009 and 2020. These are applications by Palestinians for permits to build in Area C. And in those years, those 10 or 12 years, only 2% of permit applications by Palestinians were approved. Or if we flip that, 98% of applications were rejected by the Israeli civil administration, which has the power in Area C.

And what we also know is that only 1% of Area C have approved plans for Palestinians. The other place where Palestinians have their structures demolished for lack of permits is in East Jerusalem, and we have similar figures there, that only 13% of East Jerusalem has been  approved for Palestinian planning or building, and that’s in areas like Shuafat and Beit Hanina, which are already which are already highly residential.

We did a survey a couple of years ago and we estimated 1/3 of all Palestinian structures in East Jerusalem are illegal. They have demolition orders because of the difficulties that Palestinians have in East Jerusalem in obtaining building permits.

So if we look in 2022, we had 918 structures demolished in Area C and East Jerusalem for lack of building permit, which as you can see is the highest in the last six years. That includes 140 donor-funded structures. These were structures provided by the international community often tents, after a previous demolition had had left people displaced.

The number of people displaced – 922 – the previous year was higher, but one of the highest in recent years. And then punitive demolitions. These are demolitions by the Israeli authorities of the houses of Palestinians who have carried out or alleged to have carried out attacks on Israelis. You can see that last year we have 14 punitive demolitions, which is the second highest in recent years, well the equal highest rates in recent years. And that’s an indication of the general level of violence in the West Bank.

Again, if we look at 2023, the first month, January. So far, in January, there has been 123 structures demolished in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. And if you extrapolate that or multiply that by 12, that’s at a much higher level than the monthly average for 2022. That’s left 144 people displaced so far in January, which again, if we extrapolate that would be a higher would be the highest in recent years. And we’ve already had five punitive demolitions in January. You’re probably aware that there’s a new directive that has come in and the perpetrators of the attacks last week in Ne’ev Yakoov and in Silwan, their houses have already been sealed prior to a final demolition.

So, again, unfortunately, all of the indicators so far in 2023 are at the same high level or higher level than we’ve seen in 2022, which is the highest level we’ve seen for all the indicators in recent years. And in some cases, the highest we’ve seen since OCHA started systematically collecting data back in 2005, or 2006.

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