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On the occasion of the World Day for Safety and Health at Work 2024, DWRC reiterates its call for an urgent ceasefire in Gaza and highlights the need for providing protection to Palestinian workers, particularly media and humanitarian workers

Ramallah – 28 April 2024 – Since October 7, 2023, the occupied Palestinian territories and in particular the Gaza Strip have become the most dangerous and deadliest place on earth for journalists and media workers, health workers, civil defense workers, United Nations staff members, and humanitarian aid workers in general, on and off duty. There have been numerous incidents of journalists, paramedics, other health professionals and relief aid workers being directly and deliberately targeted by the Israeli armed forces, while performing their professional duties of reporting about the situation or attempting to save lives, and being subject to various forms of abuse, including during military assaults and occupation of hospitals. In fact, WHO has reported 435 health attacks in the Gaza Strip and 421 in the West Bank by April 2nd, 2024. Off duty, the continued indiscriminate bombing and shelling of civilian facilities, including hospitals, homes and designated shelters for displaced persons have caused hundreds of deaths among professionals in these sectors, as well as many other vital sectors in the Gaza Strip. Thousands have been injured, and hundreds have been forcibly disappeared by the Israeli occupying forces. Those who have been released after being held incommunicado for varying periods of times have given horrifying accounts of torture and systematic mistreatment of detainees, which are substantiated by the physical state of released detainees, often extremely emaciated and suffering from various injuries.

Utter disrespect for the rules of international humanitarian law by the Israeli Occupying Power has caused an unprecedented number of casualties among media professionals and humanitarian workers. This sets an extremely dangerous precedent that could have negative consequences for all workers operating in conflict and war zones. UN OCHA has reported that at least 251 aid workers had been killed since October 7, 2023, including 245 Palestinians and 6 foreign nationals. These include: 183 UN staff (UNRWA: 180; WHO: 1; UNDP: 1; UNOPS: 1), 27 Palestinian Red Crescent Society staff and volunteers, including 17 killed while on duty, and at least 41 other aid workers. In addition, 490 health workers have been killed, and 310 forcibly disappeared according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza. The same sources indicate that 67 civil defense staff have been killed on duty, and 140 journalists and media workers.

Other professions have also registered terrible losses. The Ministry of Education and Higher Education has reported that 296 educational staff of schools and 90 staff members of universities have been killed, and that over 1990 have been injured. The Ministry of Culture and PCBS indicated that 45 writers, artists, and cultural heritage activists had been killed by mid-March 2024. While the total number of legal professionals killed remains unknown, on International Women’s Day, the Bar Association mourned 10 Palestinian female lawyers killed in Gaza. Fishermen and farmers are trying to continue or resume their work amidst an acute lack of food for Gaza’s population despite the constant risk of being killed or injured by Israeli fire. 

Due to heightened Israeli repression, military operations and Israeli settler attacks (under full protection of the Israeli occupying forces) against Palestinians and their property, workers are not safe either in the West Bank, particularly since Israeli soldiers and civilians enjoy a near total impunity for any acts committed against Palestinians. The hundreds of checkpoints, metal gates, cement blocks and earth barriers erected by the Israeli Occupying Power between Palestinian localities and at all their entrances considerably restrict the movement of Palestinians within the occupied West Bank and render any trip, including to and from work, a lengthy and unsafe ordeal; access to East Jerusalem has become almost impossible for Palestinian ID holders. Daily Israeli incursions and recurrent military operations into Palestinian cities, villages and refugee camps have resulted in widespread damages and destruction of infrastructure, businesses and homes. A rapid assessment conducted by DWRC with workers in the West Bank in March 2024 indicated that half the respondents have faced restrictions in commuting to and from their workplaces, 24.6% reported having been targeted or deliberately attacked by Israeli soldiers, and 10.6% reported being assaulted by Israeli occupation soldiers at work or in their workplace. Between October 7, 2023, and 31 March 31st, 2024, OCHA recorded 1,096 settler attacks against Palestinians. Farmers, herding and Bedouin communities are particularly at risk of being attacked to force them to leave their lands. Many farmers were prevented from harvesting their olive trees last autumn, while one olive farmer was killed. Since October 7, 2023, 23 herding and Bedouin communities, comprising 1,227 people, including 494 children, have been forcibly displaced (OCHA).

This year’s chosen theme for the World Day for Safety and Health at Work 2024 was climate change and safety and health at work. Sadly, this is not a topic we are able to focus on right now. Palestinian workers may face the impact and consequences of the climate change crisis too, especially as its effects are exacerbated by the Israeli Occupying Power’s confiscation of Palestinian land and other natural resources, and the environmental pollutions and degradation generated by decades of occupation and military operations, including the devastating effects of the current war, but right now, Palestinian workers are facing a survival crisis. In Gaza, the vast majority of homes (60%) and workplaces have been destroyed or damaged, as well as key water, sanitation and solid waste disposal infrastructure, causing an acute lack of access to clean drinking water and the rapid spread of waterborne and infectious diseases, such as diarrhea, hepatitis A, and chickenpox, particularly among over 1.3 million displaced persons living in overcrowded and sweltering tents or self-built shelters in makeshift sites in southern Gaza. Chronic to acute malnutrition and the destruction of most of the healthcare facilities render people, especially young children, the elderly and the ill, particularly vulnerable to disease outbreaks. The Israeli Occupying Power has also created an increasingly coercive environment in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, aiming at accelerating the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians through making it impossible for them to live and earn a livelihood in safety and dignity.

Therefore, we call upon the international community to take immediate measures to impose a ceasefire in Gaza and provide international protection to the Palestinian people in the entire occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem. The international community should ensure that the rules of international humanitarian law are applied by enforcing sanctions for systematic and grave violations, including those that are committed against media and humanitarian workers, and end Israel’s impunity that has made such widespread violations possible. We also call on trade unions and civil society worldwide to continue mobilizing in solidarity and support of Palestinian workers, and to advocate for enhanced protections for workers in conflict/war situations, particularly media and humanitarian workers.

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