Gaza situation report 129

04 February 2016
© 2016 UNRWA Photo

26 January  –2 February 2015 | Issue 129

  • The fine and elegant products made by Gaza refugee women are currently exhibited at the New York NOW trade show through the UNRWA Sulafa Embroidery Project which is attending the fair as part of the ByHand Consulting marketing incubator programme. The Sulafa Project aims to provide meaningful and sustainable income for women and give them access to the (local) market by using their artisanal skills. Sulafa is exhibiting its handmade pillows, shawls, handbags, small purses and ornaments in traditional Palestinian designs or modern colours in the Artisan Resource section of the NY NOW trade show. The Artisan Resource is a production-sourcing (identifying products to sell) section for overseas artisan producers to present their handmade products and lasts from 31 January to 3 February. The New York NOW Show is held twice a year, and is a major industry event in the western hemisphere for gifts and home décor. Sulafa’s participation in this exhibition is part of a business and marketing plan established by UNRWA. UNRWA through Sulafa seeks to enhance women’s income earning options in the context of Gaza’s dire socio-economic situation characterized for example by a lack of economic opportunities. The Sulafa Centre has been supported and operated by UNRWA since 1950 and brings income into the homes of more than 350 Palestine refugee women through the production and sale of embroidery goods. In 2015, sales for the first half of the year were 90 per cent higher than in 2014, and 10 per cent higher than Sulafa’s best-ever start to the year.
  • The blockade on Gaza, now in its ninth year, and recurrent cycles of armed violence and conflict do not only affect the people of Gaza in physical and socio-economic terms, but also expose the population to high levels of psycho-social stress. As part of its continuous efforts to mitigate this and to improve services to Palestine refugees, on 31 January the Agency launched a pilot project in Saftawi Health Centre, in North Gaza, to fully integrate mental health care and psycho-social support within its primary health care services.” The integration of mental health services within its primary health care is a turning point for the Agency, meaning that UNRWA is seeking to provide more comprehensive services to Palestine refugees, especially children and their families, who are approaching our Health Centres,”  commented Mr. Bo Schack, the Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza, on 31 January during his opening speech at the launch event at Saftawi Health Centre which was attended by community representatives and representatives from the World Health Organization (WHO) together with various senior UNRWA staff members and the health centre personnel. The pilot project is based on the WHO Mental Health Gap Action Programme which aims at providing persons who experience mental health, psycho-social or neurological disorders with appropriate and accessible immediate care. The pilot project recognizes that people’s well-being is related to their physical and mental health and thus a holistic care approach, consistent with the UNWRA Family Health Team model, is required. Learnings from the pilot will inform the further rollout as UNRWA plans to implement the integration of mental health services and psycho-social support within its primary health care in all 21 health centres across Gaza.
  • Following a generous donation by the Qatar-based Al Fakhoora, a programme of Education Above All Foundation, UNRWA currently undertakes maintenance and repair activities across 43 UNRWA schools in Gaza. The 43 UNRWA schools supported by Al Fakhoora had been used as Designated Emergency Shelters during the 2014 conflict in Gaza; many subsequently served as Collective Centres to accommodate the extended displacement. Throughout the 2014 July/August hostilities, dedicated UNRWA staff provided humanitarian assistance to over 290,000 displaced persons in 90 of 156 UNRWA school buildings, with the remaining school buildings either unsafe or damaged. UNRWA schools were not designed to perform as shelters for thousands of persons; hence, most of them required repair and construction works after the internally displaced persons had transitioned to private shelters, many with the help of UNRWA. All the 43 schools supported by Al Fakhoora will benefit from repair works as well as other items according to individual school needs; this assistance package includes items such as generators, desks, laptops, water pumps and other school equipment to help ensure that refugee students have a safe and comfortable environment conducive to learning. By the end of the project, the 43 schools will also have been provided with generators, desks, laptops, water pumps and other school equipment.
  • The Head of the UNRWA Gaza Community Mental Health Programme (CMHP) participated in an event on 28 January in Beirut, Lebanon, for strategic discussions on the future implementation of the UNRWA Mental Health and Psycho-Social Support (MHPSS) policy. The event aimed at reviewing current projects and initiating plans for future MHPSS funding and support for staff care. Besides UNRWA staff, the event also involved representatives from other UN Agencies, international humanitarian organizations, and government representatives from Lebanon. In its Medium Term Strategy (2016-2012), UNRWA recognizes the need to address mental health and psycho-social issues of beneficiaries and staff. The prevalence of mental health and psychosocial issues is growing in the Palestine refugee community due to various factors including conflict, poverty, unemployment, food insecurity, oppression and exclusion.  If not tackled, this can lead to chronic depression, unhealthy and dangerous behavior, low academic achievement and school drop-out in addition to exacerbating the prevalence of non-communicable diseases.  For children, mental health and psychosocial issues can hinder the development of their capabilities and thus their future lives. UNRWA internal rresearch indicates that rates of behavioral, emotional and post-traumatic stress are as high as 35 to 40 per cent among the refugee population, particularly for children residing in camps and in areas witnessing a high degree of violence and conflict.  UNRWA’s vision is for the right of every Palestine refugee, adult or child, to achieve the best possible mental health and to protect and promote psychosocial well-being through UNRWA’s basic services in Education, Health, Relief and Social Services, Infrastructure and Camp Improvement and Protection. The main objectives of the MHPSS Framework are thus to ensure that (i) MHPSS prevention/promotion, assessment, response and referral systems are in place within well-coordinated and technically supported structures in all UNRWA fields of operations; (ii) the Agency is able to identify and, where possible, effectively address the mental health and psychosocial needs of Palestine refugees; and (iii) the Agency builds capacity to support the psychosocial well-being of children in times of relative normalcy and emergency.
  • UNRWA has over 30,000 employees, most of them Palestine refugees. For this reason, the Agency considers the strengthening of its internal communication as crucial for the continuation of efficient service delivery, accountability and credibility. For its internal communications UNRWA Gaza uses a variety of tools such as its staff portal through which staff can ask questions, regular Ask The Director episodes produced by UNRWA TV (based on questions and issues raised by the community, including staff), as well as regular Field and Area Management Team meetings. As a further Agency-wide tool, and to harness the popularity of social media, during the reporting week the UNRWA Executive Office launched an official UNRWA staff Facebook group to communicate with staff and answer their questions. All staff members are invited to join the group.
  • Storm weather conditions during winter, including heavy rain, can create floods in the streets of the Gaza Strip. The UNRWA Area Offices in Gaza’s five areas – northern Gaza, Gaza, Middle Area, Khan Younis and Rafah – are therefore implementing emergency response measures during winter, involving UNRWA front line staff from all programmes.  During the reporting week UNRWA front line staff in Rafah, southern Gaza, in cooperation with the Rafah municipality, implemented such emergency response measures in the UNRWA Al Junaina Preparatory Girls School in front of which heavy rain regularly creates water pools, impairing access for students; approximately one month ago the students had to be relocated by UNRWA buses to attend afternoon shifts in a government school for a few days. As the Al Junaina school is located outside the Rafah refugee camp and infrastructure works therefore are the responsibility of the Rafah municipality, UNRWA front line staff and members of the UNRWA Infrastructure and Camp Improvement Programme (ICIP) cooperated with the municipality to address the access problem and find joint solutions; first, as immediate measure, the UNRWA sanitation office in cooperation with the municipality’s central emergency committee pumped the large water pool surrounding the school into the municipality’s main water collection pool to make the road leading to the school safe and accessible. As a second step UNRWA and the municipality are planning to establish an alternate road to the school to avoid access problems in the future; ICIP is in the process of preparing a suitable design for this project and is looking into the possibility of joint implementation with the municipality.
  • During the reporting week UNRWA continued the distribution of Non-Food Items (NFIs) such as tarpaulin, blankets, mattresses, heaters and other items for displaced and other vulnerable Palestine refugees as part of the Agency’s annual winterization campaign, launched under the hashtag #shareyourwarmth. Whilst the needs assessment is ongoing, as 2 February the UNRWA logistics team has arranged the distribution of NFIs to a total of 1,621 refugee families. In total, the Agency has distributed 32,957 nylon sheets, 1,751 tarpaulin sheets, 12 gas stoves, 20 kitchen sets, 345 mattresses, 43 mats and 732 blankets in all areas of Gaza. The UNRWA logistics team organizes the distribution of NFIs in partnership with the UNRWA Chief of Area Offices that assess and advise on each governorate’s needs.


Operational environment: Cold weather and flooding impacted Gaza during the reporting week; on 26 January, due to heavy rainfall several houses were flooded in all areas in the Gaza Strip. Civil Defense managed to evacuate a number of persons. As a result of the rain, a boundary wall of a government school in Jabalia, northern Gaza, collapsed and caused damage to adjacent houses. No injuries were reported. Further, due to heavy rainfall on the same day a tunnel outside of Gaza city collapsed; seven Hamas militants were killed and four were rescued.

Regular protests took place during the reporting week against the electricity shortage, in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails for employment opportunities and shelter by UNRWA or in solidarity with Palestinians killed during the ongoing protests in the West Bank and Gaza. On 28 January approximately 65 members of the UNWRA school parliament of the Al Junaina Prep Girls school, together with the Parents Council, in Rafah held a protest demanding that the road leading to their school would be paved.

UNRWA response

UNRWA supports refugee families affected by harsh winter conditions
UNRWA distribution team leader Mahmoud Abu Habib in the warehouse in Rafah, southern Gaza. © 2016 UNRWA Photo by Tamer Abu Hamam
UNRWA distribution team leader Mahmoud Abu Habib in the warehouse in Rafah, southern Gaza. © 2016 UNRWA Photo by Tamer Abu Hamam

During the winter, cold temperatures, heavy rain, storms and flooding impact the life of many refugee families in the Gaza Strip, particularly those living in substandard shelters due to their ongoing displacement since the 2014 or earlier conflicts in Gaza. UNRWA has launched its annual winterization campaign on social media in December 2015 under the hashtag #shareyourwarmth to raise funds for the distribution of Non-Food Items (NFIs) such as tarpaulin, blankets, mattresses, heaters and other items for displaced and other vulnerable Palestine refugees.

“In Gaza, many families cannot cope with the harsh winter conditions and these families turn to UNRWA for help and support,” explained Mahmoud Abu Habib, the UNRWA distribution team leader in the Rafah warehouse, who coordinates the distribution of NFIs in Rafah, southern Gaza, together with the Chief of Area Office. “We always try to provide the affected families with the items of the highest quality,” he added passionately.

The Rafah governorate is one of the most affected by rain and flooding. While the needs assessment is ongoing, as of 2 February, UNRWA provided 905 refugee families in Rafah  - out of a total of 1,621 families across Gaza - with blankets, mats, mattresses, kitchen sets, gas stoves, tarpaulin sheets and/or nylon sheets to help them cope with the dire winter conditions.

According to Mahmoud Abu Habib, since the 2014 conflict the number of families exposed to and unable to cope with the harsh winter conditions has strongly increased; many of the affected families continue to be displaced since the 2014 conflict, many others are living in their damaged shelters.

While UNRWA undertakes every effort to provide families with transitional shelter cash assistance or with payments to undertake repair works of their damaged homes to be able to live in dignified and safe houses, due to a lack of sufficient funding as of end of January 2016 over 60,300 refugee families have not received any payments to undertake repair works for their minor damaged homes, Further, 3,200 families have not received any payments to repair or start repairing their major damaged homes and 3,380 families have not received payments to repair or start repairing their severely damaged homes.

Thanks to the generosity of its donors, UNRWA has sufficient funding to support the reconstruction of 2,000 totally destroyed homes of which 7 are completed and 162 ongoing. UNRWA works to overcome a number of obstacles to increase the pace of reconstruction and continues to seek funding for the 5,400 totally destroyed homes that remain uncovered.

Besides the distribution of NFIs – which is considered only a temporary solution - , UNRWA responds to the impact of the winter also through the work of its sanitation offices located across the Gaza Strip. The sanitation offices, among many other tasks, organize the pumping of water from flooded streets and homes in refugee camps.

“Many houses in the refugee camp in Rafah are very old, or located below the street level; hence, when it rains water enters through the roof, or they are flooded,” explained 55-year old Ahmad Abu Shoqa, the UNRWA sanitation officer in Rafah camp. “During storms and heavy rain, people call us for help, and we respond quickly and visit the affected families to pump the water from their shelters.  During such emergencies, the parents are always most worried about their children. I remember one house where water stood at over one meter!” he recalled.

Dedicated UNRWA front line staff in all areas of Gaza do not only respond to such emergency situations in a quick and efficient manner, but they also plan and undertake emergency preparedness measures to mitigate the impact on families; UNRWA sanitation offices for example put up sand barriers in the camps to prevent water flows, or they increase the cleaning of the camp sewage systems and streets to prevent flooding.

Summary of Major Incidents

During the reporting week, Israeli forces fired towards Palestinians areas along the perimeter fence and towards Palestinian boats on a daily basis. On 27 January Israeli patrol boats fired warning shots towards Palestinian boats in northern Gaza; four fishermen were arrested and their boat confiscated. No injuries or damage were reported.

Regular protests in support of Al Aqsa mosque and the West Bank were held in the vicinity of the perimeter fence. Protests, involving hundreds of persons, predominately youths, took place east of Bureij camp in central Gaza, east of Gaza city, in the vicinity of the Erez crossing and in Khan Younis. During these protests, some participants approached the perimeter fence and threw stones towards Israeli observation posts. Israeli security forces responded with gunfire and tear gas. The Ministry of Health in Gaza reported that a total of 7 persons were injured due to Israeli gun fire and 2 suffered from gas inhalation.

On 26, 27, 28 January militants reportedly fired one test rocket per day from southern Gaza towards the sea. On 29 January militants fired three test rockets from southern Gaza towards the sea. On 31 January militants fired two test rockets from southern Gaza towards the sea. On 1 February militants fired one test rocket from southern Gaza towards the sea. No injuries or damage were reported in these incidents.

Funding Needs

UNRWA is confronted with an increased demand for services resulting from a growth in the number of registered Palestine refugees, the extent of their vulnerability and their deepening poverty. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions and financial support has been outpaced by the growth in needs. As a result, the UNRWA Programme Budget, which supports the delivery of core essential services, operates with a large shortfall, projected for 2016 to stand at US$ 81 million. UNRWA emergency programmes and key projects, also operating with large shortfalls, are funded through separate funding portals.

Following the 2014 conflict, US$ 247 million has been pledged in support of UNRWA’s emergency shelter programme, for which an estimated US$ 720 million is required. This leaves a current shortfall of US$ 473 million.

As presented in UNRWA’s occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) Emergency Appeal for 2016, the Agency is seeking US$ 403 million to meet the minimum humanitarian needs of Palestine refugees in the oPt. The Agency requires US$ 355.95 million for programme interventions in Gaza, including US$ 109.7 million for emergency food assistance, US$ 142.3 million for emergency shelter assistance, US$ 60.4 million for emergency cash-for-work assistance, US$ 4.4 million for emergency health/mobile health clinics and US$ 3.1 for education in emergencies. 

Read more in the 2016 oPt emergency appeal.


Longstanding restrictions on the movement of people and goods to and from Gaza have undermined the living conditions of 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza. Israel prevents all access to and from the Gaza Strip by sea and air. Movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza is restricted to three crossings: Rafah crossing, Erez crossing and Kerem Shalom crossing. Rafah crossing is controlled by the Egyptian authorities and technically allows for the movement of a number of authorized travelers, Palestinian medical and humanitarian cases only. Erez crossing is controlled by Israeli authorities and technically allows for the movement of aid workers and limited numbers of authorized travelers, including Palestinian medical and humanitarian cases. Kerem Shalom crossing, also controlled by Israeli authorities, technically allows for the movement of authorized goods only.

  • Rafah crossing remained closed during the reporting week.
  • Erez crossing is usually open six days a week. It was open for National ID holders (humanitarian cases, medical cases, merchants and UN staff) and international staff from 26 to 28 January and from 31 January to 2 February. On 29 January it was open for pedestrians only. It was closed on 30 January.
  • Kerem Shalom crossing is the only official crossing open for the transfer of goods into and out of the Strip and is usually open five days a week. It was open from 26 to 28 January and from 31 January to 2 February. It was closed on 29 and 30 January.