The 2015 UNRWA photo exhibition ‘We Deserve Life’ was officially opened at the Rashad Shawa Eastern Hall in Gaza City on 15 February, showcasing the winning submissions from the EU-funded 2015 UNRWA Photo Competition. All four winners from last year’s competition are from Gaza and attended the event, which featured an awards ceremony in recognition of their winning photographs. Both the EU Head of Cooperation, Ms. Alessandra Viezzer, and the Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza, Mr. Bo Schack, spoke at the event, which was also attended by representatives from the local community, including media and youth. Each year, the EU-UNRWA Photo Competition offers Palestine refugees aged 16-29 an opportunity to capture their hopes and dreams in photos and share them with the rest of the world. The theme for the 2015 competition, ‘We Deserve Life’, sought to draw attention to the resilience and determination of young Palestine refugees despite the challenging circumstances in which they live, characterized by violence, forced migration, blockade and poverty. The winning photo this year was taken by Hassan Hosni al-Jadi from Nuseirat refugee camp and shows Abraham, a young child from a family of five, playing amid the rubble of the building where he and his family live, which was bombed during the 2014 conflict.
As part of UNRWA Gaza’s continued refugee outreach and Communicating with Communities (CwC) initiatives, Mr. Bo Schack, Director of UNRWA Operations, met with community representatives in Rafah on 14 February. Mr. Schack conducts outreach meetings in each of Gaza’s five governorates on a quarterly basis. In Rafah he met with representatives from civil society organizations, university professors, community activists, the private sector, beneficiaries and parents’ councils. The meeting was also attended by Dr. Yousef Mousa, Chief of Area Office (CAO) - Rafah, Mr. Ismail Mansour, deputy CAO and Dr. Omar Shaban, founder and Director of PalThink for Strategic Studies. Issues related to the Rafah governorate were addressed during the meeting, in addition to ways of developing UNRWA services including education and health. UNRWA’s achievements in the Rafah area were noted to be highly appreciated by the local community. Further consultation with civil society organizations and community members regarding UNRWA’s planning was also discussed. At the conclusion of the two hour meeting, Mr. Schack listened to questions and comments in relation to UNRWA’s current role and community expectations, and thanked the participants for the friendly environment which prevailed during the meeting giving an indication that UNRWA has a distinguished relationship with the community, based on respect and trust.
The UNRWA Infrastructure and Camp Improvement Programme (ICIP) in Gaza is in place to improve the living conditions of Palestine refugees through the planning, design and construction of UNRWA facilities, shelters, schools and health centres, as well as through comprehensive planning for the environmental health sector. ICIP also works on the restoration of sewerage and drainage works, water wells and wastewater treatment in Palestine refugee camps and surrounding areas. During the reporting week, ICIP’s Sanitation Office at Maghazi refugee camp worked in coordination with the Agency’s Job Creation Programme (JCP) to organize a campaign to clean the main street of the camp. The aim of this initiative was to enhance the cleanliness and sanitation level for camp residents and provide job opportunities within the local community. 27 JCP personnel participated in the exercise. Similar initiatives are planned for at least three other camps in Gaza.
After two weeks of winter vacation, 250,118 UNRWA school students returned to their schools on 27 January, receiving their certificates (achievement reports) on the first day back. Such certificates reflect the students’ scores and marks upon taking the first semester final tests. For the first time, strategic support units have supervised the process of preparing and implementing the final tests. The School Quality Assurance Unit had established criteria and measures to help ensure accurate results. Unit coordinators and education specialists followed up the process by sampling, monitoring, marking and data entry. During the first two weeks of February, school management teams organised celebration events to honour high achievers and top students in UNRWA schools. During the ceremonies, students participate in presentations, shows, songs, poetry readings, games, sketches and other interactive exercises. Parents and community members are invited to these celebrations to recognize and motivate their children to continue to study well and achieve their best throughout the school year. At the conclusion of the ceremonies students receive certificates of appreciation and have a photo session with their teachers, parents, school principal and friends. These celebrations also serve to encourage the high achievers to be a positive role model for their peers. Some UNRWA schools also honour those students who show an improvement in their academic performance.
UNRWA in Gaza sadly bids farewell to Ms. Siobhan Parnell, Deputy Director of Operations (Programme Integration), this month. Siobhan has been an integral part of the UNRWA team for the past four years, having previously overseen the management of the Field Office’s Programme Support, M&E and Donor Liaison and Projects functions. Siobhan has provided critical programme direction and leadership during emergency and regular operations and is highly regarded within the UN family and the Gaza community. UNRWA in Gaza thanks her for her dedicated service to Palestine refugees and wishes her the very best in her next endeavours, as she takes on a senior role with DFID CHASE (Conflict, Humanitarian and Security) Operations Team, based in the United Kingdom. Her final day with UNRWA in Gaza is 21 February.
UNRWA continues to receive regular visits from its key donors and National Committees (NatComs) in Spain, the United States and Italy. National Committees support the Agency through reaching out to the public, local authorities and the private sector. They engage with individuals through mailings, social media and special events. For local and regional governments, they prepare proposals tailored to local interest and opportunities based on UNRWA’s programmes and priorities. The National Committees are independent non-profit NGOs. From 14-16 February, a representative from the Spanish NatCom of UNRWA visited Gaza to monitor and appraise the progress of ongoing projects and get a sense of priorities for future fundraising. The Committee has been a key supporter of the Agency’s gender projects, initiatives for its (female) over-aged students (those who have missed two or more years of school), and projects related to emergency food and psychosocial support in UNRWA Gaza’s emergency and flash appeals. The representative visited UNRWA’s technical and vocational training centres both in Gaza and Khan Younis, an UNRWA Health Centre, Gender Initiative projects, including a Community Based Organization (CBO) in Beit Hanoun, the Al-Ata’ Charitable Association, that is rolling out educational support units and some components of the Young Women Leaders Programme. The CBO’s premises were destroyed in the summer 2014 conflict and it relocated just a few streets away to continue implementing projects supporting women empowerments projects. The NatCom representative also participated in meetings with various UNRWA Gaza departments and project teams.
On 11 February, a delegation from the German KfW Development Bank visited completely rebuilt and repaired shelters funded by KfW. The delegation met with refugee families and viewed additional shelters that were near completion. The one day visit also included a debriefing on the UNRWA shelter response, and discussions with UNOPS staff regarding the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism - which included a visit to a vendor participating in the process. To date, Germany has generously donated EUR 57 million (approximately US $63.5 million) - EUR 50 million of which is through KfW - towards the UNRWA shelter response to the 2014 hostilities, making Germany – together with Saudi Arabia – the key donor to the shelter response programme in Gaza. The contribution is expected to reach approximately 7,800 Palestine refugee families whose homes were damaged or destroyed during the 2014 conflict. The KfW Development Bank finances and supports development programmes and projects on behalf of the German Federal Government, primarily the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).
On 8 and 9 February, envoys of the Middle East Quartet met in Oslo as part of their continued engagement with key regional and international stakeholders. The envoys from the European Union, the Russian Federation, the United States and the United Nations met with Norwegian Foreign Minister Brende and the Envoy for the Middle East Peace Process, Ambassador Tor Wennesland. In a statement on the visit, the envoys “expressed concern about current trends on the ground that pose a threat to the two-state solution and reiterated the call for concrete steps that resume the transition contemplated by the Oslo Accords.”
During the reporting week, on 9 February, the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Mr. Nickolay Mladenov, released a statement welcoming the ongoing Palestinian Unity Talks hosted by Qatar: "The United Nations supports all efforts undertaken to advance genuine Palestinian reconciliation on the basis of non-violence, democracy and PLO principles.” In the statement, the Special Coordinator notes that “the Palestinian people, particularly in Gaza, have suffered enough. They deserve to see the West Bank and Gaza reunited under a single, democratic and legitimate Palestinian authority.” As reported in the media, Palestinian leaders announced the start of a new round of unity talks last month.
Operational environment: A number of protests, sit-ins and demonstrations were reported between 9 and 16 February. This included demonstrations regarding demands for shelter support from UNRWA and/or UNSCO, protests against a decrease of UNRWA hospitalization services in Lebanon and demands for job opportunities through UNRWA. Palestinian doctors also held a sit-in at Abu Mazen Square, west of Gaza City demanding their entitlements from the Palestinian Ministry of Health. Several protests were held in solidarity with the West Bank journalist, Mohammed Al Qeeq, whose hunger strike and detainment has been widely reported in the media.
A number of deaths were recorded during the reporting week. On 11 February, an 11 year old boy died of wounds sustained in a previous conflict, when his home was targeted by an Israeli missile west of Gaza city. On 14 February, a 50 year old Palestinian male was found shot dead on a farm south of Nuseirat refugee camp. The reported reason behind the incident was family revenge. The police are reportedly investigating. On the same day, a Palestinian male reportedly attempted suicide by burning himself in Khan Younis, southern Gaza. The police reportedly intervened, however the background of the incident remains unclear. Earlier in the week, on 12 February, a 20 year old Palestinian male reportedly attempted to commit suicide by using fuel, at Bani Suhaila junction. He sustained severe burns. Earlier in the week, on 10 February, a 36 year old Palestinian male from Khan Younis City reportedly committed suicide by hanging himself at his workplace in Nuseirat camp. On 11 February, a male aged 18 years old was found hanged. The background of the incidents is unclear. Police opened investigations.
Several fires were reported during the week. On 11 February, a fire started inside a house in Al Sabra area, south of Gaza city, reportedly due to misuse of a gas cylinder. Civil Defense arrived and controlled the fire. The house sustained damages but no injuries were reported. On 14 February, a fire started inside a house in Khuza’a area, reportedly due to electrical malfunction. Civil Defense arrived and controlled the fire. The house sustained damages but no injuries were reported.
On 15 February, part of a building at Al Aqsa University branch in Khan Younis, southern Gaza, collapsed. One fatality and twenty-two injuries were reported.
On 9 February, a mortar shell was reportedly found in a bag at Sheja’iyeh junction. The shell was removed by the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Police. No injuries were reported. On the same day, unknown persons reportedly detonated an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) in front of a billiards venue in Zaitoun area. No injuries were reported but the venue sustained damage. The police opened an investigation into the event.
Special Education in UNRWA schools: ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education for all
The UNRWA Inclusive Education Policy reaffirms the Agency’s commitment to the realization of the universal right of all children to an education. Inclusive education is an important pillar of the UNRWA Education Programme in Gaza and is closely linked to its Disability Programme.
In the current school year (2015-2016) there are approximately 10,640 persons (6,409 boys and 4,231 girls) with disabilities studying in UNRWA schools in Gaza. These students live with various major motor, fine motor, visual, hearing, health, speech and other impairments. Nonetheless, they are enthusiastic to learn and participate in traditional schooling.
Special Needs students are encouraged to attend UNRWA schools, and the Inclusive Education approach helps them to integrate into mainstream schooling by providing them with extra support. In cases where more specialized support is needed, the Agency refers students to Community-Based Rehabilitation Centres (CBRCs). UNRWA currently supports seven CBRCs across the Gaza Strip, providing services to persons with disabilities, including educational services, to approximately 800 refugee children. Further, the Agency directly supports 132 visually impaired children through the UNRWA Rehabilitation Centre for Visually Impaired in Gaza city. There are also 11 learning support centres in Gaza, each of which provide special services to children in need.
Fourteen year old Moaaz Abu Daher is one of fifteen children with special needs attending an UNRWA school in Deir el Balah. In addition to receiving inclusive teaching methods in the classroom, the students receive psychosocial support and appropriate health and medical resources.
Moaaz is a keen footballer and enjoys playing sports with his friends at school. He also has a prosthetic leg, having had his leg amputated due to bone cancer. He believes his disability will never hinder him in his sports and study.
Some UNRWA students also receive speech therapy lessons at home; their parents are provided with information and awareness on special needs. UNRWA teachers have also been trained on the Inclusive Education approach in order to enable them to identify and respond to the diverse needs of students in a professional manner.
“We try to give the students some stress release activities, such as drawing,” said 46 year old Samir Hamda, a school counsellor. “We also conduct awareness-raising sessions on special needs for parents.”
UNRWA’s approach to inclusive education is aligned with the global 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, wherein Sustainable Development Goal number four is to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.” It recognizes that education is essential for the success of all the SDGs.
Summary of Major Incidents
During the reporting week, Israeli forces fired towards Palestinian areas along the perimeter fence and towards Palestinian boats on an almost daily basis.
On 9 February, militants fired one test rocket from west of Khan Younis towards the sea.
On 12 February, approximately 250 civilians including youth, held a protest near Erez Crossing, expressing their eagerness to defend Al-Aqsa Mosque and in solidarity with Palestinians in the West Bank. Some of the participants approached the perimeter fence and reportedly threw stones towards Israeli Forces’ observation posts. Israeli Forces reportedly responded with gunfire and tear gas. No injuries were reported. Also on 12 February, approximately 150 civilian including youth, held a protest east of Sheja’iyeh, northern Gaza, expressing their eagerness to defend Al-Aqsa Mosque and in solidarity with Palestinians in the West Bank. Some of the participants approached the perimeter fence near Nahal Oz and reportedly threw stones towards Israeli Forces’ observation posts. Israeli Forces reportedly responded with gunfire and tear gas. One person was injured. On the same day, approximately 70 civilians including youth, held a protest east of Al Bureij Camp, expressing their eagerness to defend Al-Aqsa Mosque and in solidarity with Palestinians in the West Bank. Some of the participants approached the perimeter fence and reportedly threw stones towards Israeli Forces’ observation posts. Israeli Forces reportedly responded with gunfire and tear gas. Four persons were injured. Again on 12 February, approximately 50 civilians including youth, held a protest near the perimeter fence east of Al Faraheen area, expressing their eagerness to defend Al-Aqsa Mosque and in solidarity with Palestinians in the West Bank. Some of the participants approached the perimeter fence and reportedly threw stones towards observation posts. No injuries were reported.
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.
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 was open during the reporting week for two days - 13 and 14 February. It was closed from 9-12 February and 15-16 February.
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 9-11 February and from 14-16 February. On 12 February it was open for pedestrians only. It was closed on 13 February.
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 9 to 12 February and from 14 to 16 February. It was closed on 12 and 13 February.