24 February – 3 March | Issue 82
- “We must not fail in Gaza” is the title of a statement issued on 26 February and signed by 30 international aid agencies working in Gaza – including UNRWA. The aid agencies expressed their concern about the slow pace of reconstruction, the worsening living conditions in Gaza as well as the ongoing economic blockade imposed by Israel and the prevailing political stalemate. The statement also talks of the continued displacement crisis this winter and the dire living conditions in make shift shelters not designed for long-term stay. The 30 agencies state that tensions are increasing, further fuelled by the non-payment of salaries for public employees. The statement mentions the nearly one million Gaza children who have experienced “unimaginable suffering” in three major conflicts in the past six years, with an estimated 400,000 in need of psychological support. In the statement, Israel, as the occupying power, is requested to comply with international law. Furthermore, the statement calls on all parties to resume peace negotiations. “We must realize the vision of making Gaza a liveable place and a cornerstone of peace and security for all in the region,” the statement concludes.
- On 2 March, UNRWA Commissioner General Pierre Krähenbühl addressed the European Parliament (EP) foreign affairs committee. He warned the committee that the current upheaval and hostilities in the Middle East also affect the five million Palestine refugees living in the region, mentioning a risk of radicalization as the Middle East becomes more unstable. Krähenbühl also stated that the EU had a crucial role to play. In an interview conducted afterwards by EP news he said regarding Gaza: “We are essentially talking about a time bomb.” He once more called on the donors to fulfil their pledges made at the Cairo Conference on Palestine back in October 2014 and repeated the need for political action to address the conflict’s underlying causes, in particular the occupation and the blockade itself. Considering the current situation in the region and UNRWA’s work, “Europe is a key actor because of its focus on human rights and its concern for human dignity,” the commissioner stated.
- The United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, visited Gaza on 2 March. In a statement released after the visit he said: “I can honestly say that for the UN and for myself, Gaza has always been a top priority. I wish I could say the same for everyone. After each war, we have had to pick up the pieces. Three times UN agencies, with UNRWA and UNDP in the lead, have been providing vital humanitarian and development assistance to the people of Gaza. During his visit, Serry met with a family in Shijaiyeh in Gaza City, whose house was badly damaged during last summer’s escalation and who received a cash grant from UNRWA to carry out shelter repair. Mr Serry met the head of the family in front of his house where repair work is currently ongoing. “I fully understand the frustration of people in Gaza with the overall slow pace of reconstruction. Many of those who now have access to building material lack the money to buy them or to carry out the works,” he commented after the visit. Serry thus reiterated the importance of shelter repair programmes and the urgent need for more funding. His statement ends with a call for the lifting of the blockade and the adoption of a “Gaza first” strategy: “Gaza is a political problem which must be addressed as part of ending the occupation and achieving a two-state solution,” Serry concluded.
- Art featured prominently in international and local news on Gaza during the reporting period. The famous, but anonymous international artist Banksy has highlighted the situation in the Gaza Strip with several graffiti paintings six months after the ceasefire. His graffiti – with titles such as Bomb Damage or The Thinker - appear on several walls of damaged buildings throughout Gaza. Bansky also issued a satiric 2-minute video where he invites the viewer to accompany him and “discover a new destination” this year. The fake “holiday video” is underlined with brief and poignant facts, reminding people of the ongoing devastation and suffering in Gaza. Five days after it was uploaded, the video had been watched over 1.4 million times on YouTube.
- A young Gazan artist living in the Deir al-Balah Camp in the Middle of the Gaza Strip also made headlines recently. Nidaa Badwa’s room, which she left only twice during the past 15 months, measures 100 square feet. “Everything is beautiful, but only in my room, not in Gaza,” the artist told a reporter from the New York Times. Her photography project called 100 Days of Solitude – in reference to Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ novel – is currently exhibited in the Al Hoash Art Gallery in east Jerusalem with the support of the French Institute in Gaza. It consists of 14 self-portraits taken in her room. After Jerusalem, the exhibition will move to the West Bank cities of Nablus, Ramallah, Hebron and Bethlehem, with hopes for Paris and Berlin – and in the future for Gaza.
- UNRWA has announced a new US$ 32.2 million contribution from Japan. US$ 21 million of this grant will go to Gaza to support health care and the shelter assistance programme for repairs and rental subsidies for refugees rendered homeless by last summer’s conflict in Gaza. UNRWA was forced to suspend the shelter assistance programme in Gaza in January due to a lack of funds. In the announcement, UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl said: “This support, which could not be more timely, is a crucial step towards helping Palestine refugees rebuild in Gaza, survive the extreme hardship resulting from the Syria crisis and access their basic needs elsewhere in our area of operations. It is an important contribution to dignity, human security and the hope for peace in this volatile region.” Junya Matsuura, Ambassador for Palestinian Affairs and Representative of Japan to the Palestinian Authority, added: “Assistance to Palestine refugees through UNRWA has been always one of the pillars of Japan’s peace efforts in the region. Palestine refugees in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria need international assistance more than ever, especially in Gaza and Syria to face the severe political and economic situations surrounding them.” This donation is the largest ever one-time contribution from Japan to UNRWA. Japan’s total annual contribution in 2014 was US$ 28.3 million, a considerable increase from US$ 15.5 million in 2011. Due to lack of funds, UNRWA in January 2015 was forced to suspend its cash assistance programme supporting repairs and providing rental subsidies to Palestine refugee families in Gaza. The new donation is part of the US$ 175 million that have been pledged from Saudi Arabia, Japan and Ireland for the Agency’s shelter and rental subsidies programme, still leaving a shortfall of US$ 545 million.
- On 25 February, a delegation from the German KfW Development Bank visited two UNRWA schools in Gaza - built with funding from the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) - and was briefed on the UNRWA shelter programme. The visit was part of a mission to Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan to review the ongoing cooperation between UNRWA and KfW, as well as to appraise the new phase of the Regional Programme for the Improvement of Living Conditions of Palestinian Refugee Camps. Germany through KfW donated US$ 24.8 million to UNRWA for its repair and transitional shelter cash assistance programme, making Germany together with Saudi Arabia the key donor to the shelter cash assistance programme in Gaza. The KfW Development Bank finances and supports development programmes and projects on behalf of the German Federal Government, primarily the BMZ.
- From 2-4 March a delegation of American Friends of UNRWA have visited Gaza. The three day visit included visits to two UNRWA schools, an UNRWA Collective Centre and the UNRWA Sulafa Embroidery Project. American Friends of UNRWA (UNRWA USA) is an independent nonprofit that supports the humanitarian and human development work of UNRWA through fundraising, advocacy, and outreach. UNRWA USA aims to educate the general American public about the situation of Palestinian refugees and generate support for UNRWA's work in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan.
- An increasing tension in the region was covered in the media this week, including on 28 February when an Egyptian court declared Hamas a terrorist organization. This decision comes after another Egyptian court had labelled the armed wing of Hamas – the al-Qassam Brigades – a terrorist group in January, earlier this year. Across Gaza, protests were held against the court ruling and according to media reports the Hamas political leadership denounced the decision. The ruling was issued only a few days after Egypt had adopted a new anti-terrorism law that allows the authorities to close premises and freeze the assets of any declared terrorist organisation.
- The Gazan economy remains extremely unstable. The Palestine Central Bureau for Statistics (PCBS) has released data concerning economic activity during the third quarter (Q3) of 2014 which includes the 50 days of conflict. During this period, Gaza’s economy was basically on standby, resulting in a disastrous impact on the economy with GDP shrinking by 28.4 per cent from Q2 to Q3, from US$ 480.9 million to US$ 344.2 million. The shrinkage was particularly felt in the agriculture (-74.8 per cent) and construction (-75.2 per cent) sectors. The construction industry had already collapsed after the crackdown of the tunnel economy which resulted in a 64 per cent drop in construction added value between Q4 in 2013 and Q1 in 2014. Lastly, real GDP also fell by 30 per cent compared to the previous quarter, reaching its lowest quarterly level ever recorded by PCBS. The resumption of economic activities and aid-driven recovery might lead to a rebound in the fourth quarter of 2014. However, as the Israeli Non Government Organization (NGO) Gisha writes in a newly published paper on Gaza’s economy: “The Palestinian economy has no hope of realizing its potential without a connection between its two major territorial parts [West Bank and Gaza], making any reconstruction talks that leaves out this connection unrealistic.” It is also reported that the Israeli government is withholding an estimated US$ 375 million in Palestinian tax revenues.
- On 3 March, UNRWA commenced the provision of hot meals for IDP families living in its Collective Centres (CCs). The meals will be provided on a daily basis in the following rations: rice and lentils, rice and chicken, or rice, vegetables and meat. The meals provide variety for the IDPs and will be rotated. In cooperation with donors, UNRWA continued daily water distributions to the CCs. The Agency also conducted awareness sessions on issues such as the avoidance of power overloads, the prevention of fire risk or a cleaning/hygiene campaign that reached 500 IDPs. There is a new born in the Ibn Khaldoun prep boys CC in Rafah.
- In 2014, UNRWA in Gaza generated 23,419 jobs, including 13,399 area staff (including regular staff, daily employees, service contractors), 4,972 JCP positions (FTE, for over 20,000 direct beneficiaries), and over 5,000 direct and indirect FTE through UNRWA’s construction projects. Over the course of 2014, it is estimated that the actual expenditure for UNRWA contracted construction projects (USD$ 25.4 million) resulted in the creation of 1,861 full time equivalents (FTEs). In addition, 3,197 FTEs were generated thanks to the UNRWA funding disbursed for self-help repair under the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM, US$ 43.6 million, in the fourth quarter of 2014 only). Together, the combination of UNRWA contracted and self-help construction works created a total of 5,058 FTEs. Full time equivalents (FTEs) correspond to an estimation of the number of jobs created by a given project within a predefined timeframe. FTEs are obtained by dividing the total generated man-days by the actual number of working days over the duration of the project implementation. For example, a project generating 546 man-days over one year (273 working days) would correspond to 2 FTEs. The FTEs should be understood as the average number of jobs created by the project at any point in time. The FTEs correspond to the lowest possible estimate of the total number of individuals employed throughout the project’s lifespan, as each FTE may indeed correspond to several workers if the project has a high turnover rate. In the context of the UNRWA (re)construction programme under the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM), the FTE formula assumes that 30 per cent of the project expenditure is allocated to labour, at an average rate of US$ 15 per worker per day. The same formula is applied to both modalities currently used by UNRWA, i.e. contracted construction and self-help repair/reconstruction. It is therefore assumed that in both cases the share of expenditure allocated to workmanship is similar: while for contracted projects this allocation only takes the form of formal salary payments, for the self-help approach it corresponds to a combination of payments to locally contracted construction workers and of a financial compensation retained by the beneficiary for the work in case he/she undertakes the work by himself/herself.
Operational environment: The situation in Gaza remains politically, socially and economically unstable. Gaza’s infrastructure and economy was devastated even before last summer’s conflict. People are frustrated and uncertain of what the future holds.
Those hired under the former de facto government are still not receiving full salaries – the last of which was received in October 2013. Since August, several smaller payments have been made to civilian staff, including a humanitarian payment facilitated by the United Nations last year. It is reported that also the Palestinian Authority (PA) salaries for the last two months were paid only on a sixty per cent basis, with reportedly approximately 200 staff not being paid at all. Civilian and security employees of the former de-facto government were reportedly paid 1,000 NIS. A number of protests demanding salary payments were reported during the week.
During the reporting week, different Palestinian factions and militants exchanged fire in Beit Lahia due to a land dispute. One man was injured. Daily protests and civil unrest continued outside UN installations and INGO offices. Protesters demanded the release of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons, the opening of the Rafah crossing, a faster reconstruction process and the lifting of the Israeli imposed blockade. On 28 February a sit-in was held in front of an UNRWA Collective Centre in Beit Hanoun, protesting against the decision to transfer IDPs to another CC. On the same day, there were demonstrations in Jabalia and Nuseirat against the Egyptian court’s decision to declare the Hamas movement a terrorist organization. Similar protests were held on 1 March in Gaza, Khan Younis and Rafah.
“RCVI was always there for me”
Mohamed Abu Mousa is teaching 4 year-old Salma how to use type the Arabic alphabet in Braille language. Mohamed was once himself a pupil at RCVI.
Every morning, seven large UN buses from all the corners of Gaza arrive at the UNRWA Rehabilitation Centre for the Visually Impaired (RCVI) in the Rimal neighbourhood of Gaza City. For the past few weeks, in addition to older students, these buses have carried kindergarten aged boys and girls. On 31 January 2015, UNRWA opened a kindergarten for visually impaired pupils – the only one in Gaza.
Surrounded by children eager to learn and listen, Mohamed Abu Mousa, the 29 year-old kindergarten teacher, who is also blind, seems satisfied. “I lost my eye sight when I was four,” he explains. Shortly thereafter he joined RCVI to learn how to cope with his impairment. “RCVI was always there, with me, supporting and promoting me,” he continues.
His own experiences helped Mohamed to fully understand the needs of his students. “At the beginning, I was so scared to leave home where my family was fully helping me, but then in school things started to change, and with the teachers support I became a distinguished pupil,” he remembers. The various trainings and education he received through RCVI equipped Mohamed with new daily life and social skills.
Indeed, the RCVI is a preparation for life. The kindergarten students are taught basic skills such as how to tie their shoes and how to use the bathroom. In addition, RCVI tries to enhance their other senses to compensate for a loss of sight, for example through music. The RCVI is part of UNRWA’s Relief and Social Services Programme, which promotes the development and self-reliance of less-advantaged members of the Palestine refugee community – especially women, children, people with disabilities and the elderly.
Since its foundation in 1962, UNRWA’s RCVI in Gaza has made great advances. “Although the services provided by RCVI at that time were humble attempts, it still helped a lot to change the lives of visually impaired persons in Gaza. We felt that RCVI is our second home and we were able to overcome the isolation status that normally overwhelmed us,” explains Mohamed.
Cooperation with the families is key for the development of the children and success of the Centre. The RCVI maintains a social and psychological support unit that advises families on supporting visually impaired children. Once a year, the RCVI brings together all the mothers of students and provides them with education sessions. Many of these are practical, including being taught the braille language and how to use Perkins typing machines. Each child is provided with one of these machines in the Centre, and one on a loan-basis at home. The average cost of these machines is approximately US$ 1,000, a price only few people in Gaza could afford to pay.
The newly opened kindergarten was made possible due to the generosity of a private donor. The grant of US$ 180,000 will keep the kindergarten running for the next three years. Thirteen children currently attend the RCVI kindergarten; however, this number is likely to increase with the beginning of the next school year in September.
SUMMARY OF MAJOR INCIDENTS
During this week, IDF troops reportedly fired at Palestinians near the fence and at Palestinian boats on a daily basis. On 28 February, an unexploded ordinance (UXO) exploded in Rafah and killed one person; the second person sustained shrapnel wounds and was evacuated to the hospital. On 4 March, an IDF incursion of 150 metres into Gaza was reported. On 25 and 26 February and on 2 March, militants fired test rockets towards the sea. No injuries were reported.
US$ 175 million has been pledged in support of UNRWA’s emergency programme, for which a total of US$ 720 million is required. This leaves a current shortfall of US$ 545 million. UNRWA urgently requires US$ 100 million in the first quarter of 2015 to allow refugee families with minor damage to repair their homes and to provide ongoing rental subsidies.
On 9 December 2014, UNRWA launched the oPt Emergency Appeal in Geneva. For its 2015 emergency operations in Gaza, the Agency is seeking USD 366.6 million, including USD 127 million for emergency shelter, repair and collective centre management, USD 105.6 million for emergency food assistance, and USD 68.6 million for emergency cash-for-work. More information can be found here.