Gaza situation report 108
25 August – 1 September 2015 | issue 108
View the 2014 Gaza conflict and UNRWA shelter response infographic (PDF).
View the Gaza eight years of blockade infographic (PDF).
- During a visit by United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), Mr. Robert Piper to mark the one year anniversary of the ceasefire, UNRWA showcased a pilot emergency shelter response which addresses both displaced refugee families’ needs for transitional shelter and adds to the sorely insufficient housing stock. With a budget of US$ 65,000, the pilot enabled home owners to complete the building of 10 unfinished apartments that will host 10 refugee families over one year, possibly longer. The Humanitarian Coordinator and Country Team’s visit to Gaza also included viewing projects supported by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the local Palestinian non-government organization network PNGO. The objective of the visit was to raise awareness about the critical humanitarian situation in Gaza and to reach out to a wide-range of different stakeholders. Two attached infographic fact sheets summarize the dismal situation in Gaza at a glance, as well as the importance of the UNRWA response as stabilising force in Gaza.
- Thirty-six aid organizations and 400,000 individuals marked the ceasefire anniversary on 26 August with the launch of a public call to end the Gaza blockade. As of 1 September, the number of signatories to the call had increased to 625,865 individuals. The campaign, organized by the global citizens movement Avaaz, is stated to be the largest ever public push to end the blockade; supporters are urging world leaders to address the Israeli government to lift the restrictions on Gaza and to uphold promises made to rebuild Gaza one year ago. The campaign statement also recognises that Gaza’s reconstruction is hindered by the perceived failure of Palestinian political parties to reconcile and by Egypt’s closure of its border with Gaza. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) oPt’s August 2015 Gaza Crossings Operations Status monthly update, longstanding restrictions on the movement of people and goods to and from Gaza have undermined the living conditions of 1.8 million Palestinians (including 1.3 million refugees) in Gaza. Many of the current restrictions, originally imposed in the early 1990s, were intensified after June 2007, following the Hamas takeover of Gaza and the imposition of a blockade by Israel. These restrictions have decimated livelihoods, reduced essential services and housing, disrupted family life, and undermined people’s hopes for a secure and prosperous future. The situation has been compounded by the restrictions imposed since June 2013 by the Egyptian authorities at Rafah Crossing, which had become the main crossing point used by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, given the above restrictions on the Israeli-controlled crossings.
- On 31 August, 250,800 UNRWA students were able to begin their 2015/16 school year in 257 UNRWA schools across Gaza, after three-months of summer vacation. During the summer break, as part of the Agency’s efforts to provide for the health of refugee children, five UNRWA medical school teams screened new entrance students (grade 1) at various Health Centres across Gaza as a pre-emptive measure to detect diseases and learning impairments. Children suffering from detected morbidities were referred to the six UNRWA Special Children Special Needs (SCSN) officers for further investigation, care and management. While the medical screening of grade 1 students took place during the summer holidays, the routine screening of students in grade 4 and 7 will start in September and will be ongoing during the whole 2015/2016 school year, ending in May 2016. Medical screenings of students in grade 4 and 7 are a periodic cross-checking, monitoring measure and take place in the schools themselves. Besides the medical screenings, the UNRWA medical school teams also provide health education, vaccinations or de-worming treatment for refugee children. UNRWA operates 21 Health Centres across Gaza, and employs 166 doctors, 328 nurses, 72 pharmacists and their assistants to ensure quality health care for Palestine refugees.
- The UNRWA supported Sulafa Embroidery Centre in Gaza participated in the New York Now Show last week. The Centre aims at empowering women by providing them with livelihoods opportunities and giving them access to the (local) market by using their artisanal skills. At the show it exhibited hand-made pillows, shawls, handbags, small purses or ornaments in traditional Palestinian design as well as a new collection of designs and colours. 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. This year, the show included over 1,000 home décor exhibitors, 1,100 gift and 600 handcraft exhibitors. Sulafa’s participation in this exhibition is part of a business and marketing plan established by UNRWA. The plan seeks to insulate Sulafa and women’s incomes from the volatile local political situation and its impact on economic opportunities. As a result of the exhibition and contacts made with interested visitors, the Sulafa Centre began 38 marketing discussions and has already received 10 production orders. 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 improvement is based on the implementation of the first, basic steps of business development.
- UNRWA has received a donation of 36 tons of frozen meat to distribute to Palestine refugees in Gaza. The trucks came from Jordan through the West Bank and then crossed Kerem Shalom Crossing into Gaza, where the UNRWA logistics team picked them up and brought them to Gaza city for a quality test control which was successfully passed. The 1,152 cartons of frozen meat, each weighing between 16 and 21kgs, will be distributed to beneficiaries in seven UNRWA Distribution Centres across Gaza from 5 to 8 September 2015. The 3,456 refugee families who benefit from this distribution belong to the UNRWA Social Safety Net and are considered abject poor (meaning households who live below US$ 1.5 per capita per day). UNRWA currently supports almost 877,000 refugees through its regular food assistance.
- During the 2014 conflict, at its peak UNRWA managed 90 emergency shelters and hosted almost 293,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs). In recognition of the need to provide training to UNRWA staff who contribute to the Agency’s emergency response, UNRWA engaged in an interagency initiative partnering with the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) to strengthen the capacity of personnel in shelter management. NRC is facilitating as lead of the global camp management and coordination cluster which also oversees the global response for managing Collective Centres. As part of its global role, NRC will provide surge trainers to conduct training of trainers (ToTs) for UNRWA and others rostered for non-UNRWA shelters on how to efficiently manage shelters based on principles of humanitarian assistance. The ToT sessions will include theoretical and scenario-based exercises, case studies and a peer-to-peer learning approach.
- The 2015/16 school year of the UNRWA Technical and Vocational Training Centres in Gaza and Khan Younis started during the reporting week. Technical courses include training in programming and databases, fashion design, civil engineering, and physiotherapy, whilst vocational crafts courses include training in carpentry, auto electrical systems and machining and welding. These trainings welcomed students in the first and second year of technical courses, and second year in crafts courses. In total, the new school year offered 435 placements for new students in technical courses, 312 in Gaza and 123 in Khan Younis. The rate of females admitted this year to technical courses stands at 76.6 per cent. Furthermore, at the end of August placement tests were conducted for applicants in first year crafts and skilled courses, such as tiling and ceramic works, maintenance of air condition systems, auto body repairing or masonry and plastering works. A total of 839 applicants were invited to sit for the exam for a total of 620 placements, 500 in Gaza and 120 in Khan Younis. The interviews for the students’ admission will take place in the coming week.
- Shelter update
- During the reporting week, UNRWA disbursed approximately US$ 871,383 to beneficiaries in need of emergency shelter support. This includes transfers for outstanding transitional shelter cash assistance (TSCA) to cover the period from January to August 2015 (US$ 236,325) as well as transfers to support the reconstruction of totally demolished shelters (US$ 635,058). A total of 239 refugee families will benefit from these funds accessed through local banks.
- To date, UNRWA engineers have confirmed 139,817 Palestine refugee houses as impacted during last summer’s conflict; 9,117 of them are considered totally demolished. 5,000 shelters have suffered severe, 3,700 major and 122,000 minor, damages.
- Since the start of the 2014 emergency shelter response, the Agency has distributed over US$ 125.8 million (excluding Programme Support Costs) to Palestine refugee families whose homes were damaged or demolished during the 2014 summer conflict. To date, UNRWA has completed the payments to over 66,200 Palestine refugee families – more than half of the caseload – for minor repair works and to 428 families to repair their severely damaged shelters. Payment transfers for 11,956 refugee families to continue repair works of their shelters and for 69 families to continue the reconstruction of their shelters are ongoing.
- Over 12,500 families have received a rental subsidy payment to cover the period from September to December 2014. Disbursement of subsequent installments entailed further eligibility checks through which over 9,000 families have received the relevant rental subsidy payments during the period from January to August 2015.
- Due to lack of sufficient funding, to date over 47,000 refugee families have not received the first tranche for repair works of their shelter and over 7,300 families have not received the second tranche to continue repair works. UNRWA has processed these cases and they have received approval through the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism; as soon as funding is secured, the Agency can distribute the urgently needed assistance to these families. Due to lack of funding also thousands of refugee families were not yet able to start the reconstruction of their totally demolished home.
- UNRWA Gaza’s Infrastructure and Camp Improvement Programme (ICIP) will supervise two local companies that will undertake the construction work of the Faculty of Art and Students Activities Centre at the new campus of Al Azhar University in Gaza city. The construction of these two buildings is generously supported by the Saudi Fund for Development with a contribution of US$ 24.1 million. The construction works will officially start on 5 September 2015. This project is a special one-off opportunity to collaborate on a wider education initiative.
Operational environment: On 26 August, one year after the ceasefire of the 2014 conflict, the International Crisis Group (ICG) published a report titled “No exit? Gaza and Israel between wars” in which they state that “little has been done to alter the conditions that precipitated” last summer’s conflict, pointing at the worsening dismal and dysfunctional political, economic and social situation in the Gaza Strip. The report analyses a variety of local and regional factors, developments and players, and includes recommendations on how to forestall another “cycle of war and destruction.”
European missions based in Jerusalem and Ramallah condemned a death sentence carried out in the Gaza Strip during the reporting week, as per media reports. According to the non-governmental organization Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), based in Gaza, the Permanent Military Court in Gaza had sentenced a 37-year old man to death by firing squad after convicting him of collaboration with a foreign hostile entity. According to PCHR, the total number of death sentences issued by the Palestinian Authority since 1994 has risen to 161, of which 133 have been issued in Gaza, and 76 of them since 2007.
On 26, 27 and 30 August, Parents Councils continued their sit-ins at various UNRWA schools to protest against the increasing numbers of students in UNRWA school classrooms. On 30 August, the Parents Council and the UNRWA Local Staff Union (LSU) held a press conference in front of the UNRWA Gaza Field Office, announcing students classes would resume on 31 August. They agreed to suspend any protest for 10 days to allow the LSU to negotiate with UNRWA management for solutions.
Several incidences of intercommunal and interfamilial violence have been reported this week. On 26 August a member of the Gaza-based Al Ahrar human rights movement was severely beaten up by unknown persons. On 27 August a family dispute erupted in Khan Younis, southern Gaza, resulting in the killing of a 32-year old male. On the same day, a family dispute in northern Gaza resulted in the throwing of a hand grenade; four persons were injured. Also on 27 August in Gaza city, vendors allegedly assaulted an employee of the Municipality of Gaza city with edged weapons and sharp objects; the employee was injured and transferred to a hospital in serious condition.
On 26 August, a Palestinian merchant was arrested by Israeli troops at Erez Crossing. On 27 August, a staff member of the aid organization Mercy Corps was arrested by Israeli troops at Erez Crossing.
On 29 August, the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) held a graduation ceremony in Gaza city for approximately 100 female militants. On 1 September two Palestinian children were admitted to the hospital after being hit by stray bullets in Rafah from the Egyptian military observation towers.
During the reporting week, various other protests were held in Gaza; protestors demonstrated against the alleged kidnapping of four Hamas members in the Sinai, in Egypt, a few weeks ago, against the closure of some health centres by the Ministry of Health or demanding the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails.
The Sulafa Embroidery Centre: providing Palestine refugee women in Gaza with an opportunity to keep traditional crafts alive and earn a living
50-year old Awated Badr has been embroidering since she was a child; it was her mother who taught her the traditional Arab handicraft. Almost 20 years ago, Awated, who holds a Bachelor’s degree in Arabic language, decided to find employment to support her family since her husband was suffering from a bad health condition which affected his ability to work.
Because she did not find a job in her academic field, Awated opted to use other skills and joined the Women’s Programme Centre in Deir El Balah, central Gaza. She received professional lessons from an instructor at the UNRWA supported Sulafa Embroidery Centre, and produced designs that she could sell through Sulafa.
“This work opportunity provided and still provides me with a stable income that allows me to pay for the education of my children,” Awated said. “My eldest son is now at university, and I still have three to support. I am very proud of my work and the fact that I help to support my family,” she added.
Aware of the dire economic situation in Gaza and the difficulty for young graduates to find employment, Awated has started to teach her daughter the embroidery craft because “no one can guarantee the future, and she has to learn something as an alternative,” she explained.
Convinced of the Sulafa business model, Awated also directed some of her friends to the Centre so they could, in her words, “produce fabulous pieces and maintain their dignity through work.”
Some of Awated’s friends indeed did join the Women’s Programme Centre where they until this day meet twice a week with instructors to constantly improve their skills and gain more experience.
“Over the years, the Sulafa Centre developed a lot; nowadays we not only produce traditional pieces but also very modern designs that vary in terms of colours, patterns and sizes,” Awated commented proudly.
The Sulafa Centre has been supported and operated by UNRWA since 1950 and brings market income into the homes of more than 350 Palestine refugee women through the production and sale of embroidery goods.
Summary of Major Incidents
Israeli forces fired towards Palestinians near the security fence or towards Palestinian boats on a daily basis. On 25 August Israeli troops fired towards and arrested three Palestinians who tried to illegally cross into Israel from the Gaza Middle Area.
On 26 August, militants fired three test rockets towards the sea and one towards Israel which landed in the Eshkol Regional Council in Israel. On 27 August, Israeli aircraft fired one missile targeting a Hamas site in central Gaza. No injuries were reported in both incidents.
On 28 August militants fired one rocket towards Israel; the rocket dropped short and landed in Gaza areas. No injuries were reported.
On 28 August an Israeli infantry patrol entered approximately 50 metres into Gaza and conducted a clearing operation. Several flare lights were fired.
On 1 September militants fired one rocket towards Israel; the rocket dropped short inside Palestinian areas.
On the same day six Israeli bulldozers entered approximately 200 metres into Gaza areas and conducted a clearing operation.
Thanks to generous donors, UNRWA has overcome its immediate and most serious financial crisis and was able to partially bridge the US$ 101 million deficit in its General Fund; to date, approximately US$ 78.9 million has been confirmed by donors.
In response to the unprecedented needs faced by the Palestine refugees, and the continuous financial shortages and unstable financial footing of the Agency, UNRWA is currently exploring options for additional funding, but is also implementing a series of austerity measures aimed at decreasing costs where possible while preserving essential services to refugees.
US$ 227 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$ 493 million.
As presented in UNRWA’s oPt Emergency Appeal, the Agency is seeking US$ 366.6 million for its 2015 emergency operations in Gaza, including US$ 127 million for emergency shelter, repair and collective centre management, US$ 105.6 million for emergency food assistance, and US$ 68.6 million for emergency cash-for-work. More information can be found here.
- The Rafah Crossing was closed from 25 August to 1 September.
- The Erez crossing was open for National ID holders (humanitarian cases, medical cases, merchants and UN staff) and for international staff from 25 to 27 August and from 30 to 1 September. On 28 August, Erez crossing was open for pedestrians only. It was closed on 29 August.
- Kerem Shalom was open from 25 to 27 and 30 August to 1 September. It was closed on 28 and 29 August.
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