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Gaza Situation Report 115
13 – 20 October | issue 115
- More than one year after the devastating conflict of 2014, the Zaza refugee family is the first in Gaza to complete the reconstruction of their totally demolished home, with support from UNRWA. The family was one of 190 refugee cases submitted through the Residential Stream of the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (agreed in June 2015 between the governments of Israel and Palestine, to allow for the reconstruction of totally demolished homes). Having secured funds for the reconstruction of 200 homes at that point, UNRWA submitted applications for vulnerable refugee families with totally demolished homes who had their documentation ready. After approval, they were able to commence the reconstruction process. All but 20 of these applications are already approved, including the Zaza family. UNRWA engineers have confirmed 140,190 Palestine refugee houses as impacted during the 2014 conflict. Since the start of the 2014 emergency shelter response, the Agency has distributed over US$ 130.65 million (excluding Programme Support Costs) to Palestine refugee families whose homes were damaged or demolished during the hostilities. Due to lack of sufficient funding, to this day 13,167 refugee families whose homes were destroyed or severely damaged and uninhabitable remain displaced. See Sheter update below for more information.
- This week was the first week in which aggregate was no longer included in the dual-use goods list. The Israeli Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) unit removed aggregate from the “dual use” item list that restricts imports of certain materials into Gaza effective 11 October. Suppliers are now able to bring aggregate into Gaza without a special coordination process and contractors will be able to purchase it freely in the Gaza market. Israel says it considers as “dual use” items materials which it believes could have a military purpose and has thus restricted the import of products such as steel bars, concrete, electrical material, pipes or, most recently, wood thicker than one centimetre into the Gaza Strip. While the removal of aggregate from the list is a positive development, the other materials remain and pose a serious challenge to the reconstruction of, and construction in, the Gaza Strip. Imports of construction materials by UN Agencies into the Gaza Strip remain subject to a lengthy and cumbersome approval process imposed by Israeli authorities, including the submission of detailed design and bill of quantities to COGAT. Since 2010, Israel has permitted construction materials they deem as “dual use” to enter for approved UNRWA projects, yet the restricted import on wood in particular presents significant challenges for the Agency as it is not able to refurbish its schools with new furniture. UNRWA is considering the alternative of importing fully assembled school furniture, however this is a costly option and eliminates much needed jobs in Gaza.
- UNRWA Gaza’s Infrastructure and Camp Improvement Programme (ICIP) aims at improving the living conditions of Palestine refugees in the eight refugee camps across the Gaza Strip through planning, design and construction of UNRWA facilities, but also through the restoration of sewage and drainage networks and through maintenance and sanitation works. The ICIP Field Sanitation Office maintains branches in the eight camps and ensures adequate water supply, refuse disposal and insect/pest control. Currently, a total of 533 sanitation labourers, sanitation foremen and drivers are employed in two shifts to perform sanitation activities in the camps. In September 2015, the Field Sanitation Office pumped a total of 233,450 cubic metres of water from UNRWA water wells to the refugee camps, and has removed, transported and disposed of a total of 7,722 tons of solid waste from the camps. Across UNRWA’s five fields of operations, over 5 million Palestine refugees have registered with the Agency and roughly one third of these live in 58 recognized refugee camps. In Gaza and elsewhere, over the years many of the camps have transformed into hyper-congested masses of multi-story buildings with narrow alleys and with people suffering from poverty and overcrowding. The camps are considered to be amongst the densest urban environments in the world.
- On 17 October, the United Nations celebrated the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, which comes at the heels of the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Promoting awareness of the need to eradicate poverty constitutes a sustainable development goal. Alleviating poverty is one of the core pillars of UNRWA. During the reporting week the World Bank has announced to increase its poverty line to reflect a rise in the prices of goods worldwide. UNRWA has, in the beginning of 2015, taken a similar step and adjusted upwards its poverty lines to reflect the overall economic downturn and the increase in the cost of living following the closure of tunnels with Egypt (the abject poverty line was increased from US$ 1.5 to US$ 1.74, while the absolute poverty line was increased from US$ 3.63 to US$3.87). The socioeconomic situation in Gaza has long been in steady decline. Years of conflict and closure have left 80 per cent of the population dependent on international assistance.
- The UNRWA Rehabilitation Centre for Visually Impaired (RCVI), located in Gaza city, celebrated International White Cane Day on 18 October. During the ceremony, visually impaired students celebrated through musical performances, shared speeches, engaged in the traditional Palestinian Dabkah dance and performed a Karate show. Various other senior UNRWA staff members attended the ceremony. The RCVI is part of the UNRWA Relief and Social Services Programme (RSSP) and offers education and recreational activities for the currently 124 visually impaired students attending at RCVI, aiming at further development of their cognitive skills and their full integration into society.
- Inclusive education is an important part of UNRWA schools, and during the month of September 2015 the Agency worked to ensure quality education for students with special needs. Hence, the UNWRA Education Programme in Gaza, in cooperation with local non-government organizations, enabled 30 external students who have hearing difficulties and received a cochlear implant, into UNRWA schools. In addition, Special Education Needs field work teachers launched 695 visits to 128 schools to assess the needs of students. They also conducted awareness-raising sessions on special needs for 137 parents, 406 peer students and 73 teachers in schools across the Gaza Strip. Furthermore, the assessments for 147 students with extensive learning difficulties concluded and the students will soon receive daily special education classes on literacy. UNRWA counts a total of 8,933 Special Children Special Needs (SCSN) students in its schools in Gaza; 8,717 of them have already been examined, out of which 6,397 cases have been closed, meaning these students were referred to further services in and outside UNRWA schools.
- Shelter update
- Over the past two reporting weeks, UNRWA was able to disburse approximately US$ 1.67 million in funding available for the reconstruction of totally demolished homes (US$ 192,570), repair works for severely damaged shelters (US$ 930,790), minor repair works (US$ 14,662) and outstanding transitional shelter cash assistance (TSCA) to cover the period from September to December 2014 (US$ 532,075). The funds reached a total of 863 refugee families across the Gaza Strip. The families were able to access this assistance through local banks over the past two weeks.
- To date, UNRWA engineers have confirmed 140,746 Palestine refugee houses as impacted during the 2014 conflict; 9,117 of them are considered totally demolished. 5,300 shelters have suffered severe, 3,700 major and 122,629 minor damages.
- Since the start of the 2014 emergency shelter response, the Agency has distributed over US$ 130.65 million (excluding Programme Support Costs) to Palestine refugee families whose homes were damaged or demolished during the 2014 summer conflict. As of 21 October 2015, UNRWA has completed the payments to over 66,300 Palestine refugee families – more than half of the caseload – for minor repair works, to 702 families to repair their severely damaged shelters and to 8 families for major repair works. Payment transfers for over 11,600 refugee families to continue repair works of their shelters and for 134 families to continue the reconstruction of their shelters are ongoing.
- Over 13,100 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 9,900 families have received the relevant rental subsidy payments during the period from January to September 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. 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. Also, due to lack of funding 7,200 refugee families were not yet able to start the reconstruction of their totally demolished home.
Operational environment: Protests, violence and a strained atmosphere have continued in Gaza during the reporting week, however, according to reliable sources the last reporting week in Gaza has witnessed a decrease in incidents attributed to the ongoing events in the West Bank. Many demonstrations occurred within towns, and not in the vicinity of the fence, which resulted in less engagement with Israeli forces.
In a statement released this week, the International Committee of the Red Cross expressed increasing concern regarding the deterioration in the situation in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory. The statement remarks that attacks against civilians and the growing number of casualties at demonstrations and other events, are fueling a climate of fear and retribution. The ICRC called on all sides to show restraint and responsibility, stating that “failure to do so can only further aggravate the situation.”
Protests in the vicinity of the fence were predominately held in northern Gaza near Erez crossing, in Shujjaiya in eastern Gaza city, and east of Al Bureij camp in central Gaza. Some protestors were reportedly throwing stones towards Israeli soldiers during the protest; the Israeli forces reportedly responded with gunfire and tear gas.
Two Palestinians in Gaza have reportedly been killed by Israeli fire in protests during the reporting week, and approximately 150 protestors have been injured, some critical. Several protestors were arrested by Israeli forces when breaking the fence and entering Israel.
On 13 October, Palestinian militants opened fire towards an Israeli military vehicle near the fence in southern Gaza; no injuries were reported. On 16 October, militants opened fired towards four Israeli bulldozers near the fence east of Bureij camp in central Gaza; no injuries were reported.
On 15 October, Egyptian forces opened fire targeting Palestinian workers in a tunnel east of Rafah Terminal; three injuries were reported.
On 16 October, one Palestinian passed away from his injuries suffered due to Israeli shootings during a protest near Erez crossing on 9 October.
On 17 October, several schools in Shujjaiya, eastern Gaza, were evacuated due to tear gas fired by Israeli forces at protestors near the fence.
“After 70 days, I held the new keys in my hands”
Refugee family the first in Gaza to complete the reconstruction of their totally demolished home, with UNRWA support
More than one year after the devastating conflict, the Zaza refugee family is the first in Gaza to complete the reconstruction of their totally demolished home, with support from UNRWA.
Atef Al Zaza, his wife Fatima and their 12 children lost their home in Sha’af in eastern Gaza city in the summer of 2014, when it was completely demolished during the 50 days of hostilities. Their extended family took them in until UNRWA provided the family with transitional shelter cash assistance. They were then able to temporarily rent an apartment for the next 11 months, after which they moved into their newly reconstructed house.
After UNRWA social workers and engineers visited Atef’s home, they assessed and categorized it as totally demolished and uninhabitable. In June 2015, the governments of Israel and Palestine reached an agreement on a Residential Stream of the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism to allow for the reconstruction of totally demolished homes, UNRWA submitted applications for refugee families with totally demolished homes who had their documentation ready. After approval, they were able to commence the reconstruction process. The Zaza’s were one of 190 refugee cases submitted through the new GRM Stream. 170 of these have been approved, including Atef and Fatima’s family.
Atef was determined to struggle against the depression and despair that overwhelmed so many people in Gaza after the conflict, and he started to race against time to reconstruct the family house:
“I wanted to give my family the intimate place back they used to have before, I was challenging myself to finish reconstruction before the Eid holidays,” Atef explained. “Within 70 days of starting, my house was completely reconstructed and I held the new keys in my hand; at that moment, I felt relieved and happy, and I wanted to give the keys to my wife and show her the house and everything in it.”
“When I heard that our name was included in the list of families who will receive payments from UNRWA to purchase reconstruction material, I felt excited and full of hope. The war is still inside us, burned into our souls, but I wanted me and my family to move on,” Atef recalled.
As soon as he received the first payments from UNRWA, Atef ordered all the reconstruction material he would need to reconstruct the family house. “I was very confident that UNRWA will pay me all the installments I was eligible for,” he commented. “I stayed with the labourers day and night - watching, monitoring and supervising them; they were all positively encouraged by my attitude and wanted to help me to reconstruct my house.”
Now, when Atef walks through his old neighbourhood, he feels happiness, despite the destruction still visible everywhere.
“What we went through was difficult, a nightmare, but this time it seems to have concluded with a happy ending; when I first saw my new home, I felt that now we finally have our normal life back again,” Atef said.
UNRWA engineers have confirmed 140,190 Palestine refugee houses as impacted during the 2014 conflict; 9,117 of them are considered totally demolished. Since the start of the 2014 emergency shelter response, as of October 2015, the Agency has distributed over US$ 130.65 million (excluding Programme Support Costs) to Palestine refugee families whose homes were damaged or demolished during the hostilities.
Due to lack of sufficient funding, to this day 13,163 refugee families whose homes were destroyed or severely damaged and uninhabitable remain displaced.
Summary of Major Incidents
During the reporting week, Israeli forces fired at Palestinian boats and at Palestinian protestors near the fence, on an almost daily basis.
On 14 October, seven Israeli bulldozers entered approximately 100 metres into northern Gaza and conducted a leveling and clearing operation. On 15 October, four Israeli bulldozers and one tank entered approximately 300 metres east of Bureij camp, central Gaza, and conducted an excavation operation and four bulldozers entered approximately 200 metres southeast of Maghazi camp, central Gaza, and conducted an excavation operation. On 15 October, four Israeli bulldozers entered approximately 300 metres east of Bureij camp to conduct a leveling and clearing operation. On 18 October, four bulldozers and one tank entered approximately 150 metres east of Bureij camp and conducted a leveling operation. Bulldozers and tanks withdrew on the same day on each occasion.
On 16 October, militants fired one rocket towards Israel; it landed in an open area in Gaza near the fence. The rocket did not explode. Israeli forces reportedly destroyed the rocket. On the same day, militants fired two test rockets towards the sea. On 20 October militants fired one rocket towards Israel; the rocket dropped short.
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, a shortfall of US$ 2.61 million remains.
In response to the unprecedented needs faced by 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$ 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 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. Read more in the 2015 oPt Emergency Appeal.
- The Rafah Crossing was closed on 13 and 14 and from 17 to 20 October. It was open on 15 October for Palestinian pilgrims to return to Gaza.
- The Erez crossing was open for National ID holders (humanitarian cases, medical cases, merchants and UN staff) and international staff on 13 (until 11am) and 14 October and on 19 and 20 October. It was closed from 15 to 18 October.
- Kerem Shalom was open from 13 to 15 and from 17 to 20 October. It was closed on 16 and 17 October.
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