Gaza situation report 118
3 _ 10 November | Issue 118
- Pierre Krähenbühl, Commissioner-General of UNRWA, addressed the General Assembly Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization Committee) on 9 November in New York. The Commissioner-General presented his second annual report of UNRWA operations, and conveyed the deep sense of despair and insecurity that runs through the Palestine refugee community, and also the extraordinary courage, determination and strength that he witnesses time and time again in his trips and meetings. Mr. Krähenbühl reported that Palestine refugees today feel further than ever “left behind”. He added that “their vulnerability and isolation is being intensified, reaching levels not seen in generations as conflicts expand in the Middle East region and thrust one community after another into extreme insecurity.” The Commissioner-General highlighted the regional risks amidst these severe conditions, and spoke about the importance of drawing a connection between Palestine refugees, UNRWA and the Sustainable Development Goals, adopted by Governments in the UN General Assembly on 25 September. He concluded with a reminder of the urgency for political action and that “Palestine refugees’ remarkable courage and belief in the future has never been more sorely tested than it is today. Their faith in UNRWA, shaken by the recent financial crisis, has not dissipated. More than ever UNRWA must be supported as it endeavours to create conditions for Palestine refugees to live dignified lives until a just resolution of the plight of Palestine refugees is realized.”
- The Israeli Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) restricts the import of construction material into Gaza, based on its “dual use” list. 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 and, since August 2015, wood thicker than one centimetre into the Gaza Strip. These import restrictions hinder Gaza’s construction and reconstruction efforts, particularly following the unparalleled devastation of homes and infrastructure caused by Israel during the summer 2014 conflict. The restrictions on wood thicker than one centimetre also directly affect UNRWA’s education facilities, as contractors in Gaza are unable to produce wooden doors, windows and furniture for UNRWA schools. Import restrictions on wood force UNRWA to look for more expensive alternatives, raising project costs. The Israeli not-for profit organization Gisha whose goal is to protect the freedom of movement of Palestinians, in a recent statement confirmed the importance of wood for Gaza’s furniture sector and overall reconstruction. At a conference entitled “Promoting a Coordinated Strategy for the Reconstruction of Gaza”, held at the Netanya Academic College in Israel, United Nations Deputy Special Coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs Robert Piper, who participated in the conference as a respondent, noted that in all his professional career dealing with reconstruction following disasters and conflicts around the world, he had never had to contend without wood and he hoped that he would never have to again, according to Gisha. During the reporting week, Gisha sent a letter to COGAT calling on them to reverse the restrictions on wood and other items critical for the furniture and construction industry in Gaza.
While COGAT maintains heavy import restrictions of construction material into Gaza, on 11 October it removed aggregate from the “dual use” list. UNRWA previously coordinated the import of aggregate for its contractors, but with the new decision the Agency stopped this coordination as of 1 November. Suppliers are now able to bring aggregate into Gaza without a special coordination process and contractors are able to purchase it freely in the Gaza market. While the easing of the “dual use” list is a positive development, the Gaza market needs time to recalibrate, specifically, contractors in Gaza will need to adjust to the higher prices for the aggregate in the private sector market as well as new payment modalities: since the lifting of the restriction, the price for aggregate has increased by US$ 10 per ton, and the material will now have to be paid in cash and no delayed payment options are possible. Previously, under the coordination system, UN agencies coordinated approximately 100 truckloads of aggregate per day into Gaza and these will now be added to the 200 truckloads coordinate by the private sector. It is expected that there will be sufficient quantities of aggregate on the market.
Providing a safe learning environment in UNRWA schools is important, therefore the UNRWA Gaza Community Mental Health Programme (CMHP), in liaison with the UNRWA Gaza Education Programme, held a two-day training on “life skills” and ”inclusive education” for elementary and preparatory school teachers (teachers of students from grades 4 to 9). The training provided UNRWA teachers with skills that will enhance their ability to interact with their students and detect potential problems and challenges that children face inside classrooms at an early stage, and to provide for early interventions. Both training sessions raised the teacher’s awareness about how inclusive education helps provide quality, child-centred education in a safe and stimulating environment, including timely and professional support for those students who have additional learning, health or psychosocial needs.
During the reporting week, the Luxembourg Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, Mr. Jean Asselborn, visited the Gaza Strip to get acquainted with the ongoing displacement and shelter needs of the people of Gaza. The Foreign Minister visited heavily demolished areas in eastern and northern Gaza, engaged with internally displaced persons who are still living in temporary shelters since the 2014 conflict and met with owners of destroyed factories in Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza. The programme of the visit was organized by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) and involved briefings from UNRWA, the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) and the United Nations Office of the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO). Deputy Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza, Mr. David De Bold, briefed Mr. Asselborn on the Agency’s core services, the importance of education, the high levels of poverty in Gaza and the UNRWA shelter response to the 2014 conflict, mentioning that more than one year after the 2014 conflict ended, only the first of a total of 9,117 totally demolished refugee shelters has been fully reconstructed with UNRWA support. Thousands of refugee families remain displaced to this day.
UNRWA is committed to strengthening leadership, management and staff in departments and programmes across the Agency, for example through its Mentoring Programme, an initiative of UNRWA’s Executive Office of the Commissioner-General. This programme aims at establishing, developing and facilitating positive and beneficial working relationships between mentors and mentees. In Gaza, the Health Programme participates in the mentoring programme. During the reporting week, a total of 22 senior health staff nurses and 11 pharmacists underwent a mentoring review in the UNRWA Rimal Health Centre in Gaza city. The mentoring programme provides a source of skills, technical assistance, guidance and support. It supplements and supports the activities of managers in the development of their staff. UNRWA’s commitment to the development of staff is also reflected in its School Based Teacher Development Programme as well as in its Pilot Leadership Initiative which aims at training and empowering senior UNRWA leaders through theoretical and practical sessions, including personalized coaching sessions.
The UNRWA Gender Initiative (GI) strives to improve the capacity of women and girls in Gaza to exercise freedom of choice, take advantage of opportunities for personal and professional development and to address inequality in all aspects of life. Under its ‘Social and Recreational Spaces for Women and Girls in the Gaza Strip (SRS)’ project the GI cooperates with 27 Community-Based Organisations (CBOs) across the Gaza Strip to provide women and girls with safe spaces in which they can socialize and access recreational and development activities to promote women’s right to equal participation in public life. The core activities of this project which have been implemented since 2008 are Arabic and English literacy – including mobile literacy units for 90 women in marginalized areas - arts and drama workshops, book clubs or physical health activities. To date this year, the SRS reached out to approximately 14,000 beneficiaries, including women with disabilities. A promotion film on the SRS programme can be viewed here and is also broadcast on UNRWA TV. The SRS is one of the five pillars of the UNRWA GI Equality in Action programme. The other pillars are educational support, women’s economic empowerment, capacity-building for CBOs, and combating violence against women. Since 2010, approximately 115,000 beneficiaries have benefited from this programme. Due to the conflict in July/August 2014, facilities of GI partnering CBOs were damaged and two were totally destroyed.
During the reporting week, UNRWA’s Education Programme participated in the twenty-fifth joint meeting between the Arab League Council of Educational Affairs for the people of Palestine and the senior management of the UNRWA Education Programme. The Gaza Field Office was represented by the Chief Field Education Programme, Mr. Farid Abu Athra. The meeting was held at the headquarters of the General Secretariat of the Arab League in Cairo, Egypt, and led by Mohammed Alqubj, Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Education of the State of Palestine. During the meeting, Dr. Said Abu Ali, the Assistant Secretary-General of the Arab League commented on UNRWA’s important role in providing quality education to Palestine refugees and enabling them to acquire senior positions in Palestine and other countries. The participants also discussed the cooperation between the Council of Educational Affairs and UNRWA, the continuing deficit in the Agency's budget, the educational process in UNRWA educational institutions, school buildings, school furniture, stationery, school books, educational equipment, scholarships, vocational training, and the working conditions of UNRWA teachers and staff. The meeting started on 8 November and will conclude on 15 November.
UNRWA is committed to, and provides all its services based on the United Nations humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence, and is concerned to offer continuous training for its personnel to uphold these principles at all levels and times. As part of this effort, during the reporting week the UNRWA Headquarters Ethics Office implemented a “Social Media Policy and its application” workshop for the UNRWA Field Management Team and Ethics focal points in Gaza. The workshop aimed at explaining the UNRWA Social Media Policy to key senior staff members and provided them with guidelines and training on how to implement and communicate this policy to their teams. The UNRWA Ethics Office also held the same workshop for members of the UNRWA Local Staff Union in Gaza. To help and encourage staff to make appropriate use of social media, the Agency issued two social media policies last year. As the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, and Israel continues as a concern, with these workshops UNRWA seeks to remind staff members of these policies and share with them some practical advice concerning activity on social media. Training in humanitarian principles is also conducted throughout the year by the UNRWA Operations Support Officer (OSO) programme in Gaza. In the first half of 2015, 765 UNRWA staff members – including 514 installation managers and 251 newly-appointed teachers and health staff – have received training in humanitarian principles during 27 sessions.
- Shelter update
- A comprehensive shelter update will be provided in the next situation report (10 November 08.00hrs – 17 November 08.00hrs), issued on Wednesday 18 November 2015.
Operational environment: On 5 November, a student of the UNRWA Gaza Training Centre (GTC) was reportedly shot dead by Egyptian forces whilst in a boat in the sea off Rafah, in southern Gaza. According to UNRWA internal information, the student used to engage in fishing besides his studies to economically support his family. UNRWA expresses its heartfelt condolences to the family and is deeply saddened by this event and by all loss of life due to the protracted crisis. Palestinian fisher boats are shot at on an almost daily basis by Egyptian or Israeli forces. Due to the blockade imposed on Gaza since 2007, and related access restrictions, more than 3,000 fishermen do not have access to 85 per cent of the maritime areas agreed to in the 1995 Oslo Accords; as a result, the fish catch – a principal part of the Gaza diet – has decreased dramatically over the years of closure, as the UN previously warned in its 2012 report on Gaza 2020.
Several protests by mostly Palestinian youth in solidarity with Al Aqsa Mosque and the situation in the West Bank were reported during the week. Protests were held across the Gaza Strip, often near the perimeter fence (see Summary of Major Incidents).
These are not the only sources of anger and desperation for people in Gaza. Besides repeated armed violence, families are exposed to a wide-range of other protection gaps, such as electricity and fuel shortages, food insecurity, and extreme water pollution. Only 5 per cent of the water in Gaza is drinkable, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. However, an article by Al Jazeera released this week states that while Gaza desperately needs water, the recent downpours have made life only harder as the enclave’s water infrastructure is unable to absorb the water because it is shattered due to a tight, almost a decade-long blockade and repeated conflicts in which heavy damage was inflicted on reservoirs and pipelines. According to a 2015 report by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) titled ‘Mekorot Water Supply to the Gaza Strip’, the 2014 conflict in Gaza has resulted in US$ 34 million in damages to Gaza’s water infrastructure. The report also states that even when Israel began releasing an extra five million cubic metres (MCM) of water to Gaza in March 2015 – doubling the amount that was previously delivered and honouring the Oslo Accords – Gaza’s war-ravaged water networks cannot receive the water and are unprepared for even a minor increase.
On 4 November a dispute between school-aged children in Maghazi camp, central Gaza, resulted in the death of one child and injured the other. On 9 November, one woman was allegedly killed by her husband in Bureij camp, central Gaza. The police are investigating the incident.
On 8 November two Palestinian merchants were arrested by Israeli forces at Erez crossing
UNRWA student parliament members discuss the impact of electricity cuts on education
The lack of electricity makes life very difficult in Gaza, especially for school children. Gaza depends on three primary electricity sources: the Israeli electricity company, the sole Gaza Power Plant and the Egyptian electricity grid. These supplies can only meet 51 per cent of the population’s needs. Acute shortages after the July/August 2014 crisis limited the electricity provision to about six hours in Gaza’s middle and north areas. One year later, Gazans still experience 12 to 16 hours of scheduled power cuts per day. The electricity cuts affect the learning and teaching abilities of UNRWA teachers and students.
This is a widely-discussed topic in the School Parliament of the UNRWA Preparatory Girls School D in Rafah, southern Gaza.
“After school I used to rest a bit before I would start doing my homework, but now I can’t because the day light period is too short and I need to finalize my studies before sunset, otherwise it is too dark and we don’t have electricity at home to turn on lights,” explained 12-year old Doha Abu Mohaisen, a newly elected member of her school’s parliament.
“One day I noticed that many of my friends wear glasses, and when I asked they said they think it is because they use rechargeable lamps to study due to the frequent electricity cuts, and this light is not bright enough,” commented her 12-year old friend and fellow parliament member, Iman Shahin.
Some students wait until the late evening hours to do their homework, because then the electricity network in Gaza usually provides households with electricity.
“Me and my brothers and sisters, we stay awake until very late to be able to study when the electricity is on, but the next day we have to wake up early and we always feel tired,“ explained 14-year old parliament member Basma Abed.
Human Rights teacher and coordinator of the School Parliament activities, Haneen Al Bana, confirmed the students’ experience with electricity cuts: “The students are programming their life according to the electricity schedule; they do not get enough sleep because they often stay awake until late in the night to study. I believe this has an effect on their education.”
During school hours UNRWA tries to mitigate the impact of electricity cuts on its students and teachers, and provides schools with generators. However, these are often noisy and of high cost for the Agency, in addition to polluting the environment.
Electricity cuts in Gaza also affect private businesses and homes, health services and waste water treatment plants. A United Nations report released in 2012, predicts that by 2020 electricity provision in Gaza will need to double to meet demand.
Summary of Major Incidents
During the reporting week, Israeli forces reportedly fired towards Palestinian fisher boats and Palestinian farmers near the perimeter fence on a regular basis; on 4 November Israeli forces reportedly fired approximately three artillery shells in addition to several flares towards Palestinian territory in central Gaza. One injury was reported.
Regular protests in support of Al Aqsa mosque and the West Bank were held in the vicinity of the perimeter fence on an almost daily basis, mostly east of Bureij camp in central Gaza, near Erez Crossing, east of Gaza city or in Khan Younis, southern Gaza. During these protests, some participants reportedly approached the perimeter fence and threw stones towards Israeli observation posts. Israeli security forces reportedly responded with gunfire and tear gas. A total of approximately 36 persons were injured due to Israeli gun fire and approximately 24 are reported to have suffered from gas inhalation. One person was killed in one of these protests on 6 November in Khan Younis.
On 4 November, militants reportedly fired one rocket towards Israel; the rocket dropped short on the Palestinian side near the fence. No injuries or damage were reported.
On 5 November, three Israeli bulldozers and two tanks reportedly entered approximately 150 metres into southern Gaza areas and conducted a clearing and excavation operation.
On 5 November, Egyptian forces reportedly opened fire targeting a Palestinian fishing boat; one Palestinian fisherman was killed.
On 6 November, militants reportedly fired two test rockets towards the sea and on 8 November, militants reportedly fired six test rockets towards the sea.
On 9 November, militants reportedly fired one test rocket towards Israel; the rocket dropped short and no injuries were reported.
On 9 November, seven Israeli bulldozers reportedly entered approximately 50 metres into northern Gaza and conducted a clearing and excavation operation.
On 8 November, militants reportedly fired one rocket towards Israel; the rocket landed in an open area near the perimeter fence in Sha'ar Ha Negev Regional Council. No injuries or damage were reported.
On 9 November, Israeli forces reportedly fired one missile targeting a military site in Rafah, southern Gaza. No injuries were reported.
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 from 3 to 10 November.
- The Erez crossing was open for National ID holders (humanitarian cases, medical cases, merchants and UN staff) and international staff from 3 to 5 November from 8 to 10 November. On 6 November it was open for pedestrians only. It was closed on 7 November.
Kerem Shalom was open from 3 to 5 November and from 8 to 10 November. It was closed on 6 and 7 November.
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