Gaza situation report 119
10 -17 November | Issue 119
- UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl opened the meeting of the Advisory Commission (AdCom) on 16 November in Jordan, saying that following last summer’s financial crisis, UNRWA has set the stage for new approaches to old challenges. He also stated that “UNRWA is not just any international organization, but is an agency with a soul,” providing crucial services to a community that today still represents almost 40 per cent of the world’s protracted refugees. Mr. Krähenbühl furthermore emphasized the importance of developing the communication between UNRWA and Palestine refugee communities, particularly in the context where refugees are experiencing extremes of insecurity in a region engulfed in conflict. He concluded saying that UNRWA continues to believe in the concepts of ‘leaving no-one behind’ and ‘ensuring no lost generation’, and that therefore particularly the Palestinian youth deserve the Agency’s attention, response and preservation of hope as they are not only victims, but actors of their own destiny and UNRWA cannot betray their expectations. The AdCom meeting lasted from 16 to 17 November and included various presentations and discussions involving representatives of the Agency’s five fields of operation, including Gaza. Consisting of five members when it was first created, today the Advisory Commission (AdCom) is made up of 27 Members and three Observers. It meets twice a year, usually in June and November, to advise and assist the Commissioner-General in carrying out the UNRWA mandate.
On 16 November an AdCom special session was held on Gaza 2020, including a panel discussion involving the Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza, Mr. Bo Schack, the Water Sector Advisor at the Office of the Quartet, Mr. Fuad Bateh, the Director of Women Affairs Centre in Gaza, Amal Siyam as well as the Director of “PalThink” for Strategic Studies, Mr. Omar Shaban. The panel made clear that without drastic action, Gaza is at risk of being unliveable by 2020 and the daily lives of Palestine refugees will be dramatically worse. A short video on the situation in Gaza produced for the AdCom meeting can be viewed here.
UNRWA’s Education Department at headquarters launched its Human Rights Education animated videos on social media and UNRWA TV this month. The animated videos promote human rights and empower students to take action through the UNRWA Human Rights Education Programme that reaches half a million Palestine refugee children each year. To date, UNRWA has produced three clips specifically tackling gender stereotypes, bullying, and environmental issues. The clips form part of the Agency’s Human Rights, Conflict Resolution and Tolerance Education Programme, through which Palestine refugee students of all ages learn about human rights in their everyday lives. UNRWA places great importance on its human rights education of which the UNRWA School Parliaments are a main component. During the reporting week, the UNRWA Education Programme conducted meetings with human rights teachers in each of Gaza’s five areas to elect local committees and the committees’ coordinators. The local committees have already started the process of forming the Central Student’s Parliament which consists of one representative from each School Parliament. UNRWA schools are currently also developing their school plan of human rights activities to be implemented in the coming year.
Since its establishment following the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict, UNRWA’s visual communications has not only been pivotal in documenting the history and displacement of tens of thousands of Palestine refugees, but it also remains an important tool to ensuring continuous advocacy for a just and fair solution to their plight. Further, visual communications has become increasingly important to provide information to refugees themselves and to fund raise as well as meet donor reporting requirements. To help further ensure humanitarian principles and dignity of person are central to the process and final photo and video products, as well as develop the skills and capacities of UNRWA personnel in this area, the Gaza Field Office Communications team, together with the Donor Relations and Projects Support Office held a workshop on “visual storytelling, humanitarian principles, visibility and donor compliance”. The workshop included presentations, practical sessions and discussions on humanitarian principles and gender-sensitivity, communications with communities, as well as donor expectations in terms of visibility. Approximately 45 persons from across different departments attended the half-day internal training.
In 2015, the UNRWA Relief and Social Services Programme (RSSP) through its Disability Programme distributed a total of 252 assistive devices, including wheel chairs and hearing aids, to Palestine refugees in Gaza. According to a census by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) published in 2013, approximately six per cent of the total population in Gaza are persons with disabilities. Mobility disability is the most prevalent form of disability among persons older than 18 years old. According to PCBS, 40 per cent of the individuals with disabilities aged 18 years and above never attended school and 39 per cent of them identified themselves as illiterate. Almost 70 per cent of these individuals stated that their disability had impeded them from enrolling in school because of health deterioration, and 15 per cent attributed the cause to the lack of accessible schools, colleges or training centres. Inclusive education is an important pillar of the UNRWA Education Programme in Gaza and is closely linked to the Disability Programme. The Agency currently hosts 8,933 Special Education Special Needs students in its schools to assists students with disabilities to integrate into mainstream schools by providing them with extra support. In case more specialized support is needed, the Agency refers students to Community-Based Rehabilitation Centres (CBRCs). UNRWA currently supports seven CBRCs across the Gaza Strip, enabling them to provide services to persons with disabilities, including educational services to approximately 800 refugee children with disabilities. Further, the Agency directly supports 132 visually impaired children through the UNRWA Rehabilitation Centre for Visually Impaired in Gaza city.
The UNRWA logistics team has received a donation of approximately 300 tons of rice during the reporting week, to be distributed to Palestine refugees in need in Gaza. The rice was transported from Jordan to Gaza through Kerem Shalom crossing in southern Gaza. 140 tons were received on 10 November and 160 tons on 17 November. The Kerem Shalom crossing is the only crossing point where Israel allows commercial goods and humanitarian supplies to enter the enclave. The amount of rice is sufficient to cover a full Social Safety Net (SSN) food distribution round. SSN food distributions are conducted four times per year to approximately 20,700 refugee families. The next distribution cycle will take place in January 2016. In total, UNRWA supports almost 880,000 beneficiaries with in kind food assistance.
- Shelter update
- During the reporting week, UNRWA was able to disburse approximately US$ 1.5 million in funding available for reconstruction (US$ 872,606) and repair works of severely damaged shelters (US$ 627,409). The funds will reach a total of 391 refugee families across the Gaza Strip. The families will be able to access this assistance through local banks at the beginning of next week.
- As of 18 November, UNRWA engineers have confirmed 141,117 Palestine refugee houses as impacted during the 2014 conflict; 9,117 of them are considered totally demolished. 5,318 shelters have suffered severe, 3,700 major and 122,982 minor damages.
- Since the start of the 2014 emergency shelter response, the Agency has distributed over US$ 132.15 million (excluding Programme Support Costs) to Palestine refugee families whose homes were damaged or demolished during the 2014 summer conflict. As of 18 November 2015, UNRWA has completed the payments to over 66,300 Palestine refugee families – more than half of the caseload – for minor repair works, to 1,016 families to repair their severely damaged shelters, to eight families for major repair works and to one family for reconstruction. Payment transfers for over 11,300 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.
- In October, UNRWA completed the development of the sewerage, drainage and water supply systems at Al Huda Road in Rafah, southern Gaza. This is a component of a project consisting of a total of ten components all aimed at disaster risk reduction through improving camp infrastructure in Gaza for Palestine refugees. The total value of COGAT (Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories) approved UNRWA infrastructure projects – at various stages from design to completion - is US$ 202.6 million, excluding post war shelter repair and re-construction under the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism. Through its construction projects, UNRWA does not only provide necessary infrastructure for Palestine refugees, but also very much needed employment opportunities. Due to additional donor funding and the related release of second tranche payments for repair works for refugees with damaged homes, UNRWA was able to create much higher numbers of full-time job-equivalents (FTEs) in quarter three of 2015 compared to quarter two. The Agency expended US$ 19.5 million in quarter three across contracted construction projects and self-help shelter repair assistance, generating a total of 5,715 FTEs over one quarter. Self-help intervention, for which US$12.3 million were disbursed in quarter three, contributed to 3,628 FTEs. It is estimated that each additional US$ 1 million allocated to self-help shelter assistance will create up to 195 formal and informal jobs in the construction industry, and many more in transport, trade and manufacturing. For more information on UNRWA’s construction activities, please see the October 2015 UNRWA construction update.
Operational environment: In 2012, the United Nations Country team in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) released the Gaza 2020 report, warning that if no immediate action is taken Gaza will be an unliveable place by 2020. This message has been repeated and reinforced through various other reports and statements, including in September 2015 by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. Yet rather than progressing toward mitigating or avoiding the 2020 depiction, Gaza has seen further economic de-development and repeated destruction exacerbating the situation. The year 2020 is only four years away and without drastic action it is projected that there will be virtually no reliable access to safe drinking water, declining standards of healthcare and education, worsening electricity issues and Palestine refugee camps will become increasingly overcrowded; in addition, it is projected that food insecurity will worsen and the mental health impacts of a protracted emergency will have far reaching social consequences.
Little over one year after the most recent conflict - the third within seven years in Gaza - another cycle of violence erupted in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). The United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, Mr. Makarim Wibisono, and the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Mr. Christof Heyns, expressed grave concern over the continuing violence in the oPt, emphasizing that cases of excessive use of force by Israeli forces against Palestinians, including some which appear to amount to summary executions, continue to be reported.
The number of demonstrations during the past week remained similar to the previous reporting period. Many of these were related to the Palestinian Independence Day and the 11th anniversary of the death of Yasser Arafat, founder and leader of the Fatah political party and later the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization and former president of the Palestinian Authority.
On 10 November, an explosion in a house in Rafah, southern Gaza, resulted in one person being injured. On 11 November, unknown gunmen allegedly shot and killed a Palestinian male in Gaza city. The motive remains unclear, police are investigating the incident.
On 11 November, a dispute took place in Gaza city, resulting in the use of fire arms. No injuries were reported. On the same day, a dispute between supporters of Present Mahmoud Abbas and politician Mohammad Dahlan took place at Al Azhar University in Gaza city; no injuries were reported. Similar disputes between the different supporters took place on 14 November at Gaza University and at Al Quds University.
On 15 November, Israeli forces arrested one Palestinian patient who was travelling for medical treatment and one Palestinian merchant at Erez crossing.
On 15 November, an explosion took place in northern Gaza; one militant was killed and three others injured.
On the same day, a dispute between two families in northern Gaza resulted in four injuries.
Being the main breadwinner: in Gaza, a job opportunity is often more than a source of income
38-year old Palestine refugee, Reda Abu Shabat graduated in 1997 from the UNRWA Gaza Training Centre in business and office practices and for the past 18 years has worked as a clerk in an UNRWA Health Centre in Khan Younis, southern Gaza. Reda is the main breadwinner in her family, and with her salary she supports her husband and seven children, three of whom are children with disabilities.
“I love my work because I feel I am a productive person in the community,” Reda said. “My three children with disabilities require a lot more care, time and resources than other children. This job gives me the chance to support them and provide them with a dignified life.”
Reda is proud to have the chance to earn an income and provide for her family, particularly in light of the devastated Gaza economy since the Israeli blockade was imposed in 2007.
Finding and keeping a job is not an easy task in Gaza. After an initial sign of slight recovery in the first six months of 2015, unemployment in quarter three of 2015 has reached 42.7 per cent, a 1.2 per cent increase compared to the previous quarter, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS). The situation is worse for women, where the unemployment rate of refugee women in Gaza reached 58.4 per cent in quarter three of 2015 and the rate for female refugee youth is almost 80 per cent. Employment in Gaza is also not always fair in terms of working conditions. PCBS data shows that almost 72 per cent of private sector employees in Gaza receive less than the minimum monthly salary in Palestine (NIS 1,450; approximately US$ 370) and the workforce overall is characterized by informality and high-levels of instability.
For women and men in Gaza, raising a family and planning a stable and secure future for their children in this volatile socio-economic context – aggravated by recurring armed violence, the destruction of infrastructure and interruption of services – is often a far-off dream.
Reda is one of the lucky ones: “This job gives me the chance to take responsibility for my family, but it also helps me to support Palestine refugees in the UNRWA Health Centre, and this is another great chance I have.”
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 16 November, two Palestinians on their boats reportedly suffered injuries in one of these incidents.
Regular protests in support of Al Aqsa mosque and the West Bank were held in the vicinity of the perimeter fence, yet the overall number of participants and demonstrations related to this issue has slightly decreased compared to the last reporting period. Protests took place east of Bureij camp in central Gaza, 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 16 persons were reportedly injured due to Israeli gun fire and approximately five are reported to have suffered from gas inhalation.
On 10 November, militants fired one test rocket towards the sea.
On 11 November, militants fired one test rocket towards Israel; it dropped short and landed inside Gaza. No injuries were reported.
On 15 November, four Israeli bulldozers and two tanks entered approximately 100 metres into southern Gaza and Israeli forces conducted a clearing and excavation operation. They withdrew on the same day.
On 16 November militants fired one rocket towards Israel; the rocket dropped short, no injuries were reported.
On 17 November Israeli forces fired smoke bombs towards Palestinian areas east of Gaza city. Some houses sustained damage. 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 during the reporting week.
- The Erez crossing was open for National ID holders (humanitarian cases, medical cases, merchants and UN staff) and international staff from 10 to 12 November and from 15 to 17 November. On 13 November it was open for pedestrians only. It was closed on 14 November.
Kerem Shalom was open from 10 to 12 November and from 15 to 17 November. It was closed on 13 and 14 November.
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