Gaza situation report 123

20 December 2015
A picture from the “The Long Journey” photo exhibition (21.11.15 – 10.1.16) held in the renowned BOZAR gallery in Brussels; the exhibition is based on photos from UNRWA archives and portrays the plight and journey of Palestine refugees since 1949.

8 December – 15 December 2015 | issue 123

The above photo shows a picture from the “The Long Journey” photo exhibition (21.11.15 – 10.1.16) in the renowned BOZAR gallery in Brussels; the exhibition is based on photos from UNRWA archives and portrays the plight and journey of Palestine refugees since 1949.


  • On 10 December, UNRWA celebrated International Human Rights Day in Gaza. A central ceremony was held at Al Madina Al Munawara School in Rafah, southern Gaza, with the participation of most UNRWA schools across the enclave. The events, which align with celebrations all over the world marking this annual observance, brought together school principals, teachers, students and senior staff members from the UNRWA Education Programme to participate in a variety of activities, including sketches, performances, dances and games. Most activities were from the Human Rights, Conflict Resolution and Tolerance (HRCRT) toolkit which is part of an education programme that supports the integration of these human rights concepts into all subjects in UNRWA schools. Throughout the year, the HRCRT programme helps cultivate an environment of understanding, tolerance and appreciation for differences, both inside and outside the classroom. The HRCRT Toolkit is being implemented in an increasingly challenging environment across all five fields of UNRWA operations, and certainly in Gaza, where some children witness and experience human rights violations first hand on a regular basis. Children in Gaza grow up surrounded by poverty, conflict and destruction. In addition, due to the blockade imposed by Israel, now in its ninth year, an entire generation of children will soon have no memory of a life outside of confinement.  Teaching children to resolve conflicts through dialogue rather than violence and to respect each other’s rights is an important component of the programme, which also extends to the entire community through events and advocacy videos. 
  • As part of its lessons learned activities after the devastating 2014 conflict, and following the closure of the last UNRWA Collective Centre (CC) in June 2015, UNRWA has identified staff to form a designated UNRWA emergency preparedness team. The team consists of seven members and for the period of six months it is responsible for further developing the capacity of UNRWA staff members in emergency preparedness measures, following on from initial trainings by the CC Management Unit and complementing those delivered by the Safety and Security Division. Among other tasks, the team designs and coordinates trainings, establishes a roster of key staff and functions during emergency situations, and finalises Standard Operating Procedures and toolkits. Further, the team also analyses school designs, with a particular focus on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) facilities, and prepares schools identified for use as Designated Emergency Shelters during a potential future escalation. The team consists of one training coordinator, one training designer, one engineer, one administrative officer, two business and data analysts and the team leader. The majority of the team has worked previously in the CC Management Unit established in the aftermath of the 2014 conflict to manage 21 Collective Centres across the Gaza Strip, initially hosting over 60,000 internally displaced persons during the extended displacement in UNRWA schools, and coordinating daily service deliveries and operations.
  • On 14 December, the Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza, Mr. Bo Schack, participated in a conference organized by UN Women titled Open Day on Women, Peace and Security in Gaza city. Other participants included the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Mr. Nickolay Mladenov, and Dr. Sabine Machl, the Special Representative of UN Women in Palestine, as well as approximately 25 women leaders from civil society in Gaza. The Open Days, held in conflict-affected areas, enable direct dialogue between women civil society leaders and activists and senior UN representatives. The objective is to provide a space for women to highlight their concerns, priorities and recommendations on key context-specific issues relating to conflict prevention, conflict resolution, peacebuilding and relief and recovery. The Open Day forum was a meaningful complement to the UN 16 days against Gender-Based Violence (GBV) campaign (25 November to 10 December); during the last days of the campaign, UNRWA continued the awareness raising activities on early marriage, adolescent health, GBV and women’s human rights. Many of the activities were held in partnership with Community-Based Organisations (CBO) and Women Programme Centres (WPC) across the Gaza Strip. UNRWA Community Development Social Workers from the UNRWA Relief and Social Services Programme for example, in coordination with lawyers from the legal units of WPCs, conducted a series of awareness sessions targeting UNRWA students to discuss issues including early marriage, GBV, or the right to and the importance of education. Over the course of the 16 days, a total of 443 female and 245 male UNRWA students participated in these awareness sessions.
  • A delegation from the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs visited the Gaza Strip on 9 and 10 December. In addition to a visit to the neighbourhood of Shujjaiya in eastern Gaza city which had been heavily shelled during the 2014 conflict, the delegation went to visit two schools in a Japanese-funded UNRWA housing project in Khan Younis, southern Gaza. On 10 December, the delegation met with the Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza, Mr. Bo Schack, who briefed them on UNRWA projects and services.They also engaged with the school principals, teachers and students alike, and were particularly interested to meet the three UNWRA students who visited Japan at the beginning of November upon invitation from the non-profit grassroots advocacy organisation RESULTS.
  • As part of Communicating with Communities and outreach efforts with Palestine refugees in Gaza, the latest episode of UNRWA Gaza’s Ask the Director programme is now being broadcast on UNRWA TV. This programme, in which the Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza on a monthly basis answers questions submitted by beneficiaries, is a key communication tool between UNRWA and the refugee community in Gaza. There is a particular interest from the community on UNRWA’s activities, such as its job creation programme, food aid and shelter assistance. There are several avenues of engagement the Field undertakes to allow for two-way communication and awareness raising, such as feedback systems, community outreach activities and mechanisms to inform refugees of UNRWA operations. This is in line with UN OCHA’s Community Engagement approach and the aims of Communicating with Disaster Affected Communities (CDAC), where communities affected by, and prone to, crisis are able to withstand and recover from humanitarian emergencies, and are actively engaged in decisions about the relief and recovery efforts that affect them. It also supports the principle that “communications is aid”. The next episode of ATD will be broadcast in early January.
  • The results of the new Socio-Economic and Food Security (SEFSec) survey have been released to the public and were officially presented in Ramallah in Decebember by the Food Security Sector in the occupied Palestinian territory, consisting of the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Food Programme, and UNRWA. According to the released data, 47 per cent of households in Gaza were food insecure in 2014, a 2 per cent increase compared to the previous year. Food insecurity is higher for non-refugees (49 per cent) than for refugees (45 per cent), although both worsened compared to 2013. This reflects a generalized food access decline in Gaza as a result of increased unemployment, high food prices and extreme volatility of the economy. The negative impact on food access is particularly severe on urban households, whose food insecurity soared by three percentage points between 2013 and 2014. Rural families instead slightly improved their status, likely due to their capacity to compensate for the reduction in job opportunities and food accessibility with direct production of foodstuffs that can be either consumed or sold to take advantage of higher food prices. SEFSec is the only existing survey that measures food insecurity at a national level for refugees and non- refugees alike. This report comes after a very long process, which included the adoption of a thoroughly revised methodology and the analysis of the 2013-2014 datasets. Food insecurity is now calculated using a three-pronged dynamic approach based on poverty, food consumption and resilience. SEFSec numbers are not used for targeting, since they are extrapolated from a representative sample of households. UNRWA in Gaza determines eligibility to food assistance through its own Poverty Assessment System (PAS) based on actual home visits.
  • High levels of food insecurity in Gaza are the direct consequence of the Israeli blockade on Gaza, now in its ninth year. Long standing restrictions on the movement of people and goods have severely undermined the living conditions in Gaza and reduced households’ access to livelihoods: years of blockade have resulted in a gradual process of “de-development”, increasing food aid dependency and unemployment rates. Unemployment in quarter three of 2015 reached 42.7 per cent - a 1.2 percent points increase compared to the previous quarter (for refugees the rate stood at 43.3 per cent), according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS). Further, according to PCBS, while the female refugee unemployment rate stood at 61.5 per cent in quarter three, for youth refugees it hit almost 80 per cent (79.6 per cent). Besides high unemployment rates, food insecurity and poverty are also driven by the ongoing salary crisis in the public sector. Only 40 per cent of the salaries of local authorities in Gaza were paid in November as for previous months. Local authorities’ employees have not received a full salary since October 2013. The salary crisis results in a deterioration of services provided by local ministry staff and local authorities, reduced employee productivity and frequent strikes and protests. Based on preliminary analysis on the 2014 SEFSec survey, 35 per cent of households in Gaza faced a delay in the payment of their salaries (public or private) in the second half of 2014. Of these, 13 per cent indicated the delay of payments as the most significant shock with major impact on their families. Several coping strategies have been reportedly adopted, including severe measures such as cutting on food expenditure (90 per cent) as well as reducing food storage (50 per cent).
  • On 9 December the United Nations Security Council adopted a historic resolution on youth, peace and security, urging for greater representation by youth in the prevention and resolution of conflicts amid “the rise of radicalization to violence and violent extremism amongst youth, which can be conducive to terrorism.” Youth and youth-led organizations are pivotal for the promotion of development and lasting peace, while, on the other hand, depriving youth of perspectives can lead to high levels of anger, frustration and instability – as it is the case in Gaza, where the blockade, now in its ninth year, has crippled the economy and therefore the immediate prospects for a stable and secure future for many of the Gaza’s youth.
  • The United Nations Country Team, including UNRWA, in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) participated in a working retreat in Jerusalem on 11 December to discuss the political situation and the strategic outlook for the oPt for the year 2016. After opening remarks and a political briefing by the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Mr. Nickolay Mladenov, the team discussed the situation in Gaza, with a focus on the recovery process, an update on the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism as well as a conversation on long-term and chronic challenges and the UN response to it, led by the Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza, Mr. Bo Schack. The retreat ended with a panel discussion on ‘state building – the unfinished business’ involving Mr. Kito De Boer, the Head of Mission of the Office of the Quartet, Mr. Estephan Salameh, the Head of Policies and Reform of the Palestinian Prime Minister’s Office, and Ms. Hiba Husseini, a legal advisor and practicing lawyer in Palestine.
  • In November 2015, UNRWA concluded works on 61 shelters in Middle, Khan Younis and Rafah Areas providing 61 vulnerable refugee families with a home. UNRWA also completed two components of an infrastructure project focusing on development of sewerage, drainage and water supply systems in Khan Younis Camp and Bureij Camp and the surrounding areas. 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$ 211 million, excluding post war shelter repair and re-construction under the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism. As of 30 November, UNRWA had 39 ongoing infrastructure projects including 5 components of a large infrastructure project implemented in all camps across the Gaza Strip. The value of projects currently under implementation is US$ 79.3 million. In November UNRWA submitted four projects for COGAT approval as well as two additional material requests. The import of wood continues to be severely restricted. Added to the list of restricted items in April 2015, UNRWA has received no wood needed for its projects for eight months now. For more details please read the attached November 2015 update on UNRWA construction projects.
  • Shelter update:

This week

  • During the reporting week, UNRWA was able to disburse approximately US$ 5.95 million in funding available for transitional shelter cash assistance to cover the period from September to December 2014 (US$ 69,100) and the period from September to November 2015 (US$ 5.21 million), for the second tranche of reconstruction (US$ 320,342) as well as the second tranche of repair works of severely damaged shelters (US$ 344,339). The funds will reach a total of 7,981 refugee families across the Gaza Strip. The families will be able to access this assistance through local banks next week.

Overview of assistance disbursed

  • The UNRWA shelter assessment 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$ 140.6 million (excluding Programme Support Costs) to Palestine refugee families whose homes were damaged or demolished during the 2014 summer conflict.
     
  • UNRWA has completed the payments to over 66,300 Palestine refugee families – more than half of the caseload – for minor repair works, to 1,993 families to repair their severely damaged shelters, to 12 families for major repair works and to 6 families for reconstruction. Payment transfers for over 10,900 refugee families to continue repair works of their shelters and for 166 families to continue the reconstruction of their shelters are ongoing.
     
  • Over 13,240 families have received a rental subsidy payment to cover the period from September to December 2014. Disbursement of subsequent instalments entailed further eligibility checks through which over 9,900 families have received the relevant rental subsidy payments during the period from January to November 2015.

Funding gaps

  • Due to lack of funding, as of 17 December 2015, over 59,900 refugee families have not received any payments to undertake repair works for their minor damaged homes. Further, over 3,200 families have not received any payments to repair their major damaged homes and over 2,750 families have not received payments to repair their severely damaged homes. Out of these, UNRWA has processed the documents of over 47,000 families with damaged shelters and could disburse payments to these families immediately upon receipt of funding.
     
  • Almost 16 months after the last conflict ended, 7,200 refugee families have not received any payments to start repairing their totally demolished homes.
     
  • Due to lack of sufficient funding also approximately 9,000 families have not received rental subsidy payments to cover the last month of 2015.

General

Operational environment: Now for the tenth consecutive week, hundreds of protestors, mainly youth, have demonstrated in support of Al Aqsa Mosque and to express concern over developments in the West Bank, across Gaza and in the vicinity of the perimeter fence. In addition, several other protests took place during the week, including in demand of the opening of Rafah crossing, rallies and marches across Gaza - involving thousands of participants - to mark the 28th anniversary of the Hamas movement on 11 December, and to mark the 48th anniversary of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine on 12 December.

On 11 December, a dispute between two families from northern Gaza resulted in the use of firearms and stones, with one person reportedly injured. Several persons were arrested by the police. On 12 December, the body of a 35 year old woman arrived to a hospital in Jabalia camp, northern Gaza; she was reportedly stabbed to death by her nephew. The motive behind the incident is unclear and the police are investigating the case.

On 11 December, an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) exploded in Beach camp, Gaza city; a 9-year old boy was moderately injured and transferred to the hospital. Several unexploded IEDs were discovered in a garbage container in the same area.

UNRWA response

UNRWA health and environment classes:
providing information and breaking down barriers

15-year old Malak Arab, a 9th grade student, presents during a lesson on adolescent health in the UNRWA Jabalia Prep Girls “A” school in northern Gaza. Photo credit: ©UNRWA Gaza 2015. Photo by Khalil Adwan.
15-year old Malak Arab, a 9th grade student, presents during a lesson on adolescent health in the UNRWA Jabalia Prep Girls “A” school in northern Gaza. © 2015 UNRWA Photo by Khalil Adwan

For the past four years UNRWA has provided health and environment education classes to students from grade 7 to 9 twice a week, as part of its regular curriculum. Health and environment classes cover topics such as hygiene, adolescent health, first aid, time management, violence, early marriage and self-confidence. They aim at raising awareness among students regarding the hygiene in school facilities and diseases such as breast cancer, osteoporosis and winter infectious diseases.

Further, the classes contribute to breaking down barriers regarding sensitive topics such as psychological or physical changes happening to adolescents. Classes are interactive and include accurate and well-structured information sessions as well as discussion sessions to create an open and safe environment for students to raise questions.

“I had many questions I wanted to ask about the changes happening to me when I became a teenager, but I was shy to ask my parents; now, through the health classes I found the answers for all these questions,” explained 15-year old Anda Tanboura during a health and environment class in the Jabalia Prep Girls “A” school, in northern Gaza, which was attended by 46 students.

“Before I attended UNRWA health classes, I wasn’t aware of many things; now I have more information and am more aware about the changes that happen to me, and I learned how to care about my personal hygiene. In the health classes, I can express myself and raise questions,” added Anda’s friend, 15-year old Nada Aziz.

As part of its health and environment education, UNRWA in Gaza, through its Health Programme, also undertakes screenings of UNRWA students throughout the year to ensure their well-being.

Summary of Major Incidents

During the reporting week, Israeli forces fired towards Palestinian fisher boats and Palestinian farmers near the perimeter fence on a daily basis. 

Regular protests in support of Al Aqsa mosque and the West Bank were held in the vicinity of the perimeter fence. Protests took place east of Bureij camp in central Gaza, east of Gaza city, in the vicinity of Erez crossing 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 58 persons were reportedly injured due to Israeli gun fire and approximately 32 are reported to have suffered from gas inhalation. One Palestinian was reportedly killed in a protest on 11 December by Israeli gunfire east of Maghazi camp in central Gaza.

On 8 December, Egyptian security forces reportedly pumped water in tunnels under the border between Egypt and Gaza; the Palestinian Rescue Crew succeeded to rescue 14 Palestinian workers who were trapped in the tunnel. No injuries were reported.

On 8 December, three Israeli bulldozers and two Israeli tanks entered approximately 100 metres into northern Gaza and conducted a clearing and excavation operation. They withdrew on the same day. On 9 December, five Israeli bulldozers and one Israeli tank entered approximately 100 metres into central Gaza and conducted a clearing and excavation operation, withdrawing on the same day.

On 13 December, militants fired one rocket from northern Gaza towards Israel. The rocket landed in an open area in Sderot

in Sha'ar HaNegev Regional Council in Israel.  No injuries or damage was reported.

On 14 December, Israeli forces reportedly fired one missile targeting a police site in northern Gaza and one missile targeting a Hamas training site in Gaza city. No injuries were reported.

Funding Needs

Thanks to generous donors, UNRWA has overcome its immediate and most serious financial crisis. For 2016, the Agency now projects a deficit of US$ 81 million, down from US$ 135 million as estimated earlier this year. This is the first time in ten years that UNRWA expects a zero-growth programme budget owing to strategic changes in staffing, business processes including procurement, budgeting norms, and service delivery models, amongst other measures.

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. More information can be found here.

Crossings

Longstanding restrictions on the movement of people and goods to and from Gaza have undermined the living conditions of 1.8 Palestinians in Gaza. Israel prevents all access to and from the Gaza Strip by sea and airMovement of people and goods in and out of Gaza is restricted to three crossings: Rafah crossing, Erez crossing and Kerem Shalom Crossing. Rafah crossing is controlled by the Egyptian authorities and technically allows for the movement of a number of authorized travelers, Palestinian medical and humanitarian cases only. Erez crossing is controlled by Israeli authorities and technically allows for the movement of aid workers and limited numbers of authorized travelers, including Palestinian medical and humanitarian cases. Kerem Shalom crossing, also controlled by Israeli authorities, technically allows for the movement of authorized goods only.

  • Rafah crossing remained closed during the reporting week.
  • Erez crossing is usually open six days a week. It was open for National ID holders (humanitarian cases, medical cases, merchants and UN staff) and international staff from 8 to 10 December and from 13 to 15 December. On 11 December it was open for pedestrians only. It was closed on 12 December.
  • Kerem Shalom crossing is only official crossing open for the transfer of goods into and out of the Strip and is usually open five days a week. It was open from 8 to 10 December and from 13 to 15 December. It was closed on 11 and 12 December.
UNRWA launched the #DignityIsPriceless campaign in Gaza on 22 January 2018. © 2018 UNRWA Photo Rushdi Al Saraj
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