Gaza situation report 124

23 December 2015
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15 December – 22 December | Issue 124


  • On 17 December, the British Council organized a ceremony in Ramallah to celebrate the British Council International School Award (ISA) and thus the success of UNRWA schools and their curriculum. 70 UNRWA staff members from the Gaza Education Programme attended the celebration. In total, 111 school portfolios had been submitted in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) by the Ministry of Education and the UNRWA Field Offices in the West Bank and Gaza. The portfolios had been reviewed by an ISA panel comprised of eight ISA ambassadors. In total, 99 UNRWA schools in the oPt received the award, with 42 being from Gaza. ISA recognizes, celebrates, develops and encourages successful practice in curriculum-based international work in schools and provides opportunities for creative teaching and learning that inspires young students. The ISA started at UNRWA schools in 2013 and is an accreditation given to schools which implement at least seven global activities over the course of the school year with the aim to empower their students to become global citizens with a global perspective and vision. The awarded schools receive certificates, stationery and promotional material. UNRWA provides education to over 250,000 refugee children in 257 schools across Gaza, in addition to offering education programmes through its own UNRWA TV satellite channel. The protracted crisis in Gaza poses daily challenges and threats to the fulfilment of children’s rights, including their rights to survival, growth and development, as well as education, as the United Nations Children Fund states in its recently published State of Palestine 2014 annual report.  Through its comprehensive education programme UNRWA tries to mitigate the dire situation and particularly the lasting impact on children who have experienced losses and witnessed violence during the past three conflicts within seven years in Gaza. 
  • Through its Infrastructure and Camp Improvement Programme (ICIP), UNRWA attempts to improve the living conditions of Palestine refugees in eight refugee camps located across the Gaza Strip. ICIP activities include planning, design and construction of UNRWA facilities, implementing the self-help shelter programme as well as delivering services to camps such as the restoration of sewage and drainage networks and maintenance and sanitation works. ICIP operates on the premise that the spatial and environmental conditions in which Palestine refugees live cannot be divorced from their livelihood or well-being. Over the past several weeks, the Agency’s efforts have been complemented by a community effort through a group of Gaza artists’ “Better Gaza” (“Gaza Ahla”) campaign. Approximately 30 young painters, in an effort to brighten their own environment and bring more colour to one of the poorest areas in Gaza, have painted and decorated homes in the Beach camp, in western Gaza city, with images of trees, dolphins and flowers. The “Better Gaza” campaign is a local community initiative that aims to provide some hope and cheer to struggling inhabitants.
  • As part of its Community Engagement and communications with communities (CwC) approach, UNRWA organizes regular meetings between its Director of Operations and key editors from the local media in Gaza every six to eight weeks. The Agency understands the importance of the local media in communicating with beneficiaries in Gaza. The aim of these meetings is to update local media representatives on UNRWA programmes and projects and to answer their questions on a variety of topics. On 17 December, the local media was again welcomed to UNRWA for an informal meeting with the Director, Mr. Bo Schack. Approximately 18 key journalists from outlets including Sama news, Ma’an news, Palestine Daily, Alquds Daily, Al Hayat London and Wafa news agency, participated. The discussed topics ranged from UNRWA’s eligibility criteria in re-housing projects to future challenges for UNRWA related to the blockade, and particularly concerning water and power in the lead up to 2020. In addition to these important meetings with editors in Gaza, UNRWA also liaises with media through regular information provision, issuing of press releases and photo essays and via project and programme specific press conferences. 
  • During the reporting week the German Development Bank (Kreditanstalt fuer Wideraufbau – KfW) signed three agreements with UNRWA for contributions totalling EUR 45.8 million (approximately US$ 49.7 million) from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) to support Palestine refugees in Gaza, Lebanon and Jordan. EUR 30 million (approximately US$ 32.5 million)  will go towards reconstruction and repair efforts in Gaza and comes in addition to a previous EUR 20 million (approximately US$ 21.7 million) contribution from BMZ through KfW after the summer 2014 conflict, making Germany the second largest contributor to the UNRWA emergency shelter response in Gaza. These funds will provide cash grants to approximately 1,200 Palestine refugee families to make the necessary repairs or reconstruction works to their severely damaged or totally demolished homes, as well as transitional rental subsidies for nearly 3,300 families who are waiting for their shelters to be repaired. In 2015, Germany contributed EUR 83.2 million (US$ 89.9 million) to UNRWA. Germany is the Agency’s fifth largest donor and has been a member of the UNRWA Advisory Commission since 2005. 
  • In his briefing to the Security Council on the situation in the Middle East on 16 December, Assistant-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Mr. Miroslav Jenca, stated that while the ongoing violence in the occupied Palestinian territory remains of great concern, at the same time he feels alarmed about the persistence of a range of issues that continue to undermine prospects for ending violence and rebuilding trust. “The injustices associated with an occupation which shows no prospect of ending feed into a perspective – particularly among the youth – that they have nothing to lose by sacrificing their lives,” Mr. Jenca stated. In Gaza, this perspective has to be viewed in the context of security and governance challenges and funding shortages, and a slow reconstruction process. “The key challenge is reconstruction of those homes -  indeed those neighborhoods - that were completely destroyed during the war and here, progress has been slow,” the Assistant-Secretary-General added. He also called on donors to translate pledges into disbursements particularly for housing reconstruction. However, he also mentioned that while reconstruction is important, “repairing damage from the most recent hostilities will not fix the underlying chronic problems of Gaza” – such as extreme poverty and high unemployment rates due to the blockade imposed on Gaza by Israel, now already in its ninth year. UNRWA does not become tired of reiterating its long-time call for an immediate and full lifting of the blockade on and freedom for Gaza, and for restoring full human rights for the Palestinian people. 
  • The UNRWA Gaza Field Office will continue its services to Palestine refugees without interruption from the old into the new year. During this time, UNRWA installations in Gaza will observe official holidays on 23 (Prophet’s Birthday) and 24 (Western Christmas Day) December as well as on 3 (in lieu of 1 January) and 7 (Eastern Christmas Day) January. UNRWA conveys its good wishes, Prophet’s Birthday, Merry Christmas and a peaceful New Year to all. 
  • Shelter update: A comprehensive shelter update will be provided in the situation report issued on Wednesday 13 January.

General

Operational environment: In Gaza, feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness continue to contribute to a sense of insecurity and protests against the situation in the West Bank and at Al Aqsa mosque. 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. Due to the protracted Gaza crisis – with a blockade now in its ninth year and three conflicts within the past seven years – tensions and insecurity have become the norm, also resulting in the deterioration of social cohesion and regular reporting of intra-familial and domestic conflicts.

Further, regular protests took place during the reporting week in support of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails; demonstrations were also directed towards UNRWA in relation to a demand for employment.

On 19 December, a fire broke out in a house in Beach camp in western Gaza city, reportedly due to the misuse of candles. Candles are often used in Gaza due to frequent electricity and power cuts. No injuries were reported in the incident.

On 17 and 19 December, Israeli forces arrested a total of four Palestinians who tried to illegally enter Israel from central 
Gaza.

On 19 December, a 16-year old boy accidently shot and killed himself while handling a weapon in his house in the Khan Younis refugee camp in southern Gaza. 

UNRWA response

Amidst ongoing displacement, UNRWA supported thousands of refugee families with rental subsidy payments
Abdel Kareem Al Ijleh and his daughter Zein in their rented apartment in Gaza city. © 2015 UNRWA Photo by Tamer Hamam
Abdel Kareem Al Ijleh and his daughter Zein in their rented apartment in Gaza city. © 2015 UNRWA Photo by Tamer Hamam

Due to the complex reconstruction process in the Gaza Strip and the related ongoing displacement, UNRWA continues to provide Palestine refugee families whose homes were completely destroyed or rendered uninhabitable during the 2014 conflict with transitional shelter cash assistance (TSCA) as funds becomes available. Rental subsidy payments enable families to live in dignified accommodations until UNRWA is able to provide them with payments to repair or reconstruct their own homes. 

57-year old Abdel Kareem Al Ijleh’s family is from the neighbourhood of Shujjaiya in eastern Gaza city, which was heavily impacted during the summer 2014 hostilities. The family continues to receive rental subsidy payments (TSCA) from UNRWA. Abdul, his wife Khitam and their nine children were forced to flee their home early during the conflict due to intense nearby shelling. The family found shelter in the house of their extended family in another part of Gaza city, and later discovered that their original home was completely destroyed.

The family stayed with their extended family for some weeks, until shortly after the announcement of a ceasefire to the 2014 conflict on 26 August 2014, and following UNRWA engineer’s assessments of their home, the family was found eligible for emergency shelter assistance from UNRWA. The Agency was able to provide them with payments enabling them to rent their own apartment as a temporary home. “When my family and I arrived to this apartment, I did not care about the furniture or blankets or mattresses or even food, all that I cared about was being safe and that was how I felt in this apartment,” Abdel Kareem recalled. 

The Ijleh family feels somehow lucky that they received support from UNRWA to live in a dignified shelter with enough privacy for everyone until such a time as they can relocate to a more permanent house. “We remain displaced to this day, and this is difficult; however, at least we have this rented apartment that protects us well from the hot summer and the cold winter,” added Khitam Al Ijleh.

Memories of the conflict are still raw for the family, even as they hope to rebuild their home. “The rubble and the smell of the bombs is still in my mind; nevertheless I hope that one day our house will be rebuilt,” commented 12-year old Zein Al Ijleh.

As of mid-December 2015, over 13,240 families have received a rental subsidy payment from UNRWA 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. Due to lack of sufficient funding approximately 9,000 eligible families have not received rental subsidy payments to cover the last month of 2015.

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. On 16 December, Israeli forces reportedly injured one Palestinian when they fired towards Palestinian areas in Khan Younis, southern Gaza. On 17 December, Egyptian troops opened fire towards Palestinian areas in Rafah, southern Gaza, and reportedly injured one Palestinian.

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 40 persons were reportedly injured due to Israeli gun fire and approximately 17 are reported to have suffered from gas inhalation. Three of the injured youth were UNRWA students from the Gaza Middle Area. Both were injured in the legs. One Palestinian was reportedly killed in a protest on 18 December by Israeli gunfire in Khan Younis area.

On 16 December, an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) reportedly detonated near a vehicle of Israeli forces in Khan Younis area, southern Gaza. The Israeli forces reportedly responded with heavy machine gun fire and fired 12 shells towards Gaza areas, injuring three Palestinians. This was the first reported usage of IEDs at the fence area since the 2014 conflict.

On 17 December, four Israeli bulldozers reportedly entered approximately 100 metres into Khan Younis area in southern Gaza to conduct a clearing and excavation operation. They withdrew on the same day. 

On 17 December, militants reportedly fired one rocket from northern Gaza towards Israel. The rocket dropped short and 
landed inside Gaza; no injuries were reported.

On 18 December, militants reportedly fired two test rockets from Gaza city and one test rocket from Khan Younis 
towards the sea

On 18 December, four Israeli bulldozers and two Israeli tanks reportedly entered approximately 100 metres into Khan 
Younis area to conduct a clearing and excavation operation. They withdrew on the same day. 

On 20 December, militants reportedly attempted to fire one rocket from southern Gaza towards Israel. The rocket 
exploded at the launching site. No injuries were reported.

On 21 December, four Israeli bulldozers and two Israeli tanks reportedly entered approximately 100 metres into east of Khuza’a in southern Gaza to conduct a clearing and excavation operation. They withdrew on the same day. 

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. Read more in the 2015 oPt Emergency Appeal

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 air.  Movement 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 15 to 17 December and from 20 to 22 December. On 18 December it was open for pedestrians only. It was closed on 19 December.
  • Kerem Shalom crossing is the 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 15 to 17 December and from 20 to 22 December. It was closed on 18 and 19 December.
UNRWA launched the #DignityIsPriceless campaign in Gaza on 22 January 2018. © 2018 UNRWA Photo Rushdi Al Saraj
Join the #DignityIsPriceless campaign to stand up #ForPalestineRefugees