On the fifth anniversary of the most powerful earthquake ever recorded to hit Japan, messages of continued empathy and solidarity flew in the sky in Gaza. Over one thousand Palestine refugee students from three UNRWA schools located in the Japanese housing project in Khan Younis gathered to fly kites in commemoration of the disaster that killed more than 15,891 people and caused immense damage. UNRWA students in Gaza were engaged in flying the kites at the Japanese re-housing project quarter, together with the participation of more than three hundred other children with special needs from different Community Based Organizations (CBOs) in Gaza. To encourage a strong relationship between children from Gaza and Japan, students from both places exchanged messages about their daily life and experiences through a live online chat session via Skype. The fifth annual kite-flying event in Khan Younis highlights the strong ties between the Japanese people and Palestine refugees in Gaza. The event is a reminder of both people’s strength and resilience.
An exclusive interview with UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl is currently being broadcast on UNRWA TV and its associated YouTube channel (Arabic version). In the interview, the Commissioner General reaffirmed that UNRWA keeps standing firm to defend the rights of Palestine refugees; “the Agency cares,” the Commissioner-General said, “even though it is difficult to live up to everyone’s expectations.” Commissioner-General Krähenbühl also mentioned the risk that Palestine refugees get forgotten by the international community amidst all the turmoil and suffering engulfing the region, and that everyone – including beneficiaries themselves – need to be creative and innovative to keep having their voice heard. Moreover, the Commissioner-General explained UNRWA’s emergency preparedness measures and he stressed how much the Agency relies on the skills and professionalism of its staff to be able to maintain service delivery during emergencies and in post-conflict situations. He also mentioned UNRWA’s reform plans for 2016 – such as improvements in UNRWA food assistance delivery, a stronger focus on technical and vocational training to generate livelihood opportunities particularly for youth, and new and improved communications systems to reach out and communicate directly with staff and beneficiaries. Ultimately, Pierre Krähenbühl also explained the current financial situation of UNRWA as well as the Agency’s strategies to avoid financial impasses in the future.
In April 2015, in a town hall meeting in Deir El Balah camp, central Gaza, UNRWA announced the commencement of its innovative camp improvement pilot project. 80 per cent of the first phase of this project – the participatory planning phase – has now been completed. Community consultation included resident and technical surveys to collect socio-economic data about the camp inhabitants, the holding of 28 focus group meetings with different socio-demographic community groups, the organization of thematic workshops with community groups based on different themes such as traffic safety, environmental infrastructure, shelter reconstruction and housing interventions, and the construction of UNRWA service facilities. The camp improvement projects team further conducted a series of home visits and consulted experts from the community for additional planning inputs. The outcome of phase one will be a final urban master plan, action plan and report. The urban master plan will include a list of all affected families and classification of agreed housing options, road details, open spaces, shelters for repair or reconstruction, on or off site infrastructural improvements and detailed designs of public facilities (health centre, Women Programme Centre, Youth Centre or water and sewerage and electrical networks). The Deir El Balah camp improvement pilot project was generously funded in advance of a project design, with a dedicated US$ 40 million grant from the Gulf Cooperation Council for the Reconstruction of Gaza through the Islamic Development Bank.
The interest of foreign delegations in the humanitarian situation in Gaza, and particularly the reconstruction efforts, remains high. On 9 March, a delegation from the Australian Ministry of Defense, Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), including the Australian Ambassador to Israel, Mr. Dave Sharma and the Head of the Australian Representative Office in Ramallah, Ms. Marcia Pius, visited Gaza. As part of their visit, they met with the Deputy Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza, Ms. Melinda Young, to be briefed on the Agency’s food assistance and reconstruction programmes. They also met with a Palestine refugee family in Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza, whose home was totally demolished during the 2014 conflict, and who receives support from UNRWA for reconstruction.
On 9 March, the Country Director Mr. Youngwoo Kim and a Programme Officer of the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) Palestine Office visited Gaza to familiarize themselves with the UNRWA Technical and Vocational Training (TVET) activities for Palestine youth. In addition to a briefing by the Deputy Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza, Melinda Young, the delegation visited the UNRWA training centres in Gaza city and Khan Younis and met with principals and students to have an initial discussion about the Basic Design Study project. In February, KOICA signed an agreement with UNRWA in support of the Agency’s TVET programme. The donation allows UNRWA to conduct a comprehensive study of the programme in Gaza, with the aim of improving its effectiveness and maximizing employment prospects for TVET students and graduates. The study will focus on highlighting relevant job sectors and developing new courses under the programme, paying special attention to industries that offer opportunities to Palestine refugee women.
UNRWA has completed the allocation of housing units to 19 Social Safety Net (SSN) families – meaning Abject Poor households who live below US$ 1.5 per capita per day – in the annex (phase two) of the Japanese Rehousing Project in Khan Younis, southern Gaza. As of 13 March, all eligible SSN families – coming from different areas of Gaza – have signed the undertaking. The annex to the Japanese Rehousing Project offers a total of 29 housing units; 19 for SSN cases and 10 for Palestine refugees in need, from Khan Younis camp, who agreed to be relocated due to ongoing camp improvement activities such as the widening of streets. Seven of the ten families from Khan Younis camp have already signed the undertaking and received their new shelter, and the three remaining will receive theirs in the coming weeks after having organized the demolition of their old shelters in the camp. Palestine refugees living in refugee camps in Gaza who receive a new shelter from UNRWA in one of the Agency’s rehousing projects are asked to demolish their old shelter – under the supervision of UNRWA engineers, social workers and community committees – so that the newly gained space can be used as an open area or for public facilities. The original Japanese Rehousing Project was completed in 2013 and offered a total of 226 new shelters built for more than 1,200 Palestine refugees whose homes were demolished or damaged beyond repair prior to the Israeli disengagement in August 2005. In 2015, the Japanese donor agreed to contribute additional money to build an annex, the construction of which was complete in early 2016. In its current rehousing projects in Gaza, UNRWA follows a co-signing policy between husbands and wives, meaning that both parties are required to sign the undertaking so that the whole family has the right to benefit from the housing unit. Through the co-signing policy, UNRWA ensures gender-equality in its service delivery and thus contributes to Sustainable Development Goal number five (gender equality).
As another activity designed to mark International Women’s Day (IWD) and call for gender equality, over the past two weeks the UNWRA Gender Initiative has organized panel discussions on “raising voices – women can make change in Gaza.” The discussions are being held in Community Based Organizations in all five areas of Gaza. Each panel discussion involves approximately ten women who share their experience of the successful organization of initiatives to promote change through municipal processes. On the occasion of IWD, the UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl released a statement to pay tribute to the Agency’s thousands of female school principals, teachers, education specialists, attendants, doctors, nurses, social workers, administrative and other staff. “Gender-equality is alive across UNRWA and an integral part of our commitment to the welfare and human development of Palestine refugees. The Agency endeavours to translate this goal into reality through its services,” the statement said. The United Nations Coordinator for Humanitarian Aid and Development Assistance for the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), Robert Piper, released a statement on this occasion. While the statement acknowledged the progress made by the Government of Palestine and civil society networks to improve women’s access to their rights, it also made mention of Palestinian women and girls remaining subject to Israel’s prolonged occupation, and highlighted the further deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Gaza due to the blockade. It also reiterated the United Nations Secretary-General’s call to “continue working for gender equality, development and peace for the twenty-first-century.”
Operational environment: During the reporting week, regular protests took place in Gaza, predominately focused on demand for job opportunities, expressions of solidarity with Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, and demands for housing from UNRWA.
On 9 March, approximately 50 Palestinian Authority employees reportedly broke into the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) office to protest against salary cuts. Protestors reportedly destroyed contents of the office, including furniture and appliances; they also reportedly struck a guard of the office. The police intervened and launched an investigation.
On 11 March, a tunnel reportedly collapsed in Rafah, southern Gaza, under the border between Egypt and Gaza. The Civil Defense managed to rescue seven Palestinian workers. On 12 March, the Civil Defense reportedly recovered the bodies of two deceased Palestinian workers who were reported as trapped inside the tunnel.
On 13 March, a fire broke out in a residential flat in Rafah, southern Gaza, due to electrical short circuit. It is reported that one child died as a result of the fire.
On 9 March, it was reported that one militant died during a military training in the Gaza Middle Area. A funeral procession was held in Bureij camp, central Gaza. On 14 March, a militant of Al Qassam Brigades died in a tunnel collapse east of Gaza city.
‘Raising Voices – Women Can Make Change in Gaza’: UNRWA Gender Initiative organizes panel discussions on community mobilization efforts
Under the theme of ‘Raising Voices – Women Can Make Change in Gaza’ from 7 to 14 March the UNRWA Gender Initiative organized five panel discussions in Community-Based Organizations (CBOs) in all areas of Gaza. Each panel discussion involved between 6-10 women who shared their experience in the successful organization of initiatives to promote change through municipal processes. The goal of the discussions was to share past experiences and best practices, and to encourage women in Gaza to be proactive and lead change in their community.
“We thought if we can do it, others can do it as well, so let’s go and meet other women and share our experience with them,” panel member Warda Abu Rus shared during the last panel discussion, held in the Revival Culture Association CBO in Shujjaiya, eastern Gaza city, on 14 March. Warda is a Palestine refugee from Deir El Balah camp who, in early 2016, participated in an initiative committee which launched a campaign to improve the safety and security in their neighbourhood. The initiative followed an accident on Salah El Din Street, one of the main highways leading through Gaza (the highways does not run through the Deir El Balah camp), in which one of Warda’s close friends died. There is a lack of street lights on the highway, which may have contributed to the accident, so the committee wanted to try and make it safer.
“We want to tell all women in Gaza that they can make changes, that they can have an impact on their community,” stated Najilla Jaber, another panel member, during the discussion. “Our experience in Deir El Balah was successful, and we hope that this success can be repeated in other places in Gaza,” she added.
While in the beginning of the discussion the panel members explained how they started to organize themselves and mobilize and reach out to the community, they later opened the floor for questions. All the women in the audience were very interested to ask about concrete obstacles and challenges, and inquired about tips and advice on how to launch similar initiatives.
“We have similar problems in our neighbourhood, and when I heard about the success the women had with their initiative in Deir El Balah, I was convinced that we can achieve something like-minded in our own locality,” said Haim El Helo who came to listen to the discussion in Shujjaiya. “As women, we should be strong and believe in ourselves,” she added.
UNRWA supports the development and empowerment of women through various programmes, particularly through its Gender Initiative. Of the 101 CBOs the GI works through on its various projects, 30 provide social and recreational spaces for women. The CBOs are also seen as friendly and safe spaces for women, many of whom feel empowered by doing activities outside their home, establishing new networks, participating in public life and exercising more independence.
Summary of Major Incidents
During the reporting week, Israeli forces fired towards Palestinian areas along the perimeter fence and towards Palestinian boats on a daily basis.
Regular weekly protests in support of Al Aqsa mosque and the situation in the West Bank were held across Gaza and in the vicinity of the perimeter fence. Protests near the perimeter fence, involving approximately 500 persons, predominately youth, took place east of Bureij camp in central Gaza, east of Gaza city, and in the vicinity of the Erez crossing. During these protests, some participants approached the perimeter fence and reportedly threw stones towards Israeli observation posts. Israeli security forces responded with gunfire and tear gas. As a result, the Ministry of Health reported that three persons were injured and three eight suffered from gas inhalation.
On 11 March militants fired four rockets from northern Gaza towards Israel. The rockets landed in an open area in southern Israel. No injuries were reported. In the early hours of 12 March Israel responded to the rocket attack by conducting 04 raids firing 09 missiles targeting militant training sites in the north of Gaza, and the outskirts of Gaza city. As a result, a 6 year old girl and her 10 year old brother were killed, whilst a third sibling was injured, in the north, as a result of collateral damage from one of the strikes that landed approximately 70 meters from their shelter. Both children were Palestine Refugees. The funeral procession was held in Beit Lahia, northern Gaza, on the same day.
On 11 March militants reportedly fired two test rockets from Khan Younis, southern Gaza, towards the sea.
On 12 March militants reportedly fired one test rocket from Khan Younis, southern Gaza, towards the sea. The rocket exploded at the launch site, no injuries were reported
On 14 March militants reportedly fired one rocket from northern Gaza towards Israel; the rocket landed in an open area in southern Israel. No injuries were reported.
UNRWA is confronted with an increased demand for services resulting from a growth in the number of registered Palestine refugees, the extent of their vulnerability and their deepening poverty. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions and financial support has been outpaced by the growth in needs. As a result, the UNRWA Programme Budget, which supports the delivery of core essential services, operates with a large shortfall, projected for 2016 to stand at US$ 81 million. UNRWA emergency programmes and key projects, also operating with large shortfalls, are funded through separate funding portals.
Following the 2014 conflict, 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. UNRWA urgently appeals to donors to generously contribute to its emergency shelter programme to provide displaced Palestine refugees in Gaza with rental subsidies or cash assistance to undertake repair works and reconstruction of their damaged homes.
As presented in UNRWA’s occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) Emergency Appeal for 2016, the Agency is seeking US$ 403 million to meet the minimum humanitarian needs of Palestine refugees in the oPt. The Agency requires US$ 355.95 million for programme interventions in Gaza, including US$ 109.7 million for emergency food assistance, US$ 142.3 million for emergency shelter assistance, US$ 60.4 million for emergency cash-for-work assistance, US$ 4.4 million for emergency health/mobile health clinics and US$ 3.1 for education in emergencies. More information can be found here.
Longstanding restrictions on the movement of people and goods to and from Gaza have undermined the living conditions of 1.8 million 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 8 to 10 March and from 13 to 15 March. On 11 March it was open for pedestrians only. It was closed on 12 March.
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 8 to 10 March and from 13 to 15 March. It was closed on 11 and 12 March.