Gaza situation report 147

12 June 2016
© 2016 UNRWA Photo

31 May – 7 June 2016 | issue 147

  • The blockade on Gaza, now in its tenth year - aggravated by recurring conflict – continues to cause severe socio-economic and psychosocial distress for too many people in Gaza. Many feel hopeless with no visible prospect of a better, more secure future. To encourage community engagement and as a means of inputting some positive messages, colour and life in Gaza, around 140 young Palestinian artists are currently painting the walls of 270 UNRWA installations located across Gaza, including UNRWA schools. The activity is a joint project between the Maintenance Division of the UNRWA Infrastructure and Camp Improvement Programme (ICIP) and the Education Programme, under the facilitation of the UNRWA Operations Support Office. The participating artists were shortlisted through the Agency’s Job-Creation Programme; most are young, self-taught artists, others have enjoyed a formal artist education in one of Gaza’s universities. The project started in February and will be completed during June.
     
  • The compounded socio-economic effects of the blockade, and the closure of tunnels to Egypt, have a profound, psychological impact on the people of Gaza. To mitigate these effects, UNRWA maintains a Community Mental Health Programme and a network of over 250 counsellors in UNRWA schools as well as 23 counsellors and 5 legal advisors in its health centres. In the beginning of 2016, the Agency launched a pilot project in Saftawi Health Centre, in North Gaza, to fully integrate mental health care and psycho-social support within its primary health care services. From February to April, the health centre screened approximately 1,550 clients and over 200 clients received mental health care and psychosocial support by health centre staff. Experiences, findings and learnings from the pilot will inform the further rollout as UNRWA plans to implement the integration of mental health services and psychosocial support within its primary health care in all 21 health centres across Gaza.
     
  • UNRWA opened the recruitment process for new UNRWA teachers for the upcoming scholastic year 2016-2017. A total of 22,667 teachers (18,228 female and 4,439 male) applied for new posts in different subjects such as Science, Arabic, English, Mathematics or Islamic Education. The stark discrepancy between available positions and applicants illustrates once more the socio-economic crisis prevailing in the Gaza Strip as a result of the blockade, now in its tenth year. Gaza has - with an average joblessness rate of 41 per cent in 2015 - one of the highest unemployment rates world-wide, according to data from the World Bank. On 1 June, 8,814 candidates sat and took the written exam for the first round of competition for the subjects of Science, Islamic Education and Lower Elementary; the tests were held at 16 UNRWA schools across Gaza, supervised by 1,150 education staff.  On 2 June, another 9,974 candidates were invited and took exams for Arabic, English and Mathematics in 18 UNRWA schools, supervised by 1,262 UNRWA education staff. The exams, lasting between two and three hours, were prepared by education specialists of the UNRWA Education Programme to ensure a transparent competition that allows for the selection of the most-qualified candidates. UNRWA sees education as a major investment in dignity, human development and a measure of stability for Palestine refugees who represent 40 per cent of those caught in protracted refugee situations. The Education Programme in Gaza is UNRWA’s largest and despite the fragile situation, lack of infrastructure and financial constraints, the Agency successfully manages 257 schools and will integrate over  263.700 students in the coming school year, taught and supervised by over 8,000 teachers.
     
  • To maintain close community links and ensure a two-way dialogue between UNRWA and its beneficiaries, in 2010 the Agency established its Chief Area Offices (CAO) in all five governorates of Gaza – North, Gaza, Middle Area, Khan Younis and Rafah. CAOs have an UNRWA representative function at the area level. They liaise with government authorities, refugee community representatives and humanitarian organizations on the general application of Agency policies and programmes, as well as other issues of interest to the Agency such as the security situation as it affects UNRWA operations, and any incidents affecting the humanitarian situation of Palestine refugees. CAOs also lead an area management team in close collaboration with the Gaza Field Office. In May, the CAO North Gaza, for example, conducted outreach meetings with political and religious community leaders to discuss relations between UNRWA and the community, focusing on the importance of neutrality and safety for UNRWA front line staff working in the area. In coordination with the Agency’s Relief and Social Services Programme (RSSP) as well as the Infrastructure and Camp Improvement Programme (ICIP), the CAO North also conducted a meeting in the Jabalia UNRWA Health Centre in northern Gaza with camp representatives, discussing and explaining UNRWA services and projects, particularly the Agency’s Poverty Assessment System, the new UNRWA food baskets, as well as processes and procedures related to the reconstruction of damaged or totally destroyed shelters following the 2014 conflict. Further, during the discussion feedback from community representatives regarding a water and sewage problem in Jabalia camp was raised, and ICIP reacted swiftly to address and resolve the problem. Further, during May the CAO North, in coordination with RSSP and ICIP, coordinated the distribution of non-food items such as blankets, mattresses, baby hygiene kits, kitchen sets and gas stoves, for two families whose shelters had burned down as well as for six social intervention cases (extremely vulnerable families).
     
  • The UNRWA procurement office is responsible for tendering and procuring humanitarian goods, equipment and tools necessary to maintain and facilitate UNRWA operations in Gaza. During the reporting week, the procurement team in Gaza finalised the tendering for the supply of 6,248 food parcels to be distributed to poor families during the holy month of Ramadan.  The parcels contain items for the Suhoor – the pre-dawn meal before the beginning of the daily fasting – such as jam, halawa (a kind of sweet), canned ful  (fava beans), tea, white and yellow cheese and dried dates; all items were either procured in Gaza itself or in the West Bank after they passed the UNRWA quality tests and specifications.  From 6 to 7 June a team of 22 labourers, hired through the UNRWA Job Creation Programme, will work on packaging the food parcels at Karni international Zone. The distribution of the food parcels will be implemented on 8 and 9 June in all of UNRWA’s 12 food distribution centres across Gaza.
     
  • Unemployment in Gaza reached extremely high levels as a direct result of recurrent conflict and the successive layers of restrictions on movement of goods and people due to the blockade, now in its tenth year. Today, over 80 per cent of the population in Gaza relies on humanitarian assistance to be able to cover their basic needs, such as food, but also basic education, basic health care or shelter. UNRWA tries to mitigate the impact of these dire circumstances through various employment-related interventions, for example through its Job-Creation Programme. In the first four months of 2016, UNRWA created job opportunities for 8,387 beneficiaries through the JCP, injecting US$ 4.54 million into the Gaza economy. Overall in 2015, UNRWA created job opportunities for 32,000 beneficiaries through the JCP, injecting US$ 27.1 million into the Gaza economy. This is a strong increase from 2001 when the JCP was first launched and UNRWA created job opportunities for 10,913 beneficiaries, injecting US$ 7.9 million into the local market. According to the World Bank, Gaza has one of the highest joblessness rates world-wide. The average unemployment rate during 2015 stood at 41.1 per cent, 36 per cent for men and 59.6 per cent for women, as reported by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS). The picture is even bleaker for youth: in the first quarter of 2016, unemployment rate for Palestine refugee youth stood at 64.5 per cent, and for female refugee youth at 78 per cent.

 

Blockade on Gaza

In June 2016 the blockade on Gaza has entered its tenth year. The United Nations has repeatedly highlighted the illegality of the blockade as a form of collective punishment under international humanitarian law and called for the lifting of the blockade, which continues to hamper freedom of movement of persons and goods negatively impacting the enjoyment of a range of rights, including sufficient and safe drinking water and adequate sanitation, food security and life-saving treatment including health care. The Government of Israel must lift the blockade, and remove all obstacles to economic development and the enjoyment of human rights by the population of Gaza, including through the opening of available crossings and allowing movement of goods and persons, while bearing in mind Israel's legitimate security concerns.

 

General

Operational environment:  Frequent protests took place during the reporting week, mostly to demand the payment of salaries from the Palestinian Authority. Protests were also held to demand compensation for shelter from UNRWA. In addition, on 31 May a protest was held at the Gaza mina (port in Gaza city) to mark the 6th anniversary of the Marmara incident which reportedly resulted in the death of nine Turkish activists trying to bring humanitarian goods to the Gaza Strip.

On 31 May, the Ministry of Interior in Gaza announced that in the early morning of the same day police had implemented the execution sentence of three Palestinians convicted of murder.

On 31 May, a Palestinian was arrested by Israeli forces after reportedly attempting to enter Israel through the perimeter fence east of Bureij camp in central Gaza.

On 1 June a family dispute took reportedly place between two families in Jabalia camp in northern Gaza; the families reportedly used fire weapons, but no injuries were reported. The police reportedly arrested several persons.

On 2 June a pipe bomb was reportedly thrown and exploded next to a house in Shujjaiya in eastern Gaza city. No injuries or damage were reported. The motive behind the incident is reportedly an old family dispute. On the same day, an UNRWA beneficiary from Maghazi camp in central Gaza reportedly managed to enter inside the visitor’s room at the Gaza Field Office, demanding the Agency to provide him with temporary shelter cash assistance. He also threatened to set himself on fire. The security guards succeeded to control the situation by calming the person and confiscating the fuel bottle and a lighter. No injuries were reported.  Also on 2 June a fire reportedly broke out inside a furniture and wood store in Maghazi camp in central Gaza. No injuries were reported but the store sustained severe damages.

On 3 June, an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) reportedly exploded in front of a residential house in Nuseirat camp in central Gaza; the explosion reportedly caused damage but no injuries. The police opened an investigation.

Also on 3 June, an Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) reportedly exploded on a plot of land in Khan Younis, southern Gaza, while a group of Palestinians were working on the land. No injuries were reported. On the same day, two Palestinians girls aged 17 and 20 years were reportedly moderately injured and admitted to the hospital after being hit by stray bullets from an unknown source during their stay at the Rafah seashore. The police arrived to the scene and opened an investigation.

On 4 June, a fire started inside a house in Khan Younis, southern Gaza, reportedly due to misuse of coal fire for barbecue. The house sustained damage but no injuries were reported.

On 5 June, unknown persons in a speeding vehicle threw a sonic bomb at guards at the UNRWA HQ in Gaza city. No injuries were reported. On the same day, a fire broke out in a workshop in Deir El Balah, central Gaza, reportedly due to an explosion of a motorcycle fuel tank. Two injuries were reported and the workshop burned down entirely.

 

UNRWA’s response

 

UNRWA Legal Units
advocating for women rights

Lawyers, hired through the UNRWA Job-Creation Programme, discuss with Fadwa her case in the legal unit of the UNRWA Women Programme Centre in Nuseirat camp, central Gaza. Photo credit: ©UNRWA Gaza 2016. Photo by Tamer Hamam.
Lawyers, hired through the UNRWA Job-Creation Programme, discuss with Fadwa her case in the legal unit of
the UNRWA Women Programme Centre in Nuseirat camp, central Gaza.
Photo credit: ©UNRWA Gaza 2016. Photo by Tamer Hamam.

To help vulnerable women understand and claim their rights, and to strengthen their access to justice, the UNRWA Relief and Social Services Programme in 2006 established legal units in its Women Programme Centres (WPC) in the eight official refugee camps in Gaza.

Forty-six year old Fadwa approached the UNRWA legal unit in the WPC in Nuseirat camp, central Gaza, six months after her divorce to seek legal advice. “An awareness session about women rights in the Women Programme Centre made me aware of the legal unit,” she explained. “The legal unit helped me a lot; they provided me with free legal consultation and arranged for representation in court.”

UNRWA legal units operate from within WPCs; in each unit work three lawyers, hired through the Agency’s Job-Creation Programme. They provide a variety of services to refugee women in Gaza, such as free legal consultation, help with representation in court, or they refer cases to appropriate professional institutions such as international and local non-government organizations.

“When I and my husband divorced, he refused to respect my rights, and he did not allow me to see my children,” Fadwa said. “As I don’t have money to approach private lawyers, I was advised to seek help at the legal unit of the UNRWA Women Programme Centre and they supported me.”

The support received through the legal units is very good and professional, explained another woman, 38-year old Reem, who also approached the legal unit in a similar divorce case eight months ago. “I am now able to see my children, and I could reclaim my rights,” she confirmed.

On average, the legal unit in Nuseirat camp manages around 30 cases per month; in addition, the unit also tries to actively reach out to women in the community, for example through awareness sessions and workshops, to encourage women to step up and seek support and help.

“I left my husband because he beat me; I felt very alone in the beginning, not knowing my rights or where to go,” recalled 32-year old Amal. “I then approached the legal unit, and now, by knowing my rights and how to claim them, I feel much braver and stronger. My message to all women in a similar situation is: don’t be afraid to ask for your rights,” she added.

In total, UNRWA maintains eight legal units in WPCs in refugee camps across Gaza, aiming at empowering women, reducing social, economic and legal gender imbalances and working towards eliminating discrimination against women.  In addition to legal support, the WPCs offer skills-based trainings, for example in computer literacy, hair dressing, or traditional handicrafts and embroidery. The centres also try to assist illiterate women in entering the formal education system by providing education and literacy classes.

 

Summary of Major Incidents

During the reporting week, Israeli forces reportedly fired towards Palestinian areas along the perimeter fence and towards Palestinian boats on a daily basis. On 31 May, Israeli patrol boats reportedly opened fire towards Palestinian boats and five fishermen were arrested and two boats confiscated. One injury was reported.

On 3 June, approximately 30 civilians including youth, held a protest near the perimeter fence east of Gaza city to express their eagerness to defend Al Aqsa Mosque and in solidarity with Palestinians in the West Bank. During the protest some participants approached the perimeter fence and reportedly threw stones towards Israeli observation posts. Israeli security forces reportedly responded with tear gas and gun fire. The Ministry of Health reported that one Palestinian was injured as a result.

On 31 May, seven Israeli bulldozers and three tanks reportedly entered approximately 150 metres into northern Gaza to conduct a clearing and excavation operation; they reportedly withdrew on the same day.

On 1 June, four Israeli bulldozers reportedly entered approximately 100 meters into southern Gaza, to conduct a clearing and excavation operation. They withdrew on the same day.

On 2 June, five Israeli bulldozers reportedly entered approximately 100 metres east of Gaza city, reportedly laying suppressive fire and conducting a clearing and excavation operation. The incursion ended on the same day.

On 6 June, five Israeli bulldozers reportedly entered approximately 80 meters into Gaza areas east of Gaza city, reportedly to conduct a clearing and excavation operation. They withdrew on the same day.

 

Funding Needs

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$ 74 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.

 

Crossings

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 was open on 1 and 2 as well as 4 and 5 June for Palestinians in both directions. It was closed on 3 and 6 June.
  • 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 31 May to 2 June and from 5 to 7 June.  On 3 June it was open for pedestrians only. It was closed on 4 June..
  • 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 31 May to 2 June and from 5 to 7 June. It was closed 3 and 4 June.