Gaza situation report 169

10 November 2016
© 2016 UNRWA Photo

1 – 8 November 2016 | Issue 169


  • On 2 November, for the first time, 20 Palestine refugee students from the Rimal Preparatory school in Gaza city connected via Skype with their European peers in Amsterdam, Netherlands. The live video call was part of the UNRWA My Voice-My School (MVMS) project which is a student-led educational project that links Palestine refugee youth with their peers in different European countries through video conversations and customized teaching materials. Participating classes work together to identify, research and develop a student advocacy project on the topic of quality education. The project lasts five months and empowers youth by giving them a voice and an opportunity to communicate across borders on issues that matter to them. English teachers help facilitate discussions between the students. During the Skype call, students from Gaza and Amsterdam engaged in lively discussions on a variety of topics, ranging from family relationships and their daily life and challenges, to school routine and hobbies; together they also explored how education can be improved to help them meet their aspirations for the future. MVMS has previously been implemented by UNRWA in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan with Palestine refugees, and this year, for the first time, it was extended to refugee children from Gaza. The implementation of the project in Gaza is funded by the European Union and implemented by UNRWA and Digital Explorer. Digital Explorer is a London-based community interest company and a pioneer in the development of innovative real-world learning programmes, where global citizenship topics are explored through teacher, pupil and expert collaboration.
  • The UNRWA Gender Initiative (GI) is currently implementing activities related to Gender-Based Violence (GBV) in all areas of Gaza. In partnership with Community-Based Organizations, the GI organizes continuous awareness sessions on GBV as well as targeted advocacy initiatives on women’s rights and GBV such as theater shows, films screenings and community engagement meetings. In November the GI will be carrying out community initiatives in each governorate aiming to raise awareness. In the North, for instance, the initiatives will emphasize women’s inheritance rights with a public advocacy campaign which is also supported by various local community leaders such as imams, mukhtars and representatives from the municipality; in Rafah, in southern Gaza, activities focus on the rights of persons with disabilities through drama and theatre as well as discussion groups. In total, the GI works with 101 CBOs across Gaza to implement its programme; 30 of them provide social and recreational spaces for women such as sport facilities, educational forums, or access to Information Technology. The CBOs are also seen as safe space for women, allowing them to get involved in activities outside their home and participate in public life.
  • In October, UNRWA completed four construction projects including one school building, the construction of 23 additional class rooms in two existing schools and the construction of a control room and solar system at an UNRWA installation. The total value of completed projects is almost US$ 2.7 million. 33 infrastructure projects worth US$ 66.14 million are under implementation. At present, the total value of UNRWA projects approved by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) is US$ 241.3 million. However, project approval does not imply approval of the materials required to complete the project. The total value of projects approved by COGAT but without the materials required to complete the project is US$ 33.98 million. For more information, please read the attached October 2016 UNRWA Construction Update.
  • The United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced a new US$ 15 million contribution to UNRWA for its education programme in Gaza which is the largest in all five fields of UNRWA operations. The UAE contribution will allow the Agency to enhance its education programme in the Gaza Strip by supporting the continued development of teaching methods and skills and by ensuring a safe learning environment for Palestine refugee children. This contribution will also include the provision of educational materials, stationery and school bags, alleviating the financial burden that students and their families face at the beginning of every school year. In Gaza, UNRWA runs more than 267 schools, providing educational services to more than 263,000 Palestine refugee children through nearly 8,700 teachers, most of whom are refugees themselves. Over the past 65 years, UNRWA has run one of the largest and most successful school systems in the Middle East, despite the deterioration of the situation in the Gaza Strip, which entered its tenth year under blockade and experienced the most devastating hostilities to date in 2014.
  • Speaking at the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) at the UN in New York, UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl talked about the unquantifiable challenges young Palestine refugees continued to face, including the risk of radicalization due to mounting insecurity and the frustration of unmet humanitarian needs as resulting from the lack of sustained and predictable funding. “About half of the refugees registered with UNRWA are below the age of 25 but their political and personal horizons are essentially closed,” he stated and added that “fifty years of occupation in Palestine and ten years of blockade in Gaza, happening in the full view of the international community, are etched painfully into the soul and identity of the refugee community”, which is why particularly the young generation is losing faith in the value of politics, compromise and international diplomacy. This is a reason, he argued, to not forget Palestine refugees and to act on their behalf. He also mentioned that “once the dust has settled from the crises in the region - and settle it ultimately will - the scars of Gaza, Hebron, East Jerusalem and Nablus, as well as the pain and suffering of Ein El-Helweh, Nahr El-Bared, Yarmouk and others, and the abuse and despair of Palestine refugees, will continue to stare the world in the face, and with greater intensity.“ Regarding Gaza specifically, the Commissioner-General said that no one is spared the denial of rights and dignity, and while the physical consequences of successive wars can be mapped out there is no way to properly map out the psychological scars,  including the reasons behind an unprecedented increase in the rate of suicides.
  • The 2014 conflict in Gaza – the most devastating of the three conflicts in the past seven years – has caused large destruction to homes and infrastructure. More than two years after the end of the conflict, the reconstruction and recovery of Gaza has made progress yet many challenges remain. Tens of thousands of families are still displaced, waiting to rebuild their homes and their lives. There are several barriers for progress on reconstruction, chief among them a lack of funding, but also complex documentation requirements. In addition, for reconstruction to progress families need to be continuously cleared in the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism. Yet since May only six families supported by UNRWA have been cleared by the Government of Israel, with 300 more currently pending. Another 100 families are with the Palestinian Authority for uploading into the system. To raise awareness on the lack of funding for Gaza’s reconstruction two years after the donor conference in Cairo - where donors pledged US$ 3.5 billion for Gaza’s reconstruction out of which only 46 per cent materialized - the Gaza Palestinian non-government organization network PINGO launched an advocacy video titled 'Waiting so long' to raise awareness on the crisis in Gaza. The 2014 conflict not only increased the humanitarian needs of a population living under an illegal blockade on land, air and sea, but also left over 70,000 explosive remnants of war (ERW) behind. Approximately 7,000 failed to explode as intended, continuing to cause injuries, particularly also among children. To raise awareness on the danger of Unexploded Ordnances (UXO), UNRWA implements trainings and awareness sessions for UNRWA teachers, and UNRWA TV produces awareness-raising videos for children. Further, the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) continues to clear the enclave from these deep-buried ERWs, with a focus on technically challenging large aerial bombs. Recently, two UNMAS staff from the Gaza team - Mr. Mark Frankish and Mr. George Tan – received honourable mentions by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for their courageous work to protect the civilian population of the Gaza Strip.

Shelter Update

UNRWA was able to disburse over US$ 1.6 million for reconstruction (~US$ 712,500) and severe repair works (~US$ 913,200). The funds will reach 244 refugee families across Gaza; they will be able to access their assistance this week.

A comprehensive shelter update will be provided in the next Gaza situation report.

Operational Environment

During the reporting week, Israeli forces fired towards Palestinian areas along the perimeter fence and towards Palestinian boats on a daily basis. In one shooting incident Israeli forces arrested six fishermen and confiscated their boats. No injuries were reported. In another incident, Israeli forces also sprayed Palestinian boats with high-pressure water. One Palestinian fainted and was transferred to the hospital.

Civilians, mostly youth, continued to protest near the perimeter fence expressing their eagerness to defend Al Aqsa Mosque and in solidarity with Palestinians in the West Bank. When some of them approached the perimeter fence and threw stones towards Israeli observation posts, Israeli forces responded with gun fire and teargas. Two persons were injured.

Other protests took place during the reporting period, predominantly in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails or to demand more services from UNRWA. UNRWA staff continued with industrial actions. Negotiations between the UNRWA management in the West Bank and Gaza and the Unions on the salary survey results continue. A Technical Committee was established to work out solutions to the salary survey results. In that context, the management and the Unions are working to mitigate instances of industrial action.

Six Israeli bulldozers and three tanks entered approximately 100 metres into Gaza to conduct a clearing and excavation operation. They withdrew on the same day. In one incident the Israeli forces reportedly detonated an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) inside Gaza territory. No injuries were reported. Militants fired one test rocket towards the sea.

A family dispute took place during which firearms were used and a passerby was injured. Several arrests were made. One man died of his wounds sustained during a family dispute that had taken place on 4 November. One Palestinian male was stabbed to death inside his house. The police opened an investigation.

An IED exploded under a civilian vehicle parked in Gaza city. No injuries were reported but the vehicle and the near-by shop sustained minor damage. Police arrived to the scene and opened an investigation. The motive behind the incident is still unclear.

UNRWA Response

Taking photos for UNRWA: “Every person has a story, and this story deserves to be remembered”
UNRWA photographer Rushdi Al Sarraj during a visit to an UNRWA school on the first day of the 2016-2017 school year. © 2016 UNRWA Photo by Rushdi Al Sarraj
UNRWA photographer Rushdi Al Sarraj during a visit to an UNRWA school on the first day of the 2016-2017 school year. © 2016 UNRWA Photo by Rushdi Al Sarraj

33-year-old Tamer Hamam has been working as photographer in the UNRWA communications office for two years. He believes that every person has a story, and this story deserves to be remembered. He feels proud to help bring these stories to people’s attention.

“I chose to be a photographer because photos are often more powerful than words. Many Palestine refugees in Gaza live in miserable conditions, and I want to share their plight with the world. For a person living outside of Gaza, it is difficult to imagine how it is to live in a refugee camp, or even how a refugee camp looks like. Thousand words can sometimes not make this clear, but one good photo can show the reality,” he explained.

Tamer is not the only photographer working in the Gaza communications office. His 24-year-old colleague Rushdi Al Sarajj works there too, and he believes that while the situation in the enclave is hard, in Gaza one can find much more than suffering, poverty, misery and destruction.

“I am a Palestine refugee and I can reflect life in Gaza to the world because I am part of it; but I also want to show the other side of Gaza, the hope, the happiness and the love,” he said, adding that the most important in working for UNRWA and taking photos of beneficiaries is to respect their privacy and dignity, and to do no harm.

Indeed, the four humanitarian principles – humanity, neutrality, operational independence and impartiality – which guide the Agency’s work in Gaza are also key for the work of UNRWA’s photographers and all of their communications colleagues. To ensure understanding of these principles and their application in the daily work, the communications office organized a story-telling and humanitarian principles workshop for its entire personnel, focusing particularly on visual communication, protection, donor requirements and gender-neutrality, among other topics.

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 encourages all Member States to work collectively to exert all possible efforts to fully fund the Agency’s Programme Budget. UNRWA emergency programmes and key projects, also operating with large shortfalls, are funded through separate funding portals.

Following the 2014 conflict, US$ 257 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$ 463 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. Read more about the 2016 oPt emergency appeal.


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 travellers, including Palestinian medical and humanitarian cases. Kerem Shalom crossing, also controlled by Israeli authorities, technically allows for the movement of authorized goods only.

  • On 6 November Rafah crossing was open in one direction for Palestinians to exit to Egypt. It was closed on the remaining days of the week.
  • Erez crossing is usually open six days a week. This week it was open for National ID holders (humanitarian cases, medical cases, merchants and UN staff) and international staff from 1 to 3 November and 6 to 8 November. On 4 November it was open for pedestrians only. On 5 November it was closed.
  • 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 1 to 3 November and 6 to 8 November. It was closed on 4 and 5 November.