Gaza Situation Report 183

02 March 2017
From Gaza to Syria, from my heart to yours: for Palestine refugees. © 2017 UNRWA Photo by Tamer Hamam

21 –28 February 2017 | Issue 183 

Highlights:

  • To get input and collect ideas for the development of the new UNRWA school design, the Infrastructure and Camp Improvement Programme held 27 focus groups with elementary and preparatory school students, parents, teachers and school principals from all across Gaza. The aim of the focus groups was to collect feedback from the actual users of school buildings. The students’ input – including from students with disabilities – helped to highlight what, in their opinion, is working and what is not working well in their schools; they were also asked to draw their image of an ideal classroom space. The feedback of all participants will be analyzed and incorporated into the new design which will be a flexible model, able to be adapted in various different projects. In a next step the new design is planned to be applied in two new school buildings in Rafah camp, southern Gaza, and in Gaza city. The new school design project was launched at the beginning of 2017 to comprehensively review and rework the design of all UNRWA schools to be built in Gaza with the aim to create safer and more child-friendly spaces.
  • The UNRWA TV YouTube channel has surpassed 100,000 subscriptions and was provided with the YouTube Silver Play Button award. UNRWA TV, part of the Gaza Field Communications Office, was established in early 2012 as a production unit and broadcaster. It broadcasts 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Besides humanitarian communication programming, it brings innovative educational lessons to affected children in all fields. The newest UNRWA TV educational series in which the crew, in cooperation with Head Quarters and Gaza Field Education Programme, for the first time applies a ‘children teaching children’ approach will soon be broadcast on UNRWA TV and is currently being promoted on UNRWA social media. The team has also just completed auditions for actors in the next series, which will soon start production.
  • The UNRWA Field Logistics Office supports all UNRWA programmes and offices to provide high quality services for refugees, for example by maintaining and storing more than 120,000 tons of different supplies per year, such as food items including flour, rice, sugar, lentils, chickpeas, and non-food items like blankets, mattresses, school books and furniture. During January, the logistics team responded to 2,675 requests from Chiefs of Area Offices to distribute tarpaulin and nylon sheets to families in need as part of the ongoing winterization campaign. The team also distributed NFIs – mostly mattresses, hygiene kits and over 21,000 baby hygiene kits - to over 10,000 families selected based on criteria set by the Relief and Social Services Programme (RSSP). The Logistics Office further distributes about 22,000 tons of food assistance to almost one million beneficiaries in need of food assistance on a quarterly basis. The blockade on Gaza imposed by Israel and reinforced by Egypt has now reached a decade, triggering a humanitarian crisis characterized by cyclic violence and destruction, chronic fuel and water crises and the glaring absence of any sustainable socio-economic improvements to the distressed economy. Rising needs due to deepening poverty and increasing vulnerability levels confront UNRWA with an increased demand for services and assistance, reinforced by a steady population growth. The situation in Gaza is critical, and the UN has previously suggested that by 2020 the enclave will have become an unliveable place. A new public opinion poll conducted by the Israeli organization Gisha with 650 respondents indicates that the majority of the Israeli public is not indifferent to the humanitarian situation in Gaza. According to the Gisha poll, 57 per cent of the Israeli public prefer alleviating restrictions on the civilian population to tightening the closure and 51 per cent believe that Israel’s control over Gaza gives rise to responsibility for the well-being of its residents. While severe restrictions on the movement of goods and people in and out of Gaza were imposed due to alleged security reasons, the Gisha poll indicates that two-thirds of the Israeli public today believe that Israel’s policy undermined their country’s security and 70 per cent think that economic improvement in Gaza would decrease violence and hostility. According to Gisha, the poll demonstrates the necessity and political feasibility of lifting movement restrictions.
  • During the first semester of the 2016-2017 school year, UNRWA Community Mental Health Programme (CMHP) school counsellors in the Gaza Middle Area implemented an initiative to reinforce positive behavioural attitudes of UNRWA students. The initiative was widely communicated and explained to the students through the school radio, as well as group meetings with teachers, parents and the students themselves; teachers and parents were involved to act as role models for the students. Cooperation, mutual respect, participation, hygiene, friendship, dialogue, voluntarism and communications are all considered positive behaviours. The initiative culminated in an arts competition in which drawings and sculptures which best reflect the above mentioned values were selected and exhibited in a gallery in the Nuseirat Preparatory Girls B school. The CMHP maintains a network of 287 counsellors and 82 psychosocial facilitators in UNRWA schools, in addition to 21 counsellors and five legal advisors in UNRWA’s Health Centres. They provide a package of integrated mental health and psychological support interventions including life skills, structured psychosocial and guidance sessions, as well as individual and group counselling.
  • Staff members from the Gaza Field Office (Operations Support Office, Field Legal Office and Chief Area Offices) were participating in an Agency-wide workshop on neutrality in Amman, Jordan, held from 28 February to 1 March. The workshop aims to reinforce and strengthen exchanges between all fields about practices, priorities, achievements, challenges and opportunities in relation to neutrality. It also includes discussions, workshops and trainings on humanitarian principles and social media for UNRWA staff and the introduction of an Agency-wide neutrality database. Further on the agenda were sessions on neutrality in relation to the UNRWA curriculum and textbooks as well as a presentation on the internal complaints process. UNRWA adheres to the four humanitarian principles humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence. Neutrality is critically important to UNRWA to gain and maintain the confidence of all needed to operate independently, safely and effectively, especially in politically-charged or conflict situations. The Agency provides a range of activities to promote neutrality in relation to staff, installations, suppliers and beneficiaries. More information can be found here.
  • Foreign delegations remain interested in the humanitarian situation of Gaza. During the week under review, a delegation from Finland visited UNRWA in Gaza, including the Director General, Department for Africa and the Middle East, Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, Mr. Jarno Syrjälä and the head of mission of the Finnish Representative Office, Ms. Pirkko-Liisa Kyöstilä, and other members of the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. After being briefed on the operational context by the Director of UNRWA Operations, Mr. Bo Schack, they went to an UNRWA school and engaged in discussions with students. After their time with UNRWA, they also visited a World Bank project.

Shelter Update

Activities in February 2017
Completed cases
  • The reconstruction of 130 totally destroyed homes was completed
  • Repair works for 378 housing units were completed
Disbursement of payments
  • In total UNRWA disbursed approximately US$ 3.8 million for shelter assistance:
    • For reconstruction: US$ 1.7 million
    • For repair works: US$ 2.1 million

Operational Environment

During the week under review, Israeli forces fired towards Palestinian areas along the perimeter fence and towards Palestinian boats on a daily basis.  Five fishermen were arrested by Israeli forces and their boats confiscated.

Civilians, mostly youth, staged protests near the perimeter fence in different areas of Gaza to express their eagerness to defend Al Aqsa Mosque and in solidarity with Palestinians in the West Bank. When some of them approached the fence and threw stones towards Israeli observation posts, Israeli forces responded with gunfire and teargas. One injury was reported. Regular protests also took place in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

Militants fired two rockets towards Israel; one dropped short and landed inside Gaza and the other one landed in an open area in southern Israel. No injuries or damage were reported. The Israeli Air Force responded with over 20 missiles as well as six tank shells targeting military training sites and observation posts in different areas of Gaza. Four injuries were reported.

Gaza security forces conducted a demolishing operation for an Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) in southern Gaza, and an unknown object exploded in an open area in central Gaza, moderately injuring two persons. Four Israeli bulldozers entered approximately 100 metres into Gaza to conduct a clearing and excavation operation. They withdrew on the same day.

Three workers died and five others were injured when a tunnel under the border between Egypt and Gaza collapsed. During a family dispute firearms were used and one person was injured. The police made several arrests. Unknown gunmen opened fire and injured a Palestinian man while he was driving his car. Four Palestinian men were arrested by Israeli forces after they entered Israel through the perimeter fence; three of them were released later on.

A 27-year old man committed suicide by hanging himself in his house; another man attempted to commit suicide by setting himself on fire near a police station. The police intervened and the man was not injured.

UNRWA Response

Bold enough to create change: From co-signing housing units to supporting senior positions for female staff, UNRWA shelter expert Muin Moqat is all in

Gender Champion Award winner and acting deputy chief of the Infrastructure and Camp Improvement Programme, Muin Moqat, is explaining the importance of the co-signing practice in the third phase of the Rafah Rehousing Project in southern Gaza. © 2017 UNRWA
Gender Champion Award winner and acting deputy chief of the Infrastructure and Camp Improvement Programme, Muin Moqat, is explaining the importance of the co-signing practice in the third phase of the Rafah Rehousing Project in southern Gaza. © 2017 UNRWA

In light of this year’s International Women’s Day theme ‘Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50:50 by 2030 (#BeBoldforChange), UNRWA has launched the Gender Champion Award to recognize staff who have made exemplary contributions to advance the Agency’s work towards gender equality. In Gaza, Muin Moqat, acting deputy director of the Infrastructure and Camp Improvement Programme (ICIP), is one of the staff who have – very deservedly - won the award.

Muin, who graduated from the Islamic University in Gaza in 2003, started out with UNRWA as site engineer in 2006; from there he worked hard to develop a career in the field of shelter engineering and coordination with UNRWA’s ICIP. Due to his expertise, he also functions as UNRWA shelter spokesperson and has received countless international delegations and media representatives, never getting tired of explaining the Agency’s shelter reconstruction projects and the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism.

While his expertise in terms of shelter and reconstruction is unmet, he was selected for the Gender Champion Award for his commitment to launch and implement UNRWA’s co-signing practice between husbands and wives for the Agency’s rehousing projects.

“During my work over the past ten years or so for UNRWA, I have been exposed to a lot of misery and protection concerns; in numerous meetings and visits to affected communities and families, I learned a lot and was increasingly sensitized to the importance of gender issues. I have met hundreds of female heads of households, widows or abandoned wives; in fact, the most vulnerable families in Gaza are mostly headed by a woman. I became aware of how much they are in need of protection, and how this protection needs to be mainstreamed,” he explained.

Muin realized that while UNRWA worked hard to provide shelter for families in need, the undertakings for new housing units were always only signed by heads of households, excluding their spouses from ownership. In most cases, the head of household was a man and the excluded partner his wife. “This is why I came up with the co-signing idea,” Muin added.

The idea, however, was first dismissed as “culturally impossible” due to prevalent gender stereotypes and wide-spread gender inequality dominating the conservative Gaza society.

Yet knowing that the co-signing policy was one of the most efficient ways to protect families, Muin did not give up so quickly. He reached out to the Agency’s Gender Initiative and Relief and Social Services Programme, as well as partner organizations, to design and implement an outreach plan to achieve support and behavior change in the community.

And it worked. ”During six months prior to the completion of a new rehousing project in Khan Younis, southern Gaza, in summer 2015, we as UNRWA organized various information and outreach sessions with beneficiaries, always including both spouses as well as two elderly family members; in addition, we talked to community representatives and leaders to ensure their support,” he went on. “When the day of co-signing the undertakings came, all eligible beneficiaries signed it without any discussion; in fact, they all supported the co-signing policy,” he added enthusiastically.

The extensive outreach campaign is a good example of the importance of community involvement and participation in humanitarian projects; this not only ensures support and ownership, but also adds to the Agency’s accountability and credibility towards its beneficiaries.

Gender inequality, Muin said, “can only be overcome through cooperation with all involved actors, one step after the other.”

UNRWA currently applies its co-signing practice only in its rehousing projects, but Muin has big plans for the future: “I want to extend the practice to our shelter self-help programme for families whose homes were impacted during the 2014 conflict.”

This is much more complicated than for rehousing projects due to original land ownership, but “we as UNRWA can at least ensure that our [construction] assistance is owned by both spouses which will add to creating awareness for gender equality in the community and can empower women’s stances in case of legal disputes. In short: our aid will be gender-equal,” he explained his idea.

Winning the award confirms for Muin that he is on the right track. While he owes his successful career to his positive and hard-working attitude and highly-developed skills, he also recognizes that gender plays a role when it comes to senior positions.

“A senior position with UNRWA means a lot of work, almost 24 hours, seven days per week – especially during emergencies. The community accepts when men work long hours, but for women they often have different standards; women are expected to be present at work and at home. To change this, we need a similar outreach campaign as we did for the co-signing practice,” he said, and added: “if a female staff came to ask me to intervene with her family to let her have a career and accept a senior position, I would not hesitate one second and go immediately to reach out to them and try to convince them to support her!”

Awards for all UNRWA Gender Equality Champions from all fields of operation will be distributed in a ceremony organized in Amman, Jordan, on 8 March. Due to the blockade on Gaza and its related restrictions on movement of persons and goods in and out of Gaza, Muin will most likely not be granted an Israeli permit to exit Gaza and attend the celebrations. He will instead participate via video conference.

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. UNRWA encourages all Member States to work collectively to exert all possible efforts to fully fund the Agency’s Programme Budget in 2017. 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 the Agency’s occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) Emergency Appeal for 2017, the Agency is seeking US$ 402 million to meet the minimum humanitarian needs of Palestine refugees in the oPt.

The Gaza portion of the Emergency Appeal amounts to US$ 355 million for 2017, to address protracted, large scale humanitarian needs. Read more in the oPt Emergency Appeal for 2017

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 travellers, 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.

  • Rafah crossing was closed during the reporting 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 21 to 23 February and 26 to 28 February. On 24 February it was open for pedestrians only. It was closed on 25 February.
  • 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 21 to 23 and 26 to 28 February. It was closed on 24 and 25 February.
UNRWA launched the #DignityIsPriceless campaign in Gaza on 22 January 2018. © 2018 UNRWA Photo Rushdi Al Saraj
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