Gaza Situation Report 184

09 March 2017
Children fly kites during an event organized by UNRWA to mark the anniversary of the 11 March 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, 5 March 2017. © 2017 UNRWA Photo

28 February – 4 March 2017 | Issue 184


  • Five years ago UNRWA started to commemorate the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan – which had killed over 15,890 persons – with a “Kites of Hope” event in Gaza. This year, on 5 March, again more than 1,000 Palestine refugee children flew their kites in Khan Younis, southern Gaza, to express their solidarity with the children and people of Japan. Also present at the event was His Excellency Mr. Takeshi Okubo, Ambassador for Palestinian Affairs/Representative of Japan to the Palestinian Authority, and the Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza, Mr. Bo Schack. In his speech, Mr. Schack mentioned that the children of Gaza well understand the feelings of loss and displacement, and what it means when one cannot return home to his or her beloved house - the same feelings the children of Japan felt when the earthquake and tsunami destroyed their houses. Japan has for many years provided support to UNRWA programmes for Palestine refugees in Gaza, even while the country itself was still recovering from the devastating effects of the natural disaster. This includes, for example, generous funding for a re-housing project in Khan Younis for over 1,200 Palestine refugee families whose homes were destroyed during conflict. UNRWA remains grateful to Japan for its ongoing support to the people of Gaza and for the close relationship and trust it extends to the organization. One day after the event, UNRWA also organized a live skype call between children in Gaza and Japan during which they broadcast footage of the kites event and talked about their daily lives and challenges.
  • This year, International Women’s Day was celebrated on 8 March under the theme ‘Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50:50 by 2030’ (#BeBoldforChange). On this occasion, the UNRWA Gender Initiative, in cooperation with UN Women in Gaza, organized a seminar entitled ‘Equal opportunities for women in the private sector in the Gaza Strip’, targeting representatives from international and local humanitarian and civil society organizations and the Palestinian private sector. The seminar included sessions on topics such as women and the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector and international standards for gender equality in the labour sector, given by guest speakers from the Palestinian private sector. In addition, Ms. Mona Al Ghalayeeni, the successful Gaza businesswoman and owner of hotels and supermarkets, gave a lecture on her professional experience and background in Gaza. The seminar also included opening remarks by the UN Coordinator for Humanitarian Aid and Development Activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, Mr. Robert Piper, as well as by the Deputy Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza, Ms. Melinda Young.
  • UNRWA opened the Al Bahrain Public Library in the Rafah Preparatory Girls school B, in southern Gaza, on 4 March. With more than 8,300 books on various topics in English and Arabic, the three-story building provides reading areas for children and adults; it also includes a computer lab and a three-dimensional cinema hall.  With the aim of providing opportunities for self-education and life-long learning, the library services will not only target students and school staff, but will also be open to the public. Through the construction of libraries, UNRWA hopes to encourage and revive a reading culture among UNRWA students and the general public, also in light of the rich cultural and educational history of Palestine. Palestine already has a high literacy rate: according to data from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics from 2016, the illiteracy rate among persons aged 15 and above in Palestine was 3.3 per cent (3.5 per cent in the West Bank and 3 per cent in Gaza); yet the illiteracy rate varies considerably between sexes: 1.5 per cent for males compared to 5.1 per cent for females. The illiteracy rate among persons aged 65 and more attained 38.6 per cent, but only 0.7 per cent for young people aged between 15 and 29 years. Overall, illiteracy is the highest in rural areas (4.8 per cent), followed by urban areas (3 per cent) and refugee camps (also 3 per cent).
  • A member of the Gaza Field Communications Office, along with representatives from other UN agencies and humanitarian organizations in Gaza, participated in the Lifeline Training of Trainers (ToT) held by BBC Media Action and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) from 27 February to 2 March in Gaza city. The ToT was a follow up from the Lifeline communications training held earlier in 2016, equipping participants to deliver the Lifeline course for media or humanitarian colleagues. Lifeline programming is special media programming for communities affected by humanitarian crises. It aims to provide people with timely, relevant and practical information to alleviate their suffering and assist with their recovery. Lifeline programming also aims to give affected people the opportunity to voice their concerns, express their needs, share their stories and hold humanitarian aid providers to account. 
  • A diplomatic delegation from Canada visited UNRWA in Gaza on 28 February. The delegation visited a Food Distribution Centre in Gaza city where they learned about the operational aspects of distributing food to almost one million beneficiaries, four times per year, on rising food insecurity and needs in Gaza and on the Agency’s Poverty Assessment System. Thereafter the Canadian representatives went to a shelter reconstruction project in eastern Gaza city where they met with a refugee family who benefited from the Agency’s self-help shelter repair and reconstruction programme. They also received a general briefing on the humanitarian situation and operational context by the Director and Deputy Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza, Mr. Bo Schack and Mr David De Bold. Lastly the delegation discussed neutrality-related issues with UNRWA staff. The Agency provides a range of activities to promote neutrality in relation to staff, installations, suppliers and beneficiaries. More information can be found here.
  • Through its Microfinance Department (MD), UNRWA helps address the needs of low-income Palestine refugees. In February 2017, the MD disbursed 437 loans worth US$ 640,420 – a 1.8 per cent decrease from the previous month; 340 loans were closed. Over 44 per cent of the clients were female and over 11 per cent were 24 years old or less. The MD also provides a variety of training opportunities through its Small and Medium Enterprise Business Training Programme for professionals as well as students and fresh graduates; trainings vary from project management, fundraising and proposal writing, to job hunting, and gender awareness. In February, the programme conducted 9 courses attended by 172 participants. 

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. Two injuries were reported.

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.

Twenty Israeli bulldozers entered approximately 70 metres into Gaza on several different occasions to conduct a clearing and excavation operation. They withdrew on the same day.

Militants fired four test rockets towards the sea and one rocket towards Israel; the rocket landed in an open area in southern Israel. No injuries or damage were reported. Militants opened fire towards Israeli forces’ tractors near the perimeter fence. No injuries or damage were reported. Israeli forces fired tank shells towards a military observation post of Al Qassam brigades (the military wing of Hamas); no injuries were reported.

Three Palestinians were arrested by Israeli forces after they entered Israel through the perimeter fence.

UNRWA Response

Recruitment officer Wafa’a Diyab: “Empowering women to be decision makers”

Wafa Diyab, UNRWA Recruitment Officer, received flowers from her colleagues in celebration of her UNRWA Gender Equality Champion Award. © 2017 UNRWA Photo by Tamer Hamam
Wafa Diyab, UNRWA Recruitment Officer, received flowers from her colleagues in celebration of her UNRWA Gender Equality Champion Award. © 2017 UNRWA Photo by Tamer Hamam

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 Equality Champion Award to recognize staff who have made exemplary contributions to advance the Agency’s work towards gender equality.

In 2016, UNRWA recruitment officer Wafa’a Diyab launched the ‘Empowering Human Resources Department’s female staff’ to encourage her colleagues through training, motivation, and information sharing. It is for this initiative that Wafa’a won the Gender Equality Champion Award.

“Due to my hard work and the support from my colleagues and family I became a successful UNRWA senior staff member, and I wish that all my female colleagues would get this support to move ahead and develop a career,” Wafa’a explained, and added: “I started to empower my six female subordinates by delegating important tasks to them and providing them with more responsibilities; I always try to motivate them and increase their self-confidence. Over the months I have noticed how they all improved in their work, and I started to think about doing the same for all other female staff in my department.”

Wafa’a’s initiative now includes various activities ranging from gender-awareness sessions, capacity building and training on different ‘leadership’ topics such as presentation skills, competency-based interview skills, dealing with difficult people, as well as lectures on health, stress release and how to maintain a life-work balance. She also regularly invited other senior female staff to talk about their careers, how they overcame obstacles and what are the most important lessons they learned.

Wafa’a did not impose her initiative top-down, knowing that this way it would not be very effective. “In a first step I held a meeting with my female colleagues to learn about their needs and what they would expect from such an initiative; they came up with many good ideas on how they want to improve their skills. I want to see more women in senior posts, as decision makers. This cannot happen if we don’t empower them.”

Wafa’a’s initiative is still in the pilot phase and so far 20 staff have benefited from it; Wafa’a is planning to extend it throughout all UNRWA programmes in the future. Awards for all UNRWA Gender Equality Champions from all fields of operation will be distributed in a ceremony organized in Amman, Jordan, on 9 March.

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 UNRWA’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


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 open on 6 and 7 March. It was closed during the remaining days of 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 28 February to 2 March and 5 to 7 March. On 4 March it was open for pedestrians only. It was closed on 5 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 28 February to 2 March and from 5 to 7 March. It was closed on 4 and 5 March.