17 February – 24 February | issue 81
Operational environment: Gaza does not need promises, but actions. Donors have still not disbursed pledged funds. In Gaza not only tens of thousands of houses remain shattered, but also tens of thousands of lives. The political and security situation grows tenser with each passing day. According to diverse media outlets and local human rights organisations, the crime rate – including shootings, bombings, theft and robbery, kidnappings and car burnings – is on the rise. Increasing civil unrest is a very real threat. As long as the causes and consequences of last summer’s conflict remain unaddressed, and all relevant actors – including the international community – rely on “quiet for quiet”, more violence in the future is inevitable. The cold and stormy weather over the past days has caused additional misery to an already vulnerable population.
During the reporting period, protests and civil unrest continued outside UN installations and INGO offices and several UNRWA personnel and installations were directly affected. On 17 February unidentified persons wrote Islamic State logos on the outside wall of the east Relief and Social Service Programme (RSSP) Office in Gaza city. On 18 February three children were injured while playing with an Explosive Remnant of War (ERW) in North Gaza. On 19 February two men physically assaulted an UNRWA social worker at Khan Younis’ RSSP east office while he was answering the beneficiaries’ inquiries. The social worker received injuries to his face and was transferred to hospital. Police were called and arrested the perpetrators. On 20 February an Independent Explosive Device (IED) exploded at the western gate of Al Quds Open University in Beit Lahia. No injuries were reported. On the night of 22 February, three persons armed with knives and crowbars infiltrated into Jabalia Prep girls C school in North Gaza for theft. Two guards who confronted them suffered injuries and had to be transferred to the hospital. Most protests during the reporting week were regarding demands for the provision of housing and the release of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons. In Beit Hanoun, in North Gaza, the popular committee held a protest and a press conference against the death of an infant that was found dead after a fire in an UNRWA Collective Centre during the previous week.
“I never believed I could make my own salary,”said Palestine refugee Umm Ramzi Ayda Hellies, pictured second from right, with her new work colleagues. © 2015 UNRWA Photo
It is deathly quiet when you first enter the industrial food packing centre in Al-Tufah, downtown Gaza City. Neat piles of bulging white bags of rice and flour stamped with the blue UNRWA logo, stretch high towards the tin roof. Men touting clipboards walk slowly between the sacks of food, marking off stock.
Midway across the large warehouse the faint sound of laughter and chatter starts to permeate through the still, cold air. Following the sound, takes one into a second store room, also piled high with sacks of dry food. The laughter and chatter is louder there, and its source is clear; five women standing shoulder to shoulder measuring, weighing and packing sugar as part of the UNRWA Job Creation Programme (JCP).
The scene is remarkable because of their gender and the nature of the practical work they are doing in the Gaza Strip. These women’s jobs have been freshly created amid an economy where female unemployment rates stand at 59.3 per cent, according to Palestinian Central Bureau Statistics for the second quarter of 2014. Focused just on the 18-24 year-old bracket, the scene is more dire, with over 85 per cent of women in Gaza found to be unemployed.
“When I first started my job I was scared, but quickly I became relieved and proud of my achievements,” said Palestine refugee Umm Ramzi Ayda Hellies, who said she never believed she could ever earn her own salary. “Now, when my children ask me for food, school supplies or clothes I feel good that I can buy them,” she adds.
The mother of seven said her new salary has afforded the family means to pay rent enabling them to move out of an UNRWA Collective Centre where they had been living following the devastation of their home in the July/August 2014 conflict. Her husband is unable to work to support the family due to illness.
Despite working in a traditionally male dominated sector, 42 year-old Umm Ramzi said she is proud of her new packing job. “This has shown me we can work similar to men; I am now going to encourage my daughters to find work when they finish school so they too can share the financial burden of their families.”
Along with 15 other Palestine refugee women employed at the packing centre in Al-Tufah, Umm Ramzi is on a three month cash-for-work job placement created by the UNRWA Job Creation Programme. This programme alone supported 9,589 vulnerable Palestine refugees across Gaza Strip with job contracts in January 2015 - an almost 40 per cent increase from the 5,494 jobs created by the program in the same month last year. This is a direct result of an increase in donor funding to the Programme, providing an opportunity to expand it.
The impact the Programme has on individuals is no less compelling. “I may just be packing food with my hands, but to me it shows that I am here, that I can do it and that as a Palestinian I can be independent and resilient,” said Umm Ramzi.
During the reporting week, IDF opened fire towards Palestinians near the fence and at Palestinian boats on an almost daily basis. Several test rockets fired by militants in Gaza towards the sea were also reported. No injuries were registered.
US$ 175 million has been pledged in support of UNRWA’s emergency programme, for which a total of US$ 720 million is required. This leaves a current shortfall of US$ 545 million. UNRWA urgently requires US$ 100 million in the first quarter of 2015 to allow refugee families with minor damage to repair their homes and to provide ongoing rental subsidies.
On 9 December 2014, UNRWA launched the oPt Emergency Appeal in Geneva. For its 2015 emergency operations in Gaza, the Agency is seeking USD 366.6 million, including USD 127 million for emergency shelter, repair and collective centre management, USD 105.6 million for emergency food assistance, and USD 68.6 million for emergency cash-for-work. More information can be found here.