10 – 17 March 2015 | Issue 84
Operational environment: In addition to the destruction and despair that still dominate life almost seven months after the ceasefire, Gaza’s population continues to face electricity shortages, food insecurity, extreme water pollution and an ongoing political paralysis. Political reconciliation between the Palestinian factions is not advancing. The legislative elections scheduled in Israel on 17 March contribute to an atmosphere of uncertainty amongst families in the Gaza Strip. Car bombings, gunfire and general unrest were all reported during the week. Hope in Gaza is becoming as rare as employment opportunities.
During the reporting period, daily protests and civil unrest continued outside UN installations and INGO offices. A 27-year old Palestinian attempted to burn himself in front of the UNRWA Gaza Field Office on 12 March in order to protest against the refusal of his Job Creation Programme application because he is a non-refugee. Other demonstrations were focused on demands for the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails, the payment of their (former de-facto government) salaries and a speedier reconstruction process. On 15 and 16 March doctors, mukhtars (community leaders) and others held a sit in at Rafah, demanding the construction of a new public hospital.
“The Masri family was able to repair the second floor of their house in Beit Hanoun which suffered major damages during last summer’s conflict. © 2015 UNRWA Photo/Gaza
Hamza Al Masri is a 32-years old father of five who lives in Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza. Beit Hanoun was one of the most affected areas by last summer’s conflict.
Like many families in Gaza, the Masri family had to face many difficulties in life. Just before the July/August 2014 hostilities their eldest son died of cancer at the age of only 11 years. Shortly after, another tragedy unfolded: “It is so hard to recall the experience we went through, the bombing is still in our minds and ears. We all gathered at the ground floor in one room - me, my kids, and my brother with his kids,” said Hamza, describing what happened to his family when the last conflict started. “Our house is all we have, and first I did not want to leave it. But then many of my neighbours started to evacuate their houses,” he continued. “They all fled with their families when the shelling intensified. The situation was very chaotic, children were screaming, we were so scared and worried and we could not do anything, we were all praying to see another morning,” Khulud, his 30-years old wife, added when explaining these dreadful moments. “Then in the early hours of one morning we decided to flee as well and ran to an UNRWA school in Jabalia,” Hamza concluded.
The house of the Al Masri family suffered major damages. Mortar shells directly hit the second floor of their house where Hamzi’s brother and his family were living and caused significant destruction.
The family stayed more than 40 days in the UNRWA Collective Centre in Jabalia, but they did not feel safe there either: On 30 July, three Israeli explosive projectiles struck the school where around 2,945 internally displaced people sought shelter and shrapnel injured Hamza’s five-year old son. 16 persons were killed and up to 99 injured. The school’s coordinates had been formally conveyed to the Israeli authorities on at least 28 occasions over a fourteen day span, the last the night before the incident.
When the ceasefire was finally announced, Hamza went to check on his home and was shocked by the magnitude of the devastation: “everything was destroyed, no bedrooms, no kitchen, nothing, we lost everything,” he remembered with an aching voice.
When the 50 days of hostilities came to an end, UNRWA social workers and engineers started to visit families whose houses had been affected by the conflict. Hamza’s house was classified as uninhabitable and UNRWA put his name on a list that was forwarded to the Palestinian Ministry of Public Works so his family could benefit from the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM). The GRM is a temporary agreement between the Government of Palestine and the Government of Israel. Its overall objective is to enable construction and reconstruction work at the large scale now required in the Gaza Strip as construction material imports are banned from import by the Government of Israel. Construction material for small shelter repair first entered Gaza through the GRM on 14 October.
For Hamza’s family the GRM has provided an opportunity to rebuild their beloved home. With the transitional cash assistance he received from UNRWA for shelter repairs, Hamza was able to buy construction materials considered as “dual use” through the GRM and started to fix his house. “It’s really good that we could buy the building materials, it helped us to repair the house where we can gather as one family again,” Hamza explained.
Not only thinking about his own benefit, he says: “Receiving the building materials has also allowed me to hire labourers and provide them with an opportunity to work and earn money. This is very important considering the dire economic situation Gaza is facing.” The tight Israeli blockade since 2007 has crippled the once dynamic and trade-oriented economy and its capacity to create jobs and pushed the majority of the population into poverty and aid dependency.
Today, Hamza and his family are living in their house again together with his brother’s family. They have also given shelter to his two sisters with their children, since their house has been completely destroyed by the conflict.
During the reporting week, IDF troops fired at Palestinians near the fence with Israel and at Palestinian boats on a daily basis. On 11 March, Israeli tanks and bulldozers reportedly entered Gaza approximately 200 metres east of El Maghazi Camp located in the middle of Gaza. They conducted an excavation operation before they withdrew a few hours later. A Palestinian who attempted to cross into Israel east of Nahal Oz in Gaza on 15 March was reportedly shot at and arrested by IDF troops. On 16 March it was reported that another two Palestinian were arrested while trying to cross into Israel from the Maghazi, in the middle of the Strip. On 15 March militants fired a test rocket towards the sea.
US$ 175 million has been pledged in support of UNRWA’s emergency shelter 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.
As presented in UNRWA’s oPt Emergency Appeal, 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 (PDF).