Gaza Situation Report 95
26 May - 2 June 2015 | Issue No. 95
- The German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited Gaza on 1 June to meet with refugee families and to get a first-hand impression of the current situation in the Gaza Strip. As detailed in a press release about the visit, he met with UNRWA Director of Operations, Robert Turner, and other senior UNRWA staff. The Foreign Minister inaugurated an UNRWA school which was built with Germany’s support through KfW (Kreditanstalt fuer Wiederaufbau) Development Bank. The Asma Preparatory Girls A&B School, in central Gaza’s Beach refugee Camp, will host 2,000 students between grades 5-7 from the beginning of the 2015-16 school year, at the end of August. Germany is the second-largest supporter of the UNRWA response to the humanitarian crisis resulting from the 2014 conflict in Gaza, with a total contribution of EUR 80 million (US$ 93 million) to UNRWA programmes in Gaza to date. This support has allowed UNRWA to progress its emergency shelter assistance programme and to support the most vulnerable. In 2014, Germany was the fifth-largest UNRWA donor in overall terms, with a total contribution of US$ 79 million. In 2015, Germany has so far contributed and pledged over US$ 60 million to support UNRWA’s work. In the joint press release about the visit, UNRWA recognized these significant contributions in the broader context of challenges facing Gaza, with Mr. Turner commenting: “Without such generosity for our ongoing and emergency programmes, we could do far less to meet the needs of an extremely vulnerable population. Nevertheless, we continue to call for a political solution to the underlying causes of the conflict and a full lifting of the blockade.”
- On 31 May, UNRWA resumed its poverty assessment home visits implementing an improved mechanism that will ensure that food assistance continues to be delivered to those who need it most. The Agency engaged in an intensive effort to improve the quality, fairness and rapidity of the process. Over the two distribution rounds UNRWA social workers will assess 20,000 priority cases, including new applicant families who applied for food assistance prior to the conflict but were not assessed; and families who filed complaints against their assessment as non-poor and who thus have to be re-assessed. Eligible new applicant families will receive food assistance within three months after their assessment. Once these 20,000 priority cases have been processed, UNRWA will continue with the regular cycle of poverty assessment for those already in the caseload and ongoing new applicants. Building on the experience accumulated over five years of implementation of the Poverty Survey, the reformed Poverty Assessment System (PAS) will enhance the ability of UNRWA to provide food assistance to those who need it most.
- The UNRWA Health Department in Gaza regularly reports on the health situation in the Gaza Strip through their monthly published Gaza Epidemiological Bulletin for the Gaza Strip which is a useful tool for the early detection of outbreaks of diseases. According to the May issue, the four major morbidity diseases for Palestine refugees remain various forms of diarrhea as well as viral hepatitis. Over the past two weeks, the amount of children less than five years old with watery diarrhea has breached the UNRWA calculated alert threshold, but it is not considered an outbreak. Overall, the proportion of reported cases of watery diarrhoea among children under five years of age is 62 per cent, and among persons above five years old 30 per cent; acute bloody diarrhoea accounts for 6 per cent of the reported cases, followed by cases of acute hepatitis which account for 2 per cent of the proportional morbidity.
- UNRWA has introduced an Agency-wide smoking ban, in line with recommendations from the World Health Organization and United Nations General Assembly. According UNRWA’s Director of Health, Dr. Akihiro Seita, the ban will apply to both staff and visitors to UNRWA premises. “There is great support from Palestine refugees because smoking and related diseases are one of the leading causes of death among the refugee communities,” said Dr. Seita.
- With recent temperatures reported at up to 45 degrees last week, UN Agencies, including UNRWA, are concerned about the effect of such extreme weather on vulnerable families in Gaza. A large segment of the population live in densely populated areas and narrow shelters, water is scarce and electricity provision is known to be between 6 and 8 hours a day – heatwaves add an additional burden. In response, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Gaza coordinated a rapid initial multi-sector assessment this week in Rafah, Khan Younis (Southern Gaza), Beit Hanoun in the north and central Gaza. The exercise aimed to better understand how families are coping with the weather as well as identifying any immediate or longer term interventions that should be recommended for action. Findings to date include lack of shading, a lack of privacy for women between dwellings, gaps in assistance, and health concerns if extreme weather continues. Recommendations proposed through the data gathered from the field include the provision of a shading system, more stable electricity supply, alternative water storage and cooling devices as well as ongoing monitoring with particular regard to shelter, NFI (non food items) and WASH (water, sanitation and health). The situation has particularly affected families living in caravans, tents, makeshift shelters or severely damaged homes since last summer’s conflict. As many types of prefabricated homes and tents are not insulated, they retain and radiate heat. Water storage tanks are also too small and water stored in the tanks it hot due to the sun. Observations reported to date have included some health issues such as heat strokes in children and elderly people, especially those with chronic illnesses, as well as more minor concerns such as skin rashes.
- To further address the humanitarian needs of Palestine refugees, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) on 18 May announced a SEK 40 million (US$ 4.8 million) contribution to the UNRWA Emergency Appeal in the occupied Palestinian territory. The funds will be channelled towards interventions such as emergency food and livelihood support for the most vulnerable families, as well as the promotion and protection of the rights of refugees living through acute crises. The donation is part of a multi-year agreement for 2014-2016; Sweden is the fourth-largest UNRWA donor, contributing over US$ 989 million to the Agency since 1951. In addition to Sweden, the Austrian government has also enhanced its support to Palestine refugees and has recently donated EUR 1.25 million (US$ 1.38) for the provision of health care to Palestine refugees in Gaza and the West Bank; Austria had contributed US$ 21.05 million to UNRWA since 2007.
- In November 2014, Israel started to allow the sale of agricultural products from Gaza to the West Bank for the first time since 2007, in what has been considered as an easing of the Israeli-imposed blockade on Gaza. However this has since been reversed for some products. In an attempt to understand which goods are allowed to be exported from Gaza and which are not, Gisha, an Israeli not-for-profit organization, submitted a Freedom of Information Application on the subject. It received a response which according to Gisha, does not include any reference to security issues, but rather references ‘manufacturing capacity’ - supply and demand in the relevant markets - as a relevant factor to determine export allowances from Gaza. Due to proximity and economic integration, the West Bank and Israel absorbed 85 per cent of the products sold outside the Gaza Strip before the blockade was imposed. Currently, Israel allows select goods from Gaza to transit through its territory en-route to other countries, but does not allow exports to Israel and transfers to the West Bank – Gaza’s traditional markets. As well, expansion to new markets is extremely difficult for Gaza since high transportation costs, in part connected to the fact there is but one crossing point for goods -Kerem Shalom, cripple the competitiveness of Gazan products.
- Shelter update:
- UNRWA continues to work to provide its shelter response efforts for refugee families whose homes were damaged or demolished during the 2014 summer conflict. During the reporting week, US$ 744,000 in funding available for US$ 500 reintegration grants was disbursed and will reach 1,488 refugee families across the Gaza Strip. Families are receiving the assistance via cheque or accessing the payments through local banks. To date, over 60,000 Palestine refugee families – almost half of the caseload – have been able to complete the minor repair works of their damaged homes with assistance provided through UNRWA and 149 families have completed the repairs of their severely damaged shelters. In addition, 11,625 more families are currently in the process of completing the repair works of their shelters and over 11,600 families have received their first rental subsidy payment for the period from September to December 2014. Since the start of the 2014 emergency shelter response, UNRWA has distributed a total of US$ 97.8 million (excluding Programme Support Costs) to Palestine refugee families.
- US$ 216 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$ 504 million.
- Due to the lack of funding, to date, 47,979 families have not received the first tranche for repair works of their shelter and 6,880 have not received the second tranche to continue the repair works. 441 refugee families still wait for their rental subsidy payment covering the period from September to December 2014 and 9,500 families are waiting for the first quarter of 2015 payment. 4,655 families have not received their US$ 500 reintegration grant to replace lost household goods. UNRWA has processed all these cases and they have received approval through the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism; as soon as funding is secured, the Agency can distribute the urgently needed financial support.
- Almost one year after the beginning of last summer’s conflict and more than nine months after the ceasefire, not a single totally destroyed home has been rebuilt in Gaza. As of 1 June, UNRWA engineers have confirmed 137,757 Palestine refugee houses as impacted during the July/August armed hostilities, 9,161 of them are considered totally demolished. In addition, 4,939 shelters have suffered severe, 3,679 major and 119,978 minor damages. The Agency has only received funding to reconstruct 200 of the 9,161 totally destroyed homes. The families have been identified and 85 of them have already prepared the design and building permits.
- During last summer’s hostilities, UNRWA provided humanitarian assistance to over 290,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in 90 of 156 school buildings functioning as emergency shelters. On 9 October, the number had for the first time dropped under 50,000 people. Today, more than nine months after the ceasefire, the number of IDPs in UNRWA shelters has decreased to less than 2,000 and stands at 1,814, residing in 7 Agency-run Collective Centres (CCs). IDPs are moving out of CCs as they receive urgently needed support to be able to either find alternative temporary housing or conduct repair works of their shelters.
- On the occasion of the one year anniversary (2 June 2014) of the formation of the Palestinian Government of National Consensus (GNC), the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Mr. Nickolay Mladenov made a statement, paying tribute to Prime Minister Hamdallah and all ministers for their steadfast efforts in governing. “Despite the occupation and challenges to national unity, the GNC has been able to overcome many obstacles,” Mr. Mladenov said. In his statement he also welcomed the determination of the Prime Minister to find a solution to the outstanding issue of public sector employees in Gaza and added: “Genuine Palestinian reconciliation and unity are critical for improving the situation in Gaza, advancing reconstruction, and for addressing the wider political question of a two-state solution.” Mr. Mladenov furthermore urged the GNC’s resumption of control over the crossings in Gaza to Israel and Egypt, and the holding of long overdue elections. Finally, the Special Coordinator offered UN-support to the GNC in its efforts to unite the West Bank and Gaza. ”Palestine is one and the United Nations will work determinedly to advance unity through its legitimate institutions,” he concluded.
- On 1 June Stephen O’Brien was officially sworn in as the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator by UN General-Secretary Ban Ki-Moon. Mr. O’Brien is a former member of the British parliament and has extensive experience in multilateral diplomacy and advocacy. He succeeds Valerie Amos, to whom the Secretary-General has expressed deep gratitude for her dedicated service.
- After eight years as the Quartet’s envoy on the ground, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has announced he is stepping down from his post. The Office of the Quartet was established in 2002 and consists of the United Nations, the European Union, the United States and Russia; the purpose is to help mediate Middle East peace negotiations and to support Palestinian economic development. In its statement on the topic, the Quartet thanked Mr. Blair for his remarkable service and reaffirmed its commitment to advancing peace and prosperity for Israelis and Palestinians.
Operational environment: Gaza’s economy is devastated, due to the blockade and repeated armed conflicts. The Gaza Strip only exists through external funding; 80 per cent of the population are dependent on aid, according to the World Bank. General observations are that the coping mechanisms of a people locked in a 365km2 enclave have been depleted; the level of anger continues to rise. People in Gaza don’t want aid, they want dignity and freedom. The sense of imprisonment imposed by the Israeli blockade since 2007 has been made worse through restrictions imposed by Egyptian authorities on the Rafah crossing. The Border and Crossing Authority in Gaza estimates that over 30,000 people registered as humanitarian cases are on a waiting list to cross into Egypt. On 27 May, an elderly Palestinian woman reportedly died after having waited for long hours in the heat at Rafah crossing to pass into the Gaza Strip.
Reports on the 2014 conflict by various organizations, continue to surface. During the past week, the international human rights organization Amnesty International released a report called “‘Strangling Necks’ – Abductions, torture and summary killings of Palestinians by Hamas forces during the 2014 Gaza/Israel conflict” in which it accuses Hamas forces of serious human rights abuses against Palestinians accused of collaborating with Israel. The report highlights extrajudicial executions of at least 23 Palestinians and the arrest and torture of dozens of others; it also includes testimonies. Hamas forces rejected the report as politicized and biased, according to media reports.
On 27 May a militant was injured while dealing with an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) in his house in Khan Younis area. On 31 May unknown persons detonated an IED in Kahn Younis, causing damage to a shop but no injuries.
Daily protests continued during the reporting week. Families of orphans regularly held sit-ins in front of the Bank of Palestine branches across the Gaza Strip demanding payment of their monthly cash assistance. On 30 May different factions held a rally at Gaza seaport to commemorate the 5th anniversary of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla.
Summer school holidays in Gaza - between mournful memories of the past and high hopes for the future
On 28 May, UNRWA refugee students completed their last exams for the 2014/15 school year and are ready for their three months of summer holidays. While for many other children in the world, summer holidays means departing to foreign countries with their family, the options for Gaza’s children are limited due to the Israeli imposed blockade. In addition, many of them still carry difficult memories of last summer’s holidays– a summer shattered by a 50-day long conflict that caused unprecedented devastation, killing 548 children and displacing thousands more.
“When our neighbourhood in Bureij was shelled, my family first fled to Nuseirat and then to southern Rafah, but it was not secure there either, so we started to walk to the centre of Rafah city – we walked 7 km under artillery fire and I saw many dead bodies on the way. A few days later we fled further north to Khan Younis and stayed with relatives,” recalls 15-year old Yara Eid who has just finished her last exams in the Preparatory Girls School A in Bureij Camp in central Gaza.
Yara, who during the summer holidays wants to improve her English and Science skills, “write a lot of poetry” and attend the UNRWA Summer Fun Weeks at the end of July, tries to keep up her hopes. “In my future, I want to be able to travel and see the world. And I want to become a doctor. In Gaza we need help, but we also have to help ourselves and this is what I want to do,” she said emphatically.
15-year old Abdel Hakim Awad, also from Bureij Camp, agrees and has very similar plans for the summer. “The more I study, the more I will be able to contribute to our society,” he explains. Living with his family in their damaged home since the end of the conflict, Abdel worries mostly about his friends: “This summer is not like summers before the conflict. A lot of my friends will have to help repairing the houses of their families; and many still suffer from their war memories and they need psycho-social support,” he explains. “This is why the UNRWA Summer Fun Weeks are so important; they give refugee children a chance to enjoy a normal holiday and help to relieve their suffering,” Abdel adds.
While the resilience of Yara and Abdel is admirable, it is wrong to assume it is indefinite. Gaza’s children continue to suffer, and there is no guarantee that they will be able to keep up their hopes for a better future forever.
“If I could leave, I would go to Paris,” said Abdel. “Even just for one day. It must be beautiful. I have seen it in pictures.”
The blockade imposed on Gaza by Israel enters its ninth year in June 2015. If the blockade is not lifted soon, a whole generation of children will not have any memory of a life outside of confinement.
Summary of Major Incidents
During the reporting week, Israeli forces fired towards Palestinians near the fence with Israel or at Palestinian boats almost on a daily basis. On 30 May the Egyptian navy fired towards Palestinian boats near Egyptian waters, forcing them towards the north. On 1 June an Israeli patrol boat shot towards and arrested six Palestinian fishermen in northern Gaza; their boats were confiscated. On 2 June Israeli forces shot towards and injured three Palestinian fishermen.
On 27 May Israeli forces fired three missiles reportedly targeting an alleged Islamic Jihad military site in northern Gaza and four missiles targeting two alleged Islamic Jihad military sites in Khan Younis area; they also fired three missiles targeting alleged Islamic Jihad military sites in Rafah area; no injuries were reported.
On 28 May militants in Gaza fired one test rocket towards the sea; on 1 June they fired two test rockets towards the sea and on 2 June they again fired one test rocket towards the sea.
US$ 216 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$ 504 million.
As presented in UNRWA’s oPt Emergency Appeal, the Agency is seeking USD 366.6 million for its 2015 emergency operations in Gaza, 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.
- The Rafah Crossing was partially open on 27 and 28 May to allow Palestinians stranded in Egypt to return to the Gaza Strip; exit from Gaza remained closed. On 27 May 1,073 persons reportedly entered Gaza and on 28 May, 49 persons entered Gaza. The crossing was closed from 29 May to 2 June. Previously the crossing was last opened on 26 May and for two days on 9 and 10 March after a continuous closure of 45 days.
- The Erez crossing was open for National ID holders (humanitarian cases, medical cases, merchants and UN staff) and for international staff from 26 to 28 May and from 31 May to 2 June. On 29 May, Erez crossing was open for pedestrians only. It was closed on 30 May.
- Kerem Shalom was open from 26 to 28 May and 31 May to 2 June. It was closed on 29 and 30 May.
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