Gaza Situation Report 96

11 June 2015
© 2015 UNRWA Photo

2 June - 9 June 2015 | Issue No. 96


  • “UNRWA was never meant to exist for this long. It exists because of political failure. In the absence of a just and lasting solution to the plight of Palestinian refugees, UNRWA has become more than an Agency. It is a lifeline,” said the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on 2 June in New York, at the high-level conference: [email protected]:  Sustaining Human Development and Protecting Rights of Palestine Refugees. The Secretary-General highlighted the key role UNRWA plays in education and health sectors, using examples from Gaza. Hailing the Agency as a ‘Vital Stabilizing Factor’, the Secretary-General added: “We must continue to provide all humanitarian and diplomatic support to Palestine refugees. They deserve their human rights and to live lives of dignity and opportunity. The Palestine refugee community needs the world’s full solidarity at this troubled time. We must not abandon them.”
  • In related remarks at the 65th anniversary conference, UNRWA’s Commissioner General, Pierre Krähenbühl also reminded the international community of its responsibilities beyond humanitarian aid. At the same time, he called for an urgent mobilization by United Nations member states to help the Agency address its dire financial situation. Financial support to UNRWA has not kept pace with an increased demand for services caused by growing numbers of registered refugees, expanding need, and deepening poverty. In Gaza alone, the Agency continues to provide food aid to more than 868,000 refugees – about half of Gaza’s 1.76 million population. “I will continue this call using all available fora, including the General Assembly, to which I report directly. UNRWA is making a determined effort to address some of its key financial problems internally but we require the support of existing and new partners. Supporting UNRWA financially should be seen as an investment in the future not as a burden,” the Commissioner General said. 
  • UNRWA’s Gaza Field Office continues to welcome high level delegations to show the context in which Palestine refugees live in Gaza. On 7 June the Czech Foreign Minister, Mr Lubomír Zaorálek visited the Gaza Strip. He was shown areas destroyed by the successive conflicts and met with UNRWA’s Director of Operations in Gaza, Mr Robert Turner to discuss the situation of refugees and UNRWA activities in all five areas of the Gaza Strip. Mr Zaoralek is reportedly the first high Czech representative to visit the Gaza Strip in the past 15 years.
  • The Gaza Gateway is an UNRWA initiative, conceived in 2013 to attract outsourced employment to Gaza’s information technology (IT) industry. The social enterprise has been experimenting and gaining project experience before launching in the private sector at the end of 2015. The Gaza Gateway has just completed its first project, developing the tablet survey and quality assurance systems within UNRWA’s innovative new Poverty Assessment System. This has enabled 156 UNRWA Relief and Social Services Programme social workers to each conduct at least one family visit in all five areas of the Gaza Strip since 31 May, using the new technology with greater confidence. The Gaza Gateway is now advertising for twenty entry-level jobs within its new project focusing on UNRWA’s shelter and recovery databases, to improve UNRWA’s service delivery in these urgent areas. Gaza Gateway teams are also managing the data for UNRWA’s educational management information system, employing Gazans to prepare a system for use in all of UNRWA’s five fields of operation.  And a Gaza Gateway team is handling the data and community input for the Deir el Balah Camp Improvement Project’s participatory planning. Each project represents employment for Gazan youth, and a new model of operations to attract additional employment opportunities to Gaza. According to the latest World Bank economic update report, Gaza’s unemployment rate - at 43.9 per cent - is now the highest in the world. Youth unemployment has soared to more than 60 percent by the end of 2014. 
  • UNRWA in Gaza marked World Environment Day, to highlight the environmental challenges facing the world in general and Gaza in particular. Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza, Mr Robert Turner, and Chief, ICIP, Engineer Rafiq Abed attended the event, alongside a number of UNRWA local and international staff. In his speech on the day, Mr Turner said: "I have now been in Gaza for more than three years. During that time I have seen how acute water shortage, waste management, electricity and land shortages coupled with population growth remain an existential threat for the Gaza Strip, as highlighted in the Gaza in 2020 Report."
  • UNRWA is currently undertaking activities toward the establishment of an Agency-wide Child Protection Framework. This includes in the first instance an Agency definition of child protection and basic principles for ensuring prevention and response mechanisms for child protection adhere to minimum standards. It will be developed in consultation and with the assistance of an internal Task Force  brings together key representatives from UNRWA programmes and operations. Together they will work in an inclusive manner providing opportunity for wide-ranging consultation with UNRWA staff, children, parents and communities across each of Gaza’s five fields of operation, including Gaza.
  • UNRWA continues to implement its ongoing construction projects, separate to the Agency’s efforts regarding self-help shelter repair and (re-)construction under the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM). Attached is UNRWA Gaza’s May construction update. Highlights include completion of the construction of two schools in Beit Lahia (northern Gaza Strip) and in Deir El Balah (central Gaza Strip), enabling 600 students and 560 students respectively to start the next school year in new school buildings. This will contribute in alleviating the pressure the Agency’s education department is facing in a context of constant growth of the student population in which 86 per cent of the UNRWA schools in Gaza are already operating on a double or triple shift basis.
  • The morning of 8 June, United Nations Member States received the Secretary-General’s report on children and armed conflict. The annual report presents information about grave violations committed against children in 22 country situations. The report also includes what is known as the “List of Shame.” This is the list of armed groups and armed forces who recruit and use children, kill and maim, commit sexual violence or attacks on schools and hospitals in conflict zones.  Referencing the report in his daily briefing to media, Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, said that “2014 saw unprecedented challenges for the protection of tens of millions of children growing up in countries impacted by conflict.” Questions to the Spokesperson, and indeed much of the related international media coverage, focused on the Secretary General deciding not to list Israel or Hamas in the annex list of parties in the report. “I think what's important to note is that the report that was shared today is much more than a list.  It has a large report outlining issues raised the shocking treatment of children and the suffering of children that we're seeing throughout conflict zones including what happened in Gaza and other parts of the State of Palestine,” he said. The Spokesperson reiterated that in the body of that report, the Secretary General expresses his deep alarm at the extent of grave violations, unprecedented and unacceptable.
  • Israeli and Palestinian economies stand to gain US $173 billion over the next decade if an independent Palestine were to emerge tomorrow according to a new report by the US-based RAND Corporation says the. As reported in the New York Times, this translates to an average per capita income increase of $1,000 (36 per cent) for every Palestinian in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, and $2,200 (5 per cent) for each Israeli. The study estimates the net costs and benefits over the next ten years of five alternative trajectories — a two-state solution, coordinated unilateral withdrawal, uncoordinated unilateral withdrawal, nonviolent resistance, and violent uprising — compared with the costs and benefits of a continuing impasse that evolves in accordance with present trends. The analysis focuses on economic costs related to the conflict, including the economic costs of security. In addition, intangible costs are briefly examined, and the costs of each scenario to the international community have been calculated. Seven key findings were identified in the report, with a two-state solution identified as providing by far the best economic outcomes for both Israelis and Palestinians.
  • The reality of unmet pledges for the reconstruction of Gaza was reiterated on 4 June at the 370th meeting of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. Riyad Mansour, the top representative of the observer State of Palestine, said there had been no progress in alleviating the plight of the Palestinian people in the occupied territory: “The reconstruction of Gaza, despite pledges of support from donors, remained anaemic.”
  • Shelter update:
    1. UNRWA continues its efforts to provide shelter assistance for refugee families whose homes were damaged or demolished during the 2014 summer conflict. During the reporting week, US$ 2,097,225 in funding, were made available for cash assistance for rental subsidies (US$ 21,800), severe (US$ 1,897,329) major (US$ 72,298) and minor (US$ 96,798) repairs and the US$ 500 reintegration grant to replace lost households goods (US$ 9,000), will reach 565 refugee families across the Gaza Strip. They have received this assistance via cheque or access 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 219 families have completed the repairs of their severely damaged shelters. In addition, 11,662 families are currently in the process of completing the repair works of their shelters and over 11,630 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 approximately US$ 99.9 million (excluding Programme Support Costs) to Palestine refugee families.
    2. 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.
    3. Due to the lack of funding, to date, 48,200 families have not received the first tranche for repair works of their shelter and 6,985 have not received the second tranche to continue the repair works. 435 refugee families still wait for their rental subsidy payment covering the period from September to December 2014 and 2,600 families are waiting for the first and second quarter of 2015 payments. 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.
    4. 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 8 June, UNRWA engineers have confirmed 138,406 Palestine refugee houses as impacted during the July/August armed hostilities, 9.117 of them are considered totally demolished. In addition, 4,939 shelters have suffered severe, 3,635 major and 120,715 minor damages. The Agency has only received funding to reconstruct 200 of the 9,117 totally destroyed homes. The families have been identified and 85 of them have already prepared the design and building permits.
  • More families in Gaza were able to relocate out of UNRWA Collective Centres during the reporting week. Due to the large scale nature of last summer’s conflict, UNRWA operated 92 emergency shelters for almost 300,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) during the peak of hostilities. After the ceasefire on 26 August, the Agency then consolidated the remaining 74 shelters into 18 Collective Centres to host the remaining 60,000 IDPs. The majority of IDPs left after the ceasefire to occupy their original damaged and undamaged properties. In parallel, UNRWA began providing transitional shelter cash assistance payments for rental accommodation (for families with uninhabitable homes) or repair of damaged properties and reintegration packages. This led to transition of IDPs to their neighbourhoods with an increased sense of dignity, normalcy, privacy and integration back into the local community.  The use of a large number of UNRWA school buildings for hosting IDPs has presented challenges for UNRWA’s education programme. Schools operated in double and triple shifts in an overcrowded environment. A transition plan for IDPs, both refugees and non-refugees, with damaged homes was implemented to provide cash assistance from UNRWA, UNDP and Qatar to support families in repairing their properties, renting or living in host accommodation outside the Collective Centres. This has enabled school buildings to slowly return to function as education facilities and provided a positive relocation option for affected families. As of 8 June, UNRWA is operating 4 Collective Centres, providing shelter to a total of 524 IDPs across Rafah, Khan Younis and Gaza areas; the Collective Centres in North and Middle governorates have closed as IDPs found alternative solutions.

General

The situation in Gaza remains unstable. Regular local protests and demonstrations are now the norm. During the reporting week, most of these were regarding demands for shelter, cash assistance for repairs, protesting against perceived cuts to UNRWA services due to the financial situation and the situation in Gaza more generally.

Internal unrest in Gaza continues to be a concern. On 2 June, armed clashes reportedly erupted between Hamas police and an alleged Salafist member when the police attempted to arrest him from his house in Sheikh Rudwan area, north Gaza City, and he refused to surrender himself.  It was reported that the Salafist member was killed. On the evening of 3 June a dispute took place between two families. One was reportedly stabbed to death and two other were injuries. The police arrested several persons.

On 5 June a militant reportedly died and two others were injured when a tunnel collapsed in east of Shejaiya.

On 7 June it was reported that a tunnel under the border between Rafah and Egypt collapsed. Seven Palestinian workers were reportedly trapped.

On 4 June, an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) exploded inside Gaza Seaport. Damages to the properties of the Palestinian fishermen in the area were reported. At approximately 5 am on 8 June, unknown persons detonated an IED near a vehicle for goods distribution in Sheikh Radwan, Gaza City. The Police opened an investigation. No injuries were reported, however there is reportedly some minor damage.

Payments to former de facto government staff who have not seen full salaries for over one year, continues to be a challenge. Whilst Palestinian Authority (PA) staff were regularly paid until November, payments have been partial since that time. On 4 June, the European Union made a contribution of approximately US $22.9 million (€20.3 million) to the payment of May salaries and pensions of around 67,500 Palestinian civil servants and pensioners in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The contribution is being funded by the European Union (US $16.9 million; €15.0 million) and the Governments of Sweden (US $4.8 million;.€4.3 million/SEK 40 million) and of the Netherlands (US $1.1 million; c.€1.0 million earmarked specifically for PA salaries in the justice sector).

UNRWA response

refugee youth in Gaza make the most of UNRWA job creation programme opportunities
15-year old Yara Eid has just finished her last exams in the Bureij Preparatory Girls School A, Gaza. © 2015 UNRWA Photo by Khalil Adwan

20-year old Fares Sani is measuring window glass before cutting it, in Gaza. © 2015 UNRWA
Photo by Khalil Adwan

The UNRWA Maintenance Office in Jabalia, northern Gaza is full of old blue UNRWA school doors waiting for a makeover, piles of window glass, large white paint buckets and other material necessary to keep UNRWA facilities in good working condition. Standing amidst the material are two 20 year old Palestine refugees - Jamil Jabir and Fares Sani.

The young workers have both successfully completed a 24 month-long vocational training programme for over-aged students (those who have previously failed two or more years in school) in the UNRWA Gaza Training Centre. They were soon after hired by the Agency for a six month Graduate Training Programme (GTP) to further build up their capacities. The GTP is a one-time opportunity and part of the Agency’s cash-for-work Job Creation Programme (JCP); it targets graduates who have completed their vocational education within the last three years.

“We have both already completed five months of our job placement,” said Fares who is employed as a worker in the Maintenance Office. “In one month we will face difficult times; there are so few job opportunities due to the blockade; besides, there is not enough material entering the Strip to allow for more work,” he added.

Fares is the only one in his family who has a job, and like most JCP workers in the Maintenance Office, he is trying to bolster his income with additional occasional jobs in private workshops. He is and will keep trying hard, but says that  “opportunities for extra work have become rarer over the past months.”

His friend Jamil, who was trained and works as a painter, has different plans. He is currently studying to repeat the ‘Tawjihi’ – the high school completion certificate which he previously failed. “After that, I want to study engineering in the Palestine University and work as engineer,” he said. 

Yet both young men know that dreams can easily be crushed in a place like Gaza, where youth refugee unemployment rates are sky-rocketing and according to the Palestinian Central  Bureau of Statistics, stood at 70.1 per cent in 2014, and at 66.3 per cent for male refugee youth.

“If the situation was different – if we did not have this blockade – I would try to open my own workshop or I would move to another country where I can apply all my skills and build up a business and a life,” said Fares.

“Planning a future is almost impossible for these young workers,” explained Mohammed Yasin, the supervisor of the UNRWA North Maintenance Office. “Before the blockade, people in Gaza did not look only to  UNRWA for jobs. They also worked in the bustling private sector and made good businesses. Now the situation is reversed and people are thankful to at least find work for three months,” he added.

The UNRWA JCP is a pivotal instrument to ease the impact of widespread poverty and protracted conflict by providing short-term employment opportunities to refugees.  In 2014, the JCP re-expanded by almost 20 per cent, from 17,053 short term job opportunities in 2013 to 20,550 in 2014, thus benefiting almost 120,000 refugees in Gaza; in 2014, in total US$ 18.1 million were injected into the Gaza economy through the JCP. The Gaza Training Centre is complementary to the JCP, as it contributes skilled labour to key sectors of the economy. Since its establishment in 1953 over 17,300 young Gaza refugees have graduated from its trades and technical courses. In 2010 the training centre was reformed and a vocational training component for over-aged students was added; since then, 610 over-aged students have graduated as skilled labourers in a wide-range of fields.

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 2 June, militants fired one test rocket towards the sea. On 3 June, militants attempted to fire one rocket towards Israel. The rocket dropped short and landed inside Gaza areas near the security fence. On 3 June, militants fired one rocket towards Israel which landed in Ashkelon. No injuries or damages were reported in either incident.

On 4 June, Israeli forces fired five missiles allegedly targeting three separate military sites. No injuries were reported. On 7 June, Israeli forces fired two missiles allegedly targeting a Hamas training site.

On 8 June morning, militants fired one test rocket towards the sea.

On 3 June, four Israeli force bulldozers entered approximately 100 metres south of Sofa, Rafah, southern Gaza. The troops conducted a clearing and excavation operation before withdrawing. On 5 June in Gaza area, Israeli force bulldozers entered approximately 50 meters from the security fence into east Shejaiya. Troops conducted a clearing and excavation operation in the area before withdrawing to the security fence.

Funding Needs

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.

Crossings

  • The Rafah Crossing was closed during the reporting week.
  • The Erez crossing was open for National ID holders (humanitarian cases, medical cases, merchants and UN staff) and for international staff from 2-4 and 7-8 June. On 5 June, Erez crossing was open for pedestrians only. It was closed on 6 June.
  • Kerem Shalom was open from 2 to 5 June and 7-8 June. It was closed on 6 June.

UNRWA launched the #DignityIsPriceless campaign in Gaza on 22 January 2018. © 2018 UNRWA Photo Rushdi Al Saraj
Join the #DignityIsPriceless campaign to stand up #ForPalestineRefugees