The situation in Gaza remains challenging for UNRWA. Being under blockade for a decade, the enclave remains gripped by a water and electricity crisis, compounding an already unsettling socio-economic situation with one of the highest unemployment rates worldwide; access and movement restrictions of people, goods and materials, has been severed, and food insecurity as well as psycho-social distress are rising. A key priority for UNRWA is ensuring beneficiaries’ continuous access to services, chief among them education. 2016 saw an increase of 12,000 students, a demand rate that looks set to continue. The Agency needs to ensure that population growth, as well as land scarcity, do not affect quality; besides the construction of new schools – 24 in 2016 – to reduce or remove triple and double shift schools, the focus will be on staff development as part of the education reform. 2017 also sees the launch of the New School Design project that will comprehensively review and rework the design of all our schools to be built in Gaza. UNRWA will also hold another Summer Fun Weeks in 2017 giving refugee children in Gaza a much needed opportunity to relax and play in a safe and fun environment.
The Gaza Recovery and Reconstruction Group (GRRG) was established in September 2015, out of a need to coordinate recovery and reconstruction efforts. Improved coordination is critical to gain consensus on operational priorities for the medium and long term, provide support to the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) efforts for Gaza reconstruction and targeted resource mobilization efforts. The GRRG is intended to complement the humanitarian coordination mechanisms and over time lay the foundations for coordination of longer-term assistance to Gaza. The GRRG convened for its first meeting in 2017 on 16 February to discuss enhanced advocacy on Gaza recovery and its 2017 work plan. GRRG members also received a presentation by the PA’s National Office for the Reconstruction of Gaza (NORG) on overall progress against the Detailed Needs Assessment which contains the recovery and reconstruction needs of Gaza following the 2014 conflict.
From 31 January to 9 February 2017, the UNRWA Gender Initiative (GI), in partnership with Al-Fajr Youth Association, implemented a voluntary activity to promote recycling and environmental safety through reusing solid waste to facilitate urban agriculture. The initiative was implemented in Al-Fajr Youth Association in Khan Younis, southern Gaza; it brought together 100 women and girls who have previously been involved in the GI Young Women Leaders Programme (YWLP) or the GI Education Support Units as students or their mothers. The activity started with nine workshops and sessions to improve the participants understanding on the importance of recycling and urban agriculture. These sessions were followed by a practical recycling activity of collecting empty bottles, reusing and reshaping them into colourful planting jars, planting of flowers and culinary herbs at Al-Fajr Youth Association. The UNRWA Gender Initiative works to promote gender equality and women’s participation within their communities. The programme is implemented in partnership with 100 community-based organizations (CBOs) and local women’s NGOs across the Gaza Strip.
A diplomatic delegation from Ireland, led by the head of mission in Ramallah, Mr. Jonathon Conlon, and including the head of mission in Tel Aviv, Ms. Alison Kelly, visited UNRWA in Gaza. The delegation visited a Food Distribution Centre and a school – where they engaged with members of the UNRWA school parliament – and met with a family who benefited from UNRWA’s shelter reconstruction programme. They also met with Deputy Director of UNRWA Operations, Ms. Melinda Young, for a general briefing on the dismal humanitarian situation in Gaza. Also the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Mr. Nickolay Mladenov, warned in his briefing to the UN Security Council on 16 February that the volatile situation in Gaza “continues to be exacerbated by the persistence of major humanitarian and development challenges”, related in large part to the crippling blockade and the political divide between Palestinian factions. As example he mentioned this winter’s deepening electricity crisis which left the population with only two hours of electricity per day, leading to mass protests. A donor contribution only temporarily resolved the crisis. Until the pressing needs of Gaza’s people are systematically addressed, he stated, the situation is not sustainable and another escalation likely.
The security environment in Gaza remains volatile in regard to internal and external conflict. In 2016 on an almost daily basis cross-border shooting incidents, naval shooting towards Palestinian boats and social and political protests were reported. Further, mounting frustration and desperation of the people in Gaza often lead to intimidation of or violence against UNRWA front line staff, adding to the challenging operational environment. In 2016, the UNRWA Field Security Risk Management Team (FRSM) recorded 473 incidents impacting UNRWA’s work, 179 related to protests and sit-ins and 26 physical assaults against UNRWA personnel. FRSM also recorded 69 intimidation incidents against UNRWA personnel, 63 thefts and 14 burglaries of UNRWA installations. None of the incidents, however, was considered critical in terms of serious injuries to staff. The main drivers for incidents against UNRWA are directly linked to the blockade and the deteriorating socio-economic situation, e.g. the demand for services, especially housing and employment. The FRSM will continue to deliver safety and security training for the Agency’s front line staff, including its guards, to adequately respond to these incidents. FRSM also reports that in 2016, there were 34 incidents of rocket fire towards Israel, compared to the 63 incidents of rockets fired towards Israel in 2015. In 2016, 12 of the incidents led to rockets landing in Israel, compared to 25 in 2015. In the vast majority of these incidents, the Israeli Air Force responded with missiles. While most of them landed in military training areas or open fields, on two occasions missile fire led to UNRWA staff vacating there offices due to the ongoing heightened risk and on one occasion damage to a UNRWA warehouse was caused.
The UNRWA Gaza Training Centre (GTC) organized an exhibition of the final works of 175 female graduates of the vocational training initiative. Graduation works included self-made soaps and shampoos, innovative websites, a variety of delicious dishes and educational tools and games for children. The vocational training initiative targets over-aged students (meaning those youth who have previously failed two or more years in school) to provide them with a second chance to progress, excel at and develop important practical skills. The female students graduated in subjects such as food processing, web design, photography and multimedia, hairdressing or nursery. While they first completed a six-month training at the GTC, they later gathered practical experience in a local Gaza business through a work placement as part of UNRWA’s Job Creation Programme. In 2016, around 735 youth of the vocational training initiative were, after completing educational training, facilitated an apprenticeship in a local business to increase their future chances in the competitive local job market (youth unemployment stood at 63.8 per cent in the last quarter of 2016 according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics). 57 per cent of all students came from Social Safety Net households – meaning those families that are living below US$ 1.74 per person per day.
During the week under review, Israeli forces fired towards Palestinian areas along the perimeter fence and towards Palestinian boats on a daily basis.
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. No injuries were reported.
In a very tragic incident, a Palestinian man stabbed his three children to death before committing suicide by setting himself on fire. Three other family members were injured due to the fire. The man reportedly suffered from severe mental health problems.
Two Palestinians were injured as they accidently set off a hand grenade inside their house. A 37-year old male was found dead in his house; the police opened an investigation. Another Palestinian man died due to an electric shock. One Palestinian man was arrested by Israeli forces at Erez crossing while on transit to Israel. Another Palestinian was arrested by Israeli forces when he tried to cross into Israel through the perimeter fence.
Various outbreaks of fire were reported during the week. Fires broke out inside a factory and inside a business company; both buildings sustained severe damage and three persons were injured. Fire also broke out in two different residential areas, once as a result of an explosion inside a house and the other time due to a short circuit. Two persons were injured and the houses sustained damage. Six people were injured when the roof of a building under construction collapsed.
Palestinian militants fired two test rockets towards the sea. No injuries were reported.
The UNRWA comic drawing training: explaining big ideas in few words
On 29 January, the UNRWA communications with communities team, part of the Gaza Field Communications Office, has launched its first comic drawing workshop in cooperation with a Community-Based Organization in Gaza city. Approximately 25 young women from all areas of Gaza are participating in the training which will last for one month and focus on topics such as early marriage and gender-based violence (GBV).
28-year old Mokaram Al-Hegi, a participant of the comic drawing training, said: ”I got married when I was 18 years old; my husband didn’t allow me to complete my studies, and when I got divorced my family prevented me as well. Then I heard about this training from a friend, and I told myself this is a great opportunity to learn something new.”
Comic drawing is a form of story-telling, and through story-telling UNRWA attempts to empower and provide persons (directly affected or others) with a platform and a voice to advocate for change and support inside their community and beyond. After the completion of the training at the end of this month, UNRWA will publish the girls’ comics on social media to make them available to the local and global public.
“I used one of the drawings I did in this workshop to advocate for my right to education with my family; I drew a comic that explains to them the importance of education in girls’ lives, and that it’s a human right. When my father saw my skills in drawing he finally agreed that I can go back to university and study art,” Mokaram added.
The comic drawing workshop is taught by the female Gaza artist Majdal Nateel. At the end of February, each participant will have completed 14 training sessions focusing on basic drawing skills – such as how to express different emotions – as well as how to write a script and tell a story by using only few words. With the drawings, the participants address various issues relevant to their daily lives as girls and women in Gaza, such as the right to education, political participation, early marriage and the roles women play and can play in the community.
“I find comic drawing an easy way to express myself; in few words and with a simple drawing I manage to explain a big idea. Seriously, I feel this training is changing my life,” commented Mokaram emotionally.
Communications with Communities (CwC) is a two-way dialogue between communities and humanitarian organizations. It should enable the communities to meet their different needs, address their vulnerabilities and build on their pre -existing capacities. With the comic drawing workshop, the UNRWA communications office combined CwC with Communications for Development (C4D). C4Dis a social process based on dialogue using a broad range of tools and methods. Through C4D, the UNRWA communications office seeks to empower individual Palestine refugees and their communities, enhance their voices through dialogue, consultation and participation, and help individuals and communities make important decisions to improve and save lives, and increase civic engagement for long lasting change.
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. More information can be found here.
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 18 February in one direction for Palestinians to return to Gaza. 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 14 to 16 February and 19 to 21 February. On 17 February it was open for pedestrians only. It was closed on 18 February.
- 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 14 to 16 and 19 to 21 February. It was closed on 17 and 18 February.