The blockade on Gaza will enter its 11th year in June 2017. The heavy restrictions on the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza , in addition to the three consecutive conflicts and the internal political divide, have not only crushed the enclave’s formerly trade-based economy, they are also heavily responsible for the sky-rocketing unemployment rates, extreme poverty, food insecurity and contribute to depression, hopelessness and confinement. The blockade also creates high additional costs for humanitarian organizations operating in Gaza Strip, reducing already scarce funds for humanitarian interventions. In 2016 alone, additional staffing, transit and logistical costs resulting from Israeli requirements regarding access and monitoring of all UNRWA imports into the Gaza Strip amounted to US$ 10.38 million. The United Nations has repeatedly highlighted the illegality of the blockade as a form of collective punishment under international law and called for the lifting of the blockade, which continues to hamper freedom of movement of people and goods. June 2017 also marks 50 years of occupation of the Palestinian territory. On the occasion of the anniversary the UN Coordinator for Humanitarian Aid and Development Activities, Robert Piper, issued a statement in which he deplores the creation of chronic humanitarian needs among Palestinians as a result of occupation. UNRWA is continuing to highlight the human consequences of 50 years of occupation in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza, through its campaign under the hashtag #StillRefugees.
In the first quarter of 2017, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, the unemployment rate in Gaza stood at 41.1 per cent, one of the highest rates worldwide. High unemployment contributes to making people increasingly vulnerable to food insecurity and seriously diminishes their ability to resist economic shocks. It also robs people of the opportunity to provide for themselves and their families thus affecting their sense of dignity and self-worth. Hundreds of thousands of young people face the spectre of unemployment after leaving school or university, unable to put the skills they have worked to acquire into practice. To mitigate high unemployment, in the first quarter of 2017, UNRWA created skilled and unskilled job opportunities for 9,092 beneficiaries through the Job Creation Programme (JCP), injecting US$ 4.6 million into the Gaza economy. UNRWA also addresses high unemployment through its Graduate Training Programme (GTP) by generating job opportunities for fresh graduates. In 2017, 2,148 graduates benefited from the GTP; overall since its inception in 2001, over 31,451 fresh graduates were awarded with job opportunities. Through its Microfinance Department, UNRWA helps address the needs of low-income Palestine refugees. In the first quarter of 2017, the Microfinance Programme in Gaza disbursed 1,344 loans worth US$ 1,892,000.
During the second week of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, UNRWA distributed Suhour food parcels to 6,186 Palestine refugee families comprising 46,385 persons through its 12 Distribution Centres in all areas of the Gaza Strip. Suhour is the last meal Muslims consume in the early morning hours before the start of fasting during daylight hours. The families receiving this assistance are classified by UNRWA as being “abject poor” which means they have an income below US$ 1.47 per person a day. Food parcels include items ranging from halva, jam and canned foul (a dish of fava beans) to white tahini and packages of tea, yellow and white cheese and dried dates. The Suhour food parcel distribution is part of the Agency’s effort to relieve food insecurity in the Gaza Strip where more than eighty per cent of the population depends on humanitarian assistance.
In Gaza, UNRWA’s largest field of operation with over 12,800 staff and some 260 installations, the Field Security and Risk Management (FSRM) team seeks to provide leadership, advice and operational support on security and risk management with the aim to mitigate risks thereby improving staff safety, secure assets and protect premises in order to support sustainable programme delivery. The FSRM team delivers this through a guard force, operations team and a 24/7 staffed operations room. In addition FSRM provides training on safety and security-related topics for UNRWA area staff. On 1 February 2017, FSRM began rolling out the Safe and Secure Approaches in Field Environments (SSAFE) training aimed at strengthening the safety and security knowledge of UNRWA staff to enable them to respond to the challenges encountered in the course of their duties and build their capacity. The training covered a variety of topics including definition of FSRM, incident reporting, personal safety and first aid, in addition to road safety, dealing with Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) and emergency scenarios. The training targets all UNRWA front line staff and to date 675 staff have received the training with further roll-out planned in the coming months. Further, FSRM works with the Infrastructure and Camp Improvement Programme (ICIP) with regard to the design of new installations to ensure safety and security requirements are considered early on. To ensure that existing installations – not only those newly built - meet standards, FSRM will conduct a Facility Safety and Security Survey (FSSS).
In preparation of the scholastic year 2017-2018, UNRWA Field Education Programme in Gaza held the second round of exams for recruiting new teachers. On 1 June, 12,945 candidates took the written exam for teaching positions in Arabic, English, Islamic education, science, social studies and mathematics. The exams were held at 25 UNRWA schools across the Gaza Strip supervised by 1,599 education staff in cooperation with the UNRWA Human Resources Department. The three-hour exams were prepared by education specialists at the UNRWA Education Programme to ensure a transparent competition that allows for the selection of the most qualified candidates. UNRWA sees education as a major investment in dignity, human development and a measure of stability for Palestine refugees. The Education Programme in Gaza is UNRWA’s largest and despite the fragile situation, lack of infrastructure and financial constraints, the Agency successfully manages 267 schools with 262,000 students in this school year, in October 2016 a figure that is growing at a rate of approximately 4 percent every year - who are taught and supervised by over 8,520 teachers.
In May 2017, UNRWA completed two projects. The Agency installed 100 shower units in 50 school buildings as part of its emergency preparedness efforts. The 50 schools will be used as shelters during an emergency. UNRWA also completed the re-construction of Shaboura Health Centre which will offer quality primary health care services to 35,000 Palestine refugees. 27 infrastructure projects worth US$ 61.7 million are under implementation while 19 projects worth US$ 27.3 million are awaiting implementation.
Activities in May 2017:
- The reconstruction of 82 totally destroyed homes was completed.
- Repair works for 56 housing units were completed.
Disbursement of payments
- In total UNRWA disbursed approximately US$ 1.1 million for shelter assistance:
- For reconstruction: US$ 750,885
- For repair works: US$ 314,090
- Several protests were held across the Gaza Strip against the blockade and in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons.
A sit-in was held in protest against the deterioration in the health service sector and the lack of medical supplies, in front of Nasser hospital in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip.
On almost all days in the reporting period Israeli patrol boats opened fire towards Palestinian boats off the coast of Gaza city, forcing them ashore. One injury was reported and two fishermen were arrested.
Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) positioned at the security fence in different locations opened fire towards Palestinian areas on one day during the reporting period. No injuries were reported.
On 4 Jun, an unexploded ordnance (UXO) exploded south of Gaza city. Seven injuries were reported.
On 4 and 5 June, four IDF bulldozers entered approximately 50 metres into the Gaza Strip and conducted clearing and excavation operations. They withdrew on the same day.
The 2014 conflict has taken a heavy toll, but displaced families hold on to hope
Ameen and Tahani Bzazo with their two children , Palestine refugee family lives in Al-Tofah, east Gaza city, during the 2014 hostilities, were forced to seek shelter in one of the UNRWA school buildings functioning as Designated Emergency Shelters. The Bzazos were staying at the shelter when a neighbour brought the devastating news that their house had been shelled. This was not the last time during the conflict that the Bzazo family home would be affected:
“When the conflict started, we fled and were displaced to an UNRWA school for nearly three months. During the ceasefire, all internally displaced persons returned to check their houses. I could not return to my house as I knew how dangerous it was to be there. So, my wife went to stay at her father's house, and I continued staying alone with other displaced people in the UNRWA school. Three days before the conflict was over, my house got shelled again and severely damaged. Four concrete columns were demolished, the northern side of the house was totally damaged, the tiles disappeared and the doors and windows were smashed,” Ameen said.
Ameen, Tahani and their two children - Mohammed, a one-year old boy and Hassan, eight years were living in one of the most vulnerable neighbourhoods in Gaza, Al-Tofah in east Gaza before their home was rendered uninhabitable during the 2014 summer conflict. “We were displaced for two years and in despair because we had to constantly move from one rented house to another. Yet we were holding on to hope that our plight will end. UNRWA helped us during that period through providing cash assistance for rent. Through this support we were able to cover the rent for houses we lived in temporarily,” added Ameen.
“Now, the house is completely repaired and my family can live in it - peacefully and comfortably. The internal electricity network is very good, the concrete columns are rebuilt and the northern side, which was severely damaged, is repaired. We laid new house tiles, and the doors and windows are new. Thank God we are all together and have settled down again in our new house in the same place as the old one. We have not felt warm and comfortable since we fled from our house until now that our home has been repaired” Ameen commented.
Between 7 July and 26 August 2014, the Gaza Strip experienced the deadliest and most devastating round of hostilities since the beginning of the Israeli occupation in 1967; almost three years on from the conflict, many people and institutions are still struggling to cope with their immense losses. Besides the massive damage to the enclave’s infrastructure – including hospitals, water and electricity networks, and streets – some 12,500 housing units were totally destroyed and around 6,500 homes were severely damaged; over 19,000 housing units were rendered uninhabitable. To date, UNRWA has distributed over US$ 257 million to families whose homes were damaged or destroyed. Almost 1,580 families are currently receiving payments for reconstruction and approximately 83,900 families for repair works. However, around 48,000 refugee families have not received payments for repair works and 3,162 refugee families have not received payments to start reconstructing their homes due to a lack of funding.
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 1.9 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.