On 15 March, an extraordinary high-level conference – co-hosted by Sweden and Jordan and chaired by the UN Secretary-General - will take place in Rome to address UNRWA’s current and unprecedented funding crisis. On 12 March, in the run-up to this conference and in line with the #DignityIsPriceless campaign, over 5,300 students from 275 schools across the Gaza Strip together with other UNRWA students in Jordan, Syria, the West Bank and Lebanon flew blue kites to send a message to the international community that they would like their right to education to be protected. On 22 January, UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl had launched the global fundraising campaign #DignityIsPriceless to mobilize the international community to actively support a collective response to protect the rights and dignity of Palestinian Refugees. As part of this campaign, the social media initiative #GazaOnTheBrink was launched to further highlight the dire humanitarian situation for Palestine refugees in Gaza after 11 years of a land, sea and air blockade. Watch the story of Qusai and Uday, two Palestine refugee children from Gaza, which illustrates the role that UNRWA plays to bring hope, dignity, and life-saving services to hundreds of thousands of people.
The blockade on Gaza will enter its 12th year in June 2018. The heavy restrictions on the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza have not only crushed the enclave’s originally trade-based economy, they are also responsible for high and increasing levels of unemployment, poverty and food insecurity and contribute to widespread feelings of depression, hopelessness and confinement, particularly among Gaza’s youth. In addition, the blockade creates high additional costs for humanitarian organizations operating in the Gaza Strip, reducing already scarce financial means for humanitarian interventions: in 2017 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 almost US$ 8.49 million. The US$ 8.49 million does not include similar access costs that private contractors have incurred for shipping construction materials into Gaza through Kerem Shalom under the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM). Such additional costs have also impacted the Agency’s cash assistance for self-help repair and reconstruction interventions under the GRM. The US$ 8.49 million also excludes inflation (as projects are delayed prices increase and thus UNRWA is required to either downscale a project or request additional funding from a donor), as well as the price UNRWA and its staff are paying vis-à-vis the Agency’s credibility among the Gazan community, from beneficiaries to contractors, and among the donor community.
On the sixth anniversary of the most powerful earthquake ever recorded to hit Japan, messages of continued empathy and solidarity are sent out from Gaza. Over 1,000 Palestine refugee students from four UNRWA schools located in the area of the Japanese housing project in Khan Younis gathered to fly kites in commemoration of the disaster that killed more than 15,891 people and caused immense damage. In addition, a live Skype connection was held between UNRWA students and Japanese students, allowing for an exchange of experiences in their daily lives as well as their hopes for the future. The sixth annual kite-flying event in Khan Younis highlights the strong ties between the Japanese people and Palestine refugees in Gaza and reminds of both people’s strength and resilience.
On 8 March, International Women’s Day (IWD) was celebrated globally under the theme “Time is now: Rural and urban activists transforming women’s lives”. The theme highlights empowering women in all settings, rural and urban, as well as the activists who are working relentlessly to promote women’s rights and opportunities for women to realize their full potential. Based on this theme, the UNRWA Gender Initiative organized four panel discussion with Community-Based Organizations across the Gaza Strip to discuss women’s rights and access to justice as well as specific challenges such as in the agricultural sector in Gaza. In addition, the UNRWA Education Programme in Gaza will organize a range of activities at the Gaza Training Centre, including a drawing competition, music and dance, as well as a solidarity march of some 300 female students from UNRWA schools and UNRWA staff.
UNRWA continues to implement infrastructure and construction projects that address some of the most pressing human development needs in the Gaza Strip. A total of 13 infrastructure projects worth US$ 44.87 million are under implementation while 20 projects worth US$ 29.17 million are awaiting implementation. In February, UNRWA imported 31 trucks of construction materials included on the list of dual use items such as cement, white cement, steel pipes, steel reinforcement bars, raw materials and elevators for ongoing UNRWA infrastructure projects.
Between 1 and 12 March, Israeli patrol boats opened fire towards Palestinian boats off the coast of the Gaza Strip on 10 occasions, forcing them ashore. No injuries were reported.
On 27 February and five occasions in early March, Israeli forces positioned at the border fence opened fire towards Palestinian areas. No injury and one person killed were reported.
During the reporting period, on five occasions, civilians, mostly youth, staged protests against the US President’s decision to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem near the perimeter fence in different areas of Gaza. When some of them approached the fence and threw stones towards Israeli observation posts, Israeli forces responded with gunfire and teargas. 19 injuries and one fatality were reported.
On 1 March, a 16-year-old Palestinian male was moderately injured in Gaza city as a result of the explosion of unexploded ordinance (ERW).
On 9 March, a 15-year-old Palestinian male attempted to commit suicide by poisoning himself with overdose drug due, in the Beach camp.