31 March – 7 April 2015 | Issue 87
- The United Nations Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People convened a seminar on assistance to the Palestinian people, held from 31 March to 1 April in Vienna, Austria. The topic of the conference was “speeding up relief, recovery and reconstruction in post-war Gaza.” Robert Turner, Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza, participated from Gaza as a key expert speaker on the role of the UN and its system entities in the reconstruction of Gaza and regarding Gaza’s economic development. Invited to the seminar were UN members and observers, inter-governmental organisations, academic experts as well as representatives of the civil society, parliamentarians and others.
- Jimmy Carter, the 39th President of the United States, speaks of “unprecedented levels of deprivation” and the “very real” prospects for renewed armed conflict in Gaza in an article published in the Washington Post on 27 March. Carter criticises the unwillingness or inability of the Palestinian Authority to govern Gaza as well as Israel’s restriction of access to the enclave and its insistence on “tracking every bag of cement” entering the Strip. Carter concludes that “given the misery and volatility” in Gaza, with its restrictive policies Israel compromises its security in the short term. As an alternative, he suggests that “Israel should align the import-export regime for Gaza with that of the West Bank, and Gaza crossing points should be reopened. More generally, Israel should integrate the economy of Gaza with that of the West Bank to allow for more normal development.”
- On 1 April, Palestine became a formal member of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and its Rome Statute treaty after having joined the institution at the end of December, 2014. The Palestinian bid for the ICC is part of a process that can lead to war crimes probes and prosecutions of alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. The ICC can investigate alleged perpetrators from any country if certain conditions are met. Media reports indicate that ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has opened a "preliminary examination" into atrocities in Palestine committed since June 2014 - backdating ICC jurisdiction to before the July/August 2014 escalation of hostilities. It is reported that in reaction to the Palestinian bid, the Israeli government was withholding Palestinian tax revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinian authority (PA). Last week, the Israeli government reportedly started to release the suspended money, but deducted around a third of the total amount for utility services Israel supplies to the Palestinians. According to media reports, the tax transfer has been rejected by the PA.
- Electricity in Gaza is back to an ‘8 hours on, 12 hours off’ shift after the Palestinian cabinet reportedly decided to exempt the Gaza Power Plant from fuel taxes for three months. After a month-long shut down due to lack of funding, fuel can now be provided to the plant. It is expected that eight hour supply intervals can be maintained in the future, as was the case prior to the summer 2014 conflict. Gaza depends on three primary electricity sources: the Israeli electricity company, the sole Gaza Power Plant (damaged during the July/August 2014 conflict) and the Egyptian electricity grid. The Strip is is plagued by an energy supply crisis due to the economic blockade, upheaval in Egypt’s Sinai, internal disputes between Palestinian factions and the general devastation as a result of repeated armed conflicts.
- To commemorate Arab Orphans Day, on 5 April UNRWA distributed clothes and bags to dozens of Palestine refugee orphans in the Strip. In Gaza a child is considered an orphan when without a father and less than 18 years old. While the clothes were donated by a Spanish non-profit organization– worth EUR 1,370 (approximately US$ 1,500) - and reached 76 children, the school bags are part of a US$ 24,582 financial commitment made by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Red Crescent society in 2014. The bags are distributed to 2,520 orphan children from grades one to ten, across the Gaza Strip. The UNRWA orphans project started in 2008, assisting 350 children and 100 families. Today, the Agency offers a comprehensive protection service including awareness sessions on the legal rights of orphans, psychological support, academic consultation and career advice as well as recreational activities. According to a recent survey conducted by the UNRWA Relief and Social Service Programme, the summer 2014 conflict alone left an additional 1,140 children in Gaza as orphans. Today, the UNRWA orphan project supports over 4,600 refugee orphan children and 300 families. The average UNRWA primary school student has lived through three cycles of renewed military conflict in the past seven years, witnessing death, destruction and displacement, and has never left the Gaza Strip, unless perhaps for medical treatment. The UNRWA Community Mental Health Programme (CMHP) thus continues its tireless work of counselling conflict-affected Gaza children. During the reporting week, the programme ran individual and group counselling and awareness sessions in Gaza on topics such as hyperactivity, time management, lack of concentration, forgiveness, aggressive behaviour or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms and nightmares. The counsellors also addressed parents and teachers focusing on how their work could relieve the students’ stress during and after times of crises. During the reporting period, CMHP legal counsellors continued to provide awareness sessions for women on Gender Based Violence (GBV) and the personal status law in 11 Collective Centres.
- To mark World Health Day and raise awareness on food security, representatives from the UNRWA health programme, other UN agencies and non-government organisations gathered on 7 April at a popular public space in Gaza city under the slogan, “From farm to plate, make food safe”. Reiterating the need for coordinated action to supervise and control the food supply chain, the organizations “tried to attract the attention of the public to the importance of accessing safe food in all processing forms,” said Dr. Issa Saleh, the UNRWA Field Disease Control Officer. After the public gathering the organisations relocated to a hotel in Gaza city where they shared working papers and presented lectures on food safety and came up with recommendations for a professional system for monitoring of food in the Gaza Strip. According to UNRWA statistics from 2014 on food borne illness, UNRWA clinics have received 27,000 cases in less than five years related to food borne illnesses.
- UNRWA completed its exceptional food distribution on 2 April. The distribution of food parcels consisting of flour, oil and rice were provided to 25,177 families over a ten day period, with additional parcels being given this week to families who have successfully appealed. Beneficiaries included newly separated families, those who have applied for food assistance but have not yet been visited, families previously classified as not poor before 2013 and pending results of a complaint, and other vulnerable families identified. The exceptional food distribution comes in addition to regular UNRWA food assistance to approximately 868,000 refugees and the daily rations the Agency provides to around 6,900 internally displaced persons in its 11 Collective Centres.
- To date, some 60,000 Palestine refugee families have been able to complete the repair of their damaged homes with assistance provided through UNRWA. A further 10,760 families whose homes were totally or severely destroyed have received a one-time rental subsidy (TSCA, transitional shelter cash assistance) payment typically covering four months subsidy; over 1,300 displaced refugee families have yet to receive even one instalment. Of the families receiving TSCA, some 7,633 families also benefited from the $500 reintegration grant. A further 1,268 families whose homes incurred major damage benefited from the reintegration grant. More than seven months after the announcement of a ceasefire, not a single totally destroyed home has been rebuilt in Gaza. The Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM), a temporary agreement between the Governments of Israel and Palestine concluded in September 2014, currently allows the entry of building materials for repair but the process for rebuilding totally destroyed homes remains yet to be agreed upon. Whereas import of construction material is banned by the Government of Israel but possible for UN-led projects following a lengthy approval procedure since 2010, the UNRWA shelter self-help programme is completely reliant on the GRM.
- Since the start of the emergency shelter response, UNRWA has distributed a total of US$ 94.2 million (excluding Programme Support Costs) to Palestine refugee families. As of 6 April 2015, UNRWA engineers have completed the technical assessment of 140,015 homes as part of UNRWA’s efforts to determine assistance eligibility. Whilst the ongoing appeal review is expected to be concluded soon, to date 9,061 Palestine refugee houses have been considered totally destroyed and 5,066 have suffered severe, 4,085 major and 121,803 minor damages. Also, to date, the Agency has only received funding to reconstruct 200 of the 9,061 houses totally destroyed.
- In order to ensure high quality education in all its schools across the Gaza Strip and to help students meet the education demands of the 21st century, UNRWA introduced an education reform plan in 2011. The reform plan includes the provision of technical and vocational training, a more inclusive education approach or strategic planning and management projects. Within the reform framework three new units – the assessment unit, the school quality unit and the professional development and curricula unit – were established in order to bring change to the classrooms by providing active pedagogies, promoting literacy and numeracy and engaging parents in raising the student’s achievement. By October 2012, 947 elementary cycle teachers had completed the modules of the School Based Teacher Development (SBTD) programme in Gaza’s North area; 2,455 elementary teachers from Gaza and the Middle Area are currently receiving the same training. The reform project also targets school principals and aims at providing them with practical tools and techniques to lead and manage successful and sustainable improvement in schools. 41 school principals have already completed this Leading for the Future training in the Rafah area in southern Gaza; 93 principals are currently receiving the training in the North and Khan Younis areas. By the end of February 2015,60 area education officers, education specialists, community health supervisors, school principals and special education teachers had also completed a training on inclusive education policy and strategy in Gaza aiming at tackling issues about education and health strategies and preparing the trainees to conduct awareness activities to other staff.
- During the reporting week UNRWA closed the Zaitoun Prep Girls B Collective Centre in Gaza city, decreasing the total number of Agency-run shelters to 11 across the Gaza Strip. UNRWA continues to provide daily hot meals and shelter to around 6,900 internally displaced women, men and children.
Operational environment: Aside from the afore-mentioned ICC development, there was no significant change in the political or security environment during the reporting week. Discussion and negotiations are however, reportedly taking place regarding the Swiss proposal over resolving the salary crisis of former de facto government officials - who continue reporting to work despite having not received a regular salary since autumn 2014- by integrating them into the employment hierarchy of the Palestinian government institutions. A Swiss delegation visited the Gaza Strip, Ramallah and Israel in the end of March 2015. The Swiss salary proposal is bound to a broad-based diplomatic, economic and political arrangement for Gaza including the unification of Gaza and the West Bank and a truce with Israel. According to several media reports, Both, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and influential Hamas officials have expressed support in principle for the Swiss reform plan.
Daily protests during the reporting week continued, mostly concerning the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails or against the Israeli imposed blockade. On 5, 6 and 7 April different Islamic, national and youth factions held demonstrations in solidarity with their fellow Palestinians in the Yarmouk Camp in southern Damascus which had been reportedly overrun by Islamic jihadists recently and continues to be besieged by the Syrian army. On 5 April, UNRWA urgently called for safety and protection of civilians in Yarmouk.
On 5 April an unexploded ordinance (UXO) exploded in Shajaya area in eastern Gaza city. Two civilians sustained shrapnel wounds.
DREAMING OF PEACE
Two teenage girls from the Rafah refugee camp in southern Gaza, Ruba Al Ghoty and Tasneem Al Qeeq, are amongst the 29 winners of the 2015 “Inspirational Messages of Peace Contest” organized by the American non-profit organization International World Peace Rose Gardens (IWPRG), an organisation that tries to engage world citizens in activities that promote global peace through art and messaging. More than 2,200 students from all over the world – including China, India and Mexico – participated in the contest launched in conjunction with the 23rd anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King Junior, on 4 April.
“My peace is between my joy and my love” is the title of the message written by Tasneem, and it certainly convinced the jury. “I decided to participate as a Palestinian girl coming from a place that is not stable or safe. With my message I wanted to express the injustice that we Palestinian children are living in,” the 15-years old UNRWA student comments.
Ruba, the other Gaza winner, saw her participation as a chance to send her message of peace to the rest of the world. “We are peace lovers. All we want is to have a peaceful homeland. We have had enough wars and destruction,” she shares.
The 29 winner-messages will be engraved on individual plaques and exhibited in the “I have a dream”-World Peace Rose Garden in the Martin Luther King historic site in Atlanta, USA, and will possibly be read by more than 700,000 visitors who walk through the rose park annually.
When the school announced the contest of “Inspirational Messages of Peace” Ruba and Tasneem were encouraged by their teachers and their principal to participate and convey their messages of peace to the world. However, the two girls, who both say they see Martin Luther King Junior and his fight for human rights in a peaceful way as their role model, did not expect to be amongst the winners. When they were informed about their success, they both felt very proud. “This is the first step in fighting for peace, and letting others know about the rights of Gaza’s children,” they both commented.
Filled with energy and positive attitude, Ruba dreams of establishing an institution to support human rights for Gaza children and for children in the world: “A dream that I wanted to come true; to live in peace, like butterflies, birds in the sky, the colours of rainbow shine in the sky, so let us live in peace,” she wrote in her peace message.
SUMMARY OF MAJOR INCIDENTS
During the reporting week, Israeli forces fired at Palestinians near the fence with Israel or at Palestinian boats on a daily basis. On 1, 2, 4 and 5 April Israeli forces shot towards and arrested a total of 9 Palestinians who attempted to cross into Israel. One managed to escape. On 3 April, Israeli forces fired towards a group of Palestinians approaching the fence in Kahn Younis, southern Gaza, and injured three Palestinians. On the same day militants fired one test rocket towards the sea. On 4 April the Egyptian navy fired towards Palestinian boats approaching Egyptian waters. On 6 April two Israeli tanks and two bulldozers entered approximately 200 metres east of Khuzaa area in southern Gaza and reportedly conducted a clearing operation. They withdrew on the same day.
US$ 175 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$ 545 million. UNRWA urgently requires US$ 100 million in the first quarter of 2015 to allow refugee families with minor damage to repair their homes and to provide ongoing rental subsidies.
As presented in UNRWA’s oPt Emergency Appeal, for its 2015 emergency operations in Gaza, the Agency is seeking USD 366.6 million, 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 (PDF).
- The Rafah Crossing remained closed from 31 March to 7 April.
- The Erez crossing was open for National ID holders (humanitarian cases, medical cases, merchants and UN staff) and for international staff during the reporting week. On 3 April Erez crossing was open for pedestrians only. It was closed on 4 April.
- Kerem Shalom was open between 31 March to 2 April and 5 to 7 April. It was closed on 3 and 4 April.