22 May 2015
12-10 May Issue No. 93
• The Agency is in the process of allocating housing units in the Khan Younis Rehousing Project to selected refugee families. The project, funded by the United Arab Emirates Red Crescent with US$ 19.7 million, offers 600 housing units in total. Large numbers of Palestinian shelters in Gaza have been either damaged in repeated armed conflicts or have deteriorated due to widespread poverty and the related limited access to financial means to repair them and the required construction material due to the Israeli imposed blockade on Gaza since 2007. UNRWA is committed to provide Palestine refugee families with homes and this generous funding is assisting the agency to meet the shelter needs for many refugee families in need. The construction of the houses started in 2007, yet works stalled in the following three years due to the Israeli imposed blockade. In 2010, when access to construction material became possible for the UN under an agreed mechanism with Israel, 151 housing units were built and have provided shelter for refugee families ever since. In 2014, UNRWA started the construction of the remaining 449 units which have been completed in spring 2015. In the past week, around 50 refugee families have signed the undertaking for their new home.
• A delegation of Swiss parliamentarians, representatives from the Embassy of Switzerland in Tel Aviv and the Swiss Representative Office in Ramallah as well as members of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation were denied entry into Gaza by Israeli authorities on 13 May. The delegation wanted to visit UNRWA operations in Gaza together with the UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl, himself also a Swiss citizen.
• Representatives of the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID) as well as the Spanish Cooperation Office in Palestine visited Gaza on 12 May. The delegation visited an UNRWA Collective Centre in Gaza city where they were briefed by Mr. Robert Turner, the Director of UNRWA operations in Gaza, on the socio-political context and challenges in the Strip. Before leaving the enclave they visited a conflict-affected area in eastern Gaza in order to see the devastation and deprivation with their own eyes.
• Over the past year UNRWA has engaged in an intensive effort to improve the quality, fairness and rapidity of the process which serves to determine eligibility for food assistance and other poverty targeted services. This revision process is nearly completed and the improved mechanism, the Poverty Assessment System (PAS), is schedule for rollout. To celebrate the completion of training of UNRWA staff, for example on the tablet-based data collection and data entry to improve rapidity and accuracy of data management, and to express appreciation to all colleagues engaged in improving the poverty assessment, UNRWA held a ceremony in its Gaza Field Office on 14 May. Building on the experience accumulated over five years of implementation of the Poverty Survey, the PAS will ensure that UNRWA food assistance continues to be provided to those who need it most, that is to all those living below the abject and absolute poverty lines. In response to the deteriorating situation in the Gaza Strip, the number of individuals receiving UNRWA food assistance increased rapidly from some 72,000 Palestine refugees in 2000 to almost 868,000 Palestine refugees today, as UNRWA responds to the increase in needs. Based on the PAS, by the end of 2015, it is estimated that some 1 million Palestine refugees may be in need of food assistance. Over 20,000 families who applied for UNRWA food assistance prior to last summer’s escalation of hostilities will be prioritized in the assessment process.
• 19 May was the last school day for UNRWA students prior to the start of the annual exams marking the end of a school year that started two weeks late due to the 2014 summer conflict. The last school year has been a tough one for students and teachers; overcrowded classrooms and the memories of the unparalleled devastation caused by the July/August 2014 hostilities have affected both students and their teachers. However, despite the difficulties, the Agency is trying to ensure top quality education. The effectiveness of the UNRWA education programme and its reform is monitored through the Common Monitoring Framework which includes 56 education indicators. The education programme in Gaza has made significant progress in results and the inclusion of children with special needs. The percentage of all children enrolled in UNRWA schools identified as having a disability rose from 3.2% in 2011-12 to 3.68% in 2013-14, compared to a target of 2.30% for 2013-14. Dropout at the preparatory level for both males and females has decreased by more than 1 per cent since 2011 for both, male and female. However, dropout increased at the elementary level by around 1.25 per cent for males and 0.68 per cent for females between 2011 and 2014. A strong improvement was noticed between 2009 and 2013 for Grade 4 Arabic and Grade 8 Arabic and Maths. Yet despite this success equity remains a concern, since in many schools often more than 50 per cent of the students in one grade are unable to reach the ‘Achieved’ or ‘Advanced ‘ levels, meaning they are unable to progress to the next grade without support. Girls are regularly outperforming boys. The education reform also includes the School-Based Teacher Development (SBTD) training as well as training in human rights, conflict resolution, tolerance, as well as inclusive education.
• In order to be fully operational and deliver assistance to over 5 million Palestine refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, UNRWA relies on more than 30,000 staff members – most of them Palestine refugees themselves. In 2015, the Agency requires US$ 860 million to fund its core programmes – excluding the emergency appeals or funds needed to reconstruct the Gaza Strip. Donors have committed funding that will keep UNRWA services operational until the end of September 2015 only. Austerity measures, put in place already in 2012, will thus be enhanced in light of the unprecedented financial situation and include a recruitment freeze for staff funded out of the General Fund, such as teachers, doctors and social workers. The staff recruitment freeze is particularly difficult for UNRWA in Gaza in an environment of record high unemployment coupled with the number of well qualified job seekers. In Gaza, teacher recruitment is currently ongoing. UNRWA received more than 27,000 applicants for an advertised recruitment of approximately 200 teachers for the coming school year, 2015-2016, which anticipates some 8,000 new school children. Over 22,200 applicants met the criteria and were invited to the written test which was held in the beginning of May. As part of the enhanced austerity measures, the planning number for class ceiling in UNRWA schools will be increased to 50 across all fields of UNRWA operations. A review is underway to determine what impact the new measures may have on average class size and the teacher recruitment necessary to accommodate the increased student population.
UPDATE ON THE UNRWA SHELTER PROGRAMME
• As of 18 May 2015, UNRWA engineers have confirmed 137,661 Palestine refugee houses as impacted during the summer hostilities. To date, 9,161 Palestine refugee houses have been considered totally demolished and 4,939 have suffered severe, 3,701 major and 119,860 sustained minor damages.
• 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. Almost nine months after the announcement of a ceasefire, not a single totally destroyed home has been rebuilt in Gaza. To date, the Agency has only received funding to rebuild 200 of the 9,161 Palestine refugee homes which are assessed as totally destroyed. The families have been identified and building permits and approved designs are being prepared. Since the start of the 2014 emergency shelter response, UNRWA has distributed a total of US$ 96.86 million (excluding Programme Support Costs) to Palestine refugee families. 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.
• UNRWA also provides rental subsidies to families with uninhabitable homes and over 11,500 refugee families have received the first instalment for the period from September to December 2014. However, during the reporting week no new assistance was disbursed through UNRWA. Due to the ongoing lack of funding, 350 families still have not received the rental subsidy for the period from September to December 2014; 9,500 refugee families are waiting for the first quarter of 2015 payment; 4,618 families have not received their US$ 500 reintegration grant to help replace lost household goods and 41,005 families have not yet received the first tranche for repair works of their shelter and 6,180 families are waiting for the second tranche to continue repair works of their shelter. UNRWA has processed all these cases and they have received approval through the GRM; as soon as funding is secured the Agency will be able to distribute the urgently needed financial support.
• UNRWA still provides shelter to approximately 3,350 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in 8 Agency-run Collective Centres (CC). The Agency tries to ensure that all eligible refugee families who still reside in a CC will receive the assistance they deserve before the start of Ramadan in order for them to have a dignified home in which to celebrate the holy month.
Operational environment: Desperation, deprivation and devastation still dominate the Gaza Strip. Whatever hope for change had been left among Gaza residents is dwindling fast; the reconstruction process, as well as the pace of political progress, is too slow. Changes in the eight-year long blockade regime remain completely inadequate. Improvements in the political or economic spheres in the coming months are unlikely unless there is a real change in the behaviour of the relevant and responsible political actors on both sides. The situation in Gaza – the suffering of the people - is not an unchangeable humanitarian tragedy, but the concrete result of inapt political decisions. “If political actors do not show willingness for a comprehensive peace agreement, despair and poverty in Gaza could soon lead to a renewed conflict in Gaza”, warns the former US president Jimmy Carter in an article in the Foreign Policy magazine.
On 14 May the 34th Israeli government was sworn in after the Knesset had approved the new cabinet of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in vote of 61:59, as the Israeli Haaretz newspaper reported. The new government is dominated by conservative, right-wing and nationalist parties such as Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s Likud, the centre-right Kulanu, the far-right Jewish Home and two ultra-orthodox parties, media reported. Defence Minister Moshe Yalon (Likud) will retain his position and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will keep the communication and foreign affairs ministries. Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs is Tzipi Hotovely of Likud. Silvan Shalom also from Likud will become Minister of Interior.
Over 7,000 explosive remnants of war are left in Gaza since the last conflict and they keep causing injuries and damage. On 13 May an Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) injured two persons in the Gaza area. One day later a UXO detonated in northern Gaza while an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team was trying to defuse it. 74 persons were injured in the explosion and severe damage to Palestinian properties in the area was reported.
On 14 May an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) was detonated in Deir El Balah in the Gaza Middle Area near the house of a former officer of the Palestinian Authority; the house suffered damages. On 17 May another IED exploded in Nuseirat Camp also in the Gaza Middle Area; no damage was reported.
On 15 May an UNRWA staff member in the UNRWA Collective Centre in Khan Younis in southern Gaza was physically assaulted by internally displaced persons (IDPs) residing in the shelter as a consequence of a dispute between two IDP families. During the reporting week, several other incidents of intercommunal violence were reported.
Regular protests continued during the reporting week, with different factions and groups mostly gathering to commemorate the 67th anniversary of Al Nakba; on 15 May the Intifada Youth Coalition held such as demonstration in the east of Gaza city near the security fence. Israeli troops opened fire and tear gas canisters towards the protestors. Three injuries were reported.
“EVERYONE ASSUMED THIS WOULD JUST BE FOR A MATTER OF DAYS” – A MEMORY OF THE NAKBA
Khalil Hassan Sorour, a father of ten living in Jabalia, northern Gaza, was six years old when his place of origin, Al Majdal Asqalan [today Ashkelon in Israel], was bombed by Israeli airplanes in 1948 at the beginning of the ‘Nakba’*. “My father was taking me to register in the school when we suddenly heard the sound of the explosions,” the 73-year old man recalled.
“People were scared and everyone left their house and ran, but everyone also assumed this would just be for a matter of days and then they would be able to go back,” he explained. “People then were very simple and naïve; all they cared about was their family life and farming. They knew nothing about politics. For them, the war came very quickly and as a complete surprise,” he summarized.
Khalil Sorour had fled with his family to Jabalia in today’s northern Gaza were another refugee family hosted them for a few weeks until their journey would continue. “We moved from one place to another; I remember in 1952 we were still living in tents close to the beach. The big waves repeatedly flooded all the tents, it was scary, but there was no space since all the mosques and schools were already overloaded with refugees,” he said.
Khalil’s father never overcame the loss of his homeland and refused to buy a new house and settle down in Gaza. “We all felt like strangers in Gaza. This was not our homeland. We were forced to leave, we were uprooted,” Khalil said, and he added: “I have the urge to recall these memories of our displacement all the time to keep the fire in my heart alive. Otherwise, our history is lost.”
In 1949 UNRWA was founded to provide relief to 700,000 newly-displaced Palestine refugees, most of whom thought they would return to their homes and homeland soon. The UNRWA mandate was set to expire in one year. 65 years later the Agency has provided assistance to four generations of Palestine refugees whose rights are still denied. The absence of a just solution for Palestine refugees is a source of international shame. In the Gaza Strip, repeated armed conflicts, political unwillingness and deadlock and the tight economic blockade now in its eight year together with a continuous lack of funding render the Agency’s mandate increasingly difficult.
*’Nakba’ is the Arabic word for ‘catastrophe’ and refers to the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 and the accompanied displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homeland.
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 15 May one Palestinian was injured by Israeli troops while approaching the security fence in the Khuza’a area in the Gaza Middle Area. On 17 and 19 May the Egyptian navy fired at Palestinian boats forcing them towards north.
On 17 May militants fired one test rocket towards the sea and on 18 May they fired two test rockets towards the sea.
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.
The Rafah Crossing remained closed from 12 to 19 May. The crossing was last opened for two days on 9 and 10 March after a continuous closure of 45 days.
The Erez crossing was open for National ID holders (humanitarian cases, medical cases, merchants and UN staff) and for international staff from 12 to 14 May and from 17 to 19 May. On 15 May, Erez crossing was open for pedestrians only. It was closed on 2 May.
Kerem Shalom was open between 12 to 14 May and 17 to 19 May. It was closed on 15 and 16 May.