14 May 2015
5-12 May Issue No. 92
• A large German delegation, led by the Parliamentary State Secretary of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), Mr. Thomas Silberhorn, visited Gaza on 12 May and announced a new EUR 37 million (US$ 41 million) contribution to the UNRWA shelter assistance programme in Gaza. The delegation was briefed by the Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza, Mr. Robert Turner, on the political, social and economic situation in Gaza. They also visited the heavily damaged neighbourhood of Shujjaiya in eastern Gaza City, where they observed a house that is currently being repaired with funds provided by BMZ through KfW Development Bank. During their one day mission, the delegation visited the UNRWA Zeitoun Elementary Boys School which was constructed with BMZ funds and is currently functioning as a Collective Centre. With a total contribution of EUR 80 million (US$ 93 million) to UNRWA programmes in Gaza to date, Germany is the second largest supporter of the UNRWA response to the humanitarian crisis resulting from the 2014 conflict that caused unparalleled devastation in the Gaza Strip. This same devastation has once more been highlighted in the news this week, due to the release of a report entitled ‘This is how we fought in Gaza’ by the Israeli group ‘Breaking the Silence’. The report is a collection of more than 60 Israeli soldiers’ testimonies from the 2014 conflict.
• The UNRWA Gaza Field Office is currently finalizing its strategic objectives for 2016-2021. The situation today sadly mirrors the situation at the outset of 2010; then and now Gaza was recovering from tragic conflict. Yet the destruction of the 2014 hostilities has gone far beyond that of 2010, with even greater devastation of human and physical capital. The widespread damage, coupled with the worsening socioeconomic situation of Gaza residents in the context of an on-going blockade, presents an almost impossibly challenging environment for Palestinian refugee in Gaza. A key component for UNRWA Gaza for 2016-2021 is an enhanced focus on poverty alleviation. As a result of the lack of economic access to food due to high unemployment and depressed purchasing power, the majority of the population in Gaza has been pushed into food insecurity. The Agency currently provides food assistance to over 868,000 of the 1.3 million registered refugees in Gaza. UNRWA's poverty assessment shows that more than 65 per cent of the refugee population lives in either abject or absolute poverty (that is, with less than US$ 3.63 per person per day). Widespread poverty in Gaza has many devastating consequences, for example the increase in poor health – particularly for children. The refugee infant mortality rate stands currently at 21.7 per cent per 1,000 births, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.
• In order to enhance the professional skills and employment opportunities of young Palestine refugees, UNRWA continues to provide various vocational training courses to young men and women in Gaza. The courses offered are of both a technical and creative nature and include plumbing, painting, plastering, nursing and counselling. UNRWA currently offers places for a total of 1,745 trainees through its two vocational training centres in Gaza city and in Khan Younis, southern Gaza. Approximately 80 per cent of all participants are from the Strips’ most vulnerable groups, including women and youth. The training centre in Gaza city, for example, offers professional development opportunities for “over-aged” female students (those who have previously failed two or more years in school), in food processing technology, photography and hairdressing. In general, according to the programme statistics, more than 66 per cent of participants in technical courses are female. Whilst providing training and education opportunities for young people contributes to the high skill level of Palestine refugees in Gaza, their employment prospects remain challenging due to the Israeli imposed blockade, which restricts the movement of people and goods. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, the average youth refugee female unemployment rate in 2014 stood at 83.3 percent and the overall youth refugee unemployment rate at 70.1 per cent.
• UNRWA issued a statement denying an allegation made by the head of the Israeli army during the summer conflict in Gaza that a weapon fired from an UNRWA school in Gaza killed an Israeli child in a kibbutz in southern Israel. This claim was first made in August 2014; however, two hours afterwards it was officially retracted by the Israeli army. “It is extremely disappointing that a former head of the Israeli Army should repeat an allegation publicly retracted by his own spokesperson,” reads the UNRWA statement from 5 May. “It is unfortunate and creates a hostile environment for humanitarian agencies”, the statement concludes.
Update on the UNRWA shelter programme:
• As of 11 May 2015, UNRWA engineers have confirmed 137,681 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, 3,721 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 repair of their damaged homes with assistance provided through UNRWA. More than eight 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. Yet due to the Agency’s lack of funding, 322 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 40,524 families have not yet received the first tranche for repair works of their shelter and 6,078 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 Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism; as soon as funding is secured the Agency will be able to distribute the urgently needed financial support. UNRWA still provides shelter to approximately 4,050 internally displaced persons in eight Agency-run Collective Centres.
• In addition to its shelter programme for Palestine refugees affected by the 2014 summer conflict, UNRWA continues to implement its ongoing pre-approved construction projects in Gaza. Amongst the most recently completed work during April 2015 was the reconstruction of two new schools - Beach Elementary Co-ed and Rimal Elementary Co-ed; the handover ceremonies will take place within the next two weeks. In the coming school year, 1,900 students will attend each of these schools, divided into two shifts, each comprised of 950 students. Rimal is located in one of the heavily populated urban areas of Gaza City The students who will start attending the newly finished school buildings have been attending classes in portable container-style temporary buildings located nearby to the schools. A broader update on UNRWA’s ongoing construction projects for April will be available soon.
• From 4 to 7 May UNRWA distributed over 6,480 ‘dream bags’ to high-achieving refugee students from grade 3 to 9 across the Gaza Strip. The hand-made ‘dream bags’ are a present from Japanese children to the refugee children of Gaza and contain gifts, toys, stationery and letters with messages of peace and support. The organization, packaging and delivery of the bags were made possible due to the generous efforts of the Japanese RKK (Rissho Kosei-kai) Foundation. The individual bags are a symbolic gesture that is designed to bring joy and hope to Gaza’s refugee children who suffer from repeated armed conflicts and widespread poverty. This was the second time that UNRWA disbursed ‘dream bags’ in Gaza this year; during February 2015 the Agency gave out over 8,400 bags to UNRWA students from grade 1 and 2.
Operational environment: The local political environment remains tense in Gaza. Reports of tension between Hamas-led security services and the Salafist jihadist movement in Gaza continue to mount, according to media reports. The slow reconstruction process adds to the growing frustration of the Gaza population.
The legacy of last summer’s conflict continues to be seen and injuries related to Unexploded Ordinances (UXOs) were again reported this week. On 6 May, two children were injured while playing with UXOs in Gaza City. Detonations of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) decreased during the week, however on 9 May one IED detonated in the Gaza City area; no injuries were reported.
During the reporting week, protests occurred on an almost daily basis with protestors demanding a speedier reconstruction process or emphasizing the upcoming Palestinian commemoration of Al Nabka on 15 May. On 12 May, civil servants hired by the ex de-facto government went on strike across all ministries and public institutions (except schools due to the final exams) to protest the National Consensus Government’s negligence of employee’s rights, according to media reports.
Refugee woman Dr. Ghada Al Jadba the recently appointed first female Chief of the UNRWA Health Department, never waited for someone else to draw her path; she drew it herself. “I am a very positive person; serious, well organized and active,” she said when describing her personality.
“Being appointed as Chief of the UNRWA Health Department is not a privilege for me; it is a responsibility,” says the hard-working Doctor who graduated from the University of Tripoli, Libya, in 1995. “As a child I loved doing art; but then I decided to study medicine. Studying the human body and mind is art for me.”
In each of its five fields of operation, UNRWA offers preventive and curative health services to sustain and promote the health of Palestine refugees, from conception through pregnancy, childhood, adolescence and adulthood and active ageing. These services include family planning, pre-conception care, antenatal care and postnatal follow-up, infant care (growth monitoring, medical check-ups and immunizations), school health, oral health, outpatient consultations, diagnostic or laboratory services and the management of chronic non-communicable diseases. UNRWA runs 21 primary Health Centres across the Gaza Strip. In 2014, the Agency recorded an average of 97 patient visits per doctor per day.
When asked how she feels about being the first female Health Chief, she smiles: “I don’t believe in any difference between male and female. I believe in being a team leader, in motivating my staff and in being persistent.”
Chief of Department is not the only hat that Dr. Ghada wears. She is also a mother, and working long hours at the office and thereafter at home is not always easy. “Working long hours does not hinder me from being an excellent mother. Important is not how much time you spend with your children, important is what you do with them and what you say to them when you are with them,” she explains.
Dr. Ghada started her career in the field of health research planning, but she quickly realised that she missed the closeness to the refugee population in Gaza. She then started to work at an UNRWA health clinic in Bureij camp in the middle of the Gaza Strip in 2003 to directly serve the most vulnerable.
Milestones in Dr. Ghada’s career include becoming a Senior Medical Officer, then an Area Health Officer and ultimately the Chief of the UNRWA Health Department in April 2015. Under her leadership as Area Health Officer, the Agency was able for the first time to create family health teams in Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza and an e-health information system at a clinic in Beach Camp in Gaza City.
When asked about her recipe for a successful career, Dr. Ghada has a three point plan: “Good communication skills, trust in your team and mostly: respect for others,” she said.
Yet Dr. Ghada knows that a successful career also comes with many challenges, especially in Gaza. She knows how difficult it is for a refugee woman trying to find a means to make a decent living under an eight-year blockade; having a long-term career in this environment is an exception and for many a far-away dream. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, the average unemployment rate for refugee women in 2014 was 57.3 per cent and the overall female unemployment rate 56.9 per cent. UNRWA tries to mitigate the effects of the economic blockade and promote female employment opportunities through various programmes such as the Young Leadership Programme of the Gender Initiative, Vocational Training Courses or the Job Creation Programme.
Despite these depressing numbers, Dr. Ghada says there is something that can help anyone looking to push through the challenges: passion.
“Believe in yourself and in your potential; you are the only one who can change your life, so don’t wait for someone to help you climb up the mountain. Look deep inside yourself, start at the bottom and go straight up to the top!” is Dr Ghada's message to young female refugees in Gaza.
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 8 May Israeli troops injured one person who was approaching the security fence in Beit Lahia, northern Gaza. At the same day Israeli forces shot and injured a fisherman, also in northern Gaza. The next day they reportedly injured another two fishermen and arrested them. On 9 May, it was reported that Israeli forces also shot and injured three Palestinian farmers in Jabalia, northern Gaza.
On 6 May, militants fired a test rocket towards the sea.
On 11 May, one Israeli tank and six bulldozers entered approximately 150 metres into the Gaza area and conducted a clearing operation. They withdrew on the same day.
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 5 to 12 May.
• The Erez crossing was open for National ID holders (humanitarian cases, medical cases, merchants and UN staff) and for international staff from 5 to 7 May and from 10 to 12 May. On 8 May, Erez crossing was open for pedestrians only. It was closed on 2 May.
• Kerem Shalom was open between 5 to 7 May and 10 to 12 May. It was closed on 8 and 9 May.