• On 22 September 2015, the Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza, Mr. Bo Schack, addressed the European Parliament Sub-Committee on Human Rights through a video conference call to brief them on the situation in Gaza. During the call, Mr. Schack stressed the human consequences of the blockade and its effect on daily life in Gaza, including the lack of electricity, the deterioration of water supply and unemployment rates that remain amongst the highest in the world, according to the World Bank. The Director noted that the lack of perspective in Gaza presents a real risk for radicalization, making UNRWA’s services ever more important. He also stressed that Palestine refugees are constantly looking for opportunities to take care of themselves rather than an increasing dependence on humanitarian assistance. UNRWA remains dedicated to helping Palestine refugees achieve their full potential in human development, pending a just solution to their plight. The EU and UNRWA have maintained a strategic partnership since 1971, governed by the mutual objective to promote stability in the Near East.
• During the past two reporting weeks, UNRWA has finalised the Emergency Appeal (EA) food distribution cycle of quarter 3 of 2015 for abject (living below US$ 1.74 per day) and absolute poor Palestine refugees (living below US$ 3.87 per day). Food assistance has been provided to approximately 162,000 poor families in all areas of the Gaza Strip. In order to meet the Eid Al Adha holidays timeframe and provide poor Palestine refugees with fresh meat to celebrate the Muslim holidays, the Agency had slightly expedited this second distribution cycle. UNRWA currently supports almost 878,000 refugees through its regular food assistance, distributed four times per year in 12 UNRWA Distribution Centres across the Gaza Strip. On the occasion of Eid Al Adha (24-27 September) itself, UNRWA distributed 36,208 Kg of fresh meat (Adahi, 8kg of fresh meat per family) to a total of 4,400 poor refugee families.
• As part of its community consultation approach to the Deir El Balah Camp Improvement Pilot Project, between July and September 2015 the Deir El Balah project organized a series of 12 thematic workshops with community groups. The main urban needs of the camp had already previously been identified through the organisation of 28 Focus Group meetings with different socio-demographic community groups. The thematic workshops then identified urban priorities that were translated into more specific workshop themes such as road aspects, health centres, environmental infrastructure, or shelter and housing interventions. The groups were selected based on geographic diversity, gender, age or employment structures, and involved affected camp inhabitants, concerned stakeholders and experts. Following the thematic workshops, the project team will now progress the urban planning process and subsequently identify specific interventions based on the priorities identified by the community. Community consultation will be ongoing for the duration of the project.
• With ongoing occupation, armed conflict and displacement across the region and the blockade of Gaza, the protection and promotion of the rights of Palestine refugees has never been more important. As a core component of UNRWA’s mandate, protection is explained in detail in a recently released information brochure: Protecting Palestine Refugees. Throughout its operations in five fields, UNRWA promotes respect for the rights of Palestine refugees under international law through monitoring, reporting and international advocacy. In Gaza, UNRWA undertakes a number of protection activities including protection mainstreaming, as well as activities related to child protection and Gender-Based Violence (GBV) prevention and response. Protection concerns focusing primarily on violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation are for the first time included in the ongoing Gaza poverty assessment survey (PAS), which will reach more than 870,000 Palestine refugees during the course of the assessment process. Following the unprecedented internal displacement that occurred during the 2014 conflict in Gaza, UNRWA established a referral system for detecting and responding to protection cases in Collective Centres up until their closure in June 2015. Following this process, the referral system has served as a strong basis to further develop protection case responses within UNRWA Gaza. UNRWA has consistently advocated for accountability along with other senior United Nations officials, in particular, following the 2014 conflict.
• UNRWA continues to coordinate with the Israeli Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories Unit (COGAT) regarding permits for its staff members to travel to Jerusalem to attend prayers in the Al Aqsa Mosque. While the Agency had organised eight visits for a total of 830 female staff members above 50 years old to visit the holy site in June and July 2015, from August to September UNRWA facilitated a total of seven day trips for a total of 600 male staff members, whilst 141 permits were denied by Israeli authorities; 140 staff members who met the criteria were unable to travel due to personal reasons. For October 2015, UNRWA is trying to facilitate day trips to Jerusalem for male staff aged 50-55. The Erez crossing between Gaza and Israel gives access only to permit holders (including medical and other humanitarian cases), merchants or aid workers and permits are issued solely by Israeli authorities. According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the occupied Palestinian territory, which monitors the movement in and out of Gaza, the number of Palestinians who have exited the coastal enclave has been increasing in 2015, from a total of 71,847 in 2014 to 125,713 in 2015 so far – which is still less than 7 per cent of the overall population. The vast majority of them are tradesmen, followed by patients and persons who wish to attend prayers in the Al Aqsa Mosque.
• Shelter update
• To date, UNRWA engineers have confirmed 140,190 Palestine refugee houses as impacted during the 2014 conflict; 9,117 of them are considered totally demolished. 5,252 shelters have suffered severe, 3,700 major and 122,121 minor, damages.
• Since the start of the 2014 emergency shelter response, the Agency has distributed over US$ 128.9 million (excluding Programme Support Costs) to Palestine refugee families whose homes were damaged or demolished during the 2014 summer conflict. As of 29 September 2015, UNRWA has completed the payments to over 66,300 Palestine refugee families – more than half of the caseload – for minor repair works, to 547 families to repair their severely damaged shelters and to 7 families for major repair works. Payment transfers for over 11,800 refugee families to continue repair works of their shelters and for 135 families to continue the reconstruction of their shelters are ongoing.
• Over 12,500 families have received a rental subsidy payment to cover the period from September to December 2014. Disbursement of subsequent installments entailed further eligibility checks through which over 9,900 families have received the relevant rental subsidy payments during the period from January to September 2015.
• Due to lack of sufficient funding, to date, over 47,000 refugee families have not received the first tranche for repair works of their shelter. UNRWA has processed these cases and they have received approval through the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism; as soon as funding is secured, the Agency can distribute the urgently needed assistance to these families. Also, due to lack of funding thousands of refugee families were not yet able to start the reconstruction of their totally demolished home.
• UNRWA TV is moving frequencies. From 1 October 2015 it will move to Vertical 11315 on Nilesat. To change the frequency, the receiver has to be rescanned to tune into the new UNRWA TV frequency. The process is explained in detail in this YouTube video. UNRWA TV offers a blend of self-learning material and humanitarian information relevant for Palestine refugees in the region. The UNRWA Commissioner-General recently appeared on UNRWA TV to discuss the opening of UNRWA schools and the Agency’s financial situation. UNRWA TV also broadcasts ‘the neighbourhood’ a drama series for children, a kitchen show based on UNRWA’s food parcel, campaigns, awareness messages, music clips, information from UNRWA and partners and much more. On 10 October 2015 UNRWA will launch a new style educational season featuring drama clips, mini documentaries and animations. UNRWA has been on air since 2012 and broadcasts 17 hours every day, from 07:00-24:00.
• To improve the future financial stability of UNRWA, the Governments of Jordan and Sweden organized a ministerial-level meeting on the margins of the 70th session of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly on 26 September in New York. The meeting was aimed at reinforcing high-level support for UNRWA and responding to key questions regarding how UNRWA - pending a lasting political solution to the plight of Palestine refugees - can be put on a sustainable pathway to allow it to operate outside the realm of perpetual financial crisis. In the Chair’s summary of the meeting the participating ministers reiterated the imperative to sustain UNRWA’s work to promote the human development, protection and emergency needs of Palestinian refugees and to ensure that hard won developmental gains are not undermined. UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl had also addressed the meeting; in his speech, he summarized UNRWA’s important role, and the fact that hope and patience among Palestine refugees is running out. During the ministerial meeting various topics were discussed, such as UNRWA’s austerity measures and potential additional measures, greater donor flexibility, support to diversify UNRWA’s donor base and the role of host countries in achieving greater stability.
• To end hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture, is the second of 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) adopted and promoted at the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals Summit (SDG), held from 25 to 27 September 2015 in New York. The SDGs are an inter-governmentally agreed set of international development targets. They will follow on from the time-bound Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) when those expire at the end of 2015. SDGs include ensuring healthy lives, equitable quality education, building resilient infrastructure and ending poverty – all areas in which UNRWA maintains operations. The Agency’s ongoing efforts to support Palestine refugees have also been highlighted through the UN Elyx campaign. The stick figure Elyx is the UN’s digital ambassador who is currently on a 70-day virtual trip around the world to celebrate the United Nations’ 70th anniversary and for this reason also stopped at UNRWA in Gaza to highlight the Agency’s education and camp improvement projects.
Operational environment: Due to failing Israeli and Egyptian electricity lines and lack of funds of the local authorities in Gaza, the electricity crisis in the enclave has worsened over the past weeks, affecting all aspects of life in the coastal enclave, as per media reports. Anger and fear ensued after Egypt’s alleged decision to flood tunnels leading from Gaza to the Egyptian Sinai;experts and media warn that the flooding could have serious negative implications for the environment and livelihood opportunities in the area, as the seawater could increase the salinity of the groundwater and the soil, destroying crops and increasing the risk of erosion and the collapse of buildings.
Israel has for the first time in 15 years allowed Palestinians to access farmland along the Gaza border with Israel, as a spokesperson from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) told media. As a result of ICRC negotiation efforts, 500 Palestinian farmers were given access to their fields, which amounts to 863 to 988 acres of land, as media state. According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 17 percent of the total land mass of the Gaza Strip and 35 percent of its agricultural land are restricted by Israel.
Media report that for the first time since 2007, Israel will allow the export of ironware, furniture and textiles from Gaza to Israel, as the Israeli Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) announced. The new rule will enter into effect on 7 October. As the import restrictions by Israel of dual-use items such as wood thicker than one centimetre has a strong negative impact on the production possibilities of Gaza factories, which in turn affects their export prospects, the Israeli non-government organization Gisha which advocates for greater freedom of movement for Palestinians expressed criticism.
Several incidents of inter-communal violence were reported during the past two weeks. On 16 September, a family dispute in Jabalia, northern Gaza resulted in the firing of gunshots; one person was injured. On 27 September, a family dispute in Beach Camp, in Gaza City, resulted in five injuries due to the use of edged weapons. On 23 August, another family dispute in Khan Younis resulted in one injury due to edged weapons. On 18 September, a 17-year old Palestinian was injured after he mishandled an unexploded ordinance (UXO) in Gaza City. On 26 September, a 23-year old Palestinian was injured in Gaza city due to an explosion after he mishandled a rocket. On 28 September, a Hamas militant was killed in a tunnel collapse in Gaza City.
Over the past two weeks, various protests were held against the electricity cuts, in support of the Al Aqsa Mosque or for the release of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. In addition, Palestine refugees from Syria, Libya or Yemen held protests in front of the Cabinet Ministers’ office, demanding jobs.
AYESHA: A WOMAN FROM GAZA FINDS RELIEF WITH FOOD ASSISTANCE FROM UNRWA
“My misery started when my husband was ill and the social assistance we used to have was suspended,” Ayesha said.
“I remember that time with detail, it was so difficult, life was dark, and all doors seemed closed. My children were so young, my husband sick; I didn’t know where to go,” Ayesha said.
Then she went to the UNRWA area office to apply for food assistance. “Neighbours told me to go to the UNRWA office, they can help me there, it was the only open door I found,” she commented.
According to Ayesha, the food assistance contains food she needs to provide meals for her family. Ayesha cooks every day for her eight children and her husband using the food assistance which UNRWA provides her with.
“It is one of the most essential things in my life, I don’t need to think of food, I have enough, then I can concentrate on my disabled child and sick husband, I will never forget that even during the last hostilities, we could receive the food assistance… it makes me feel like we are not forgotten,” she said.
SUMMARY OF MAJOR INCIDENTS
Israeli troops fired towards Palestinians near the security fence or Palestinian boats on a daily basis. On 19 and 22 September Israeli troops also fired shells towards Palestinian areas in Beit Lahya, northern Gaza.
On 16 September, militants fired one rocket towards Israel; the rocket dropped short and landed inside Palestinian areas. On 17 September, militants fired three test rockets towards the sea. On 18 September, militants fired two rockets towards Israel; one rocket exploded in Sderot causing damage to a building and a nearby bus. The other one was intercepted by the Iron Dome system. On 19 September, Israeli aircraft fired three missiles, two were allegedly targeting the vicinity of the Agricultural College in northern Gaza, and one was allegedly targeting the Abu Jarad Hamas training site in Gaza city. Fire broke out in the area. On the same day militants fired two rockets towards Israel; the rockets dropped short and landed inside Gaza.
On 21 September, militants fired one rocket towards Israel; the rocket exploded in an open area in Hof Ashkelon Regional Council.
The rockets launched from Gaza towards Israel were condemned as “indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas” by the United Nations Secretary General Ban-ki Moon on 20 September.
On 21 September, seven Israeli bulldozers entered approximately 100 metres into northern Gaza and Israeli troops conducted a clearing and excavation operation. On the same day two tanks and five bulldozers also entered approximately 200 metres into the Gaza Middle Area to conduct a clearing and excavation operation.
On 19 September, an Israeli Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) crashed in northern Gaza and was seized by the Hamas movement.
No injuries were reported in any of the incidents.
Thanks to generous donors, UNRWA has overcome its immediate and most serious financial crisis and
was able to partially bridge the US$ 101 million deficit in its General Fund; to date, a shortfall of US$ 13.5 million remains.
In response to the unprecedented needs faced by Palestine refugees, and the continuous financial shortages and unstable financial footing of the Agency, UNRWA is currently exploring options for additional funding, but is also implementing a series of austerity measures aimed at decreasing costs where possible while preserving essential services to refugees.
US$ 227 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$ 493 million.
As presented in UNRWA’s oPt Emergency Appeal, the Agency is seeking US$ 366.6 million for its 2015 emergency operations in Gaza, including US$ 127 million for emergency shelter, repair and collective centre management, US$ 105.6 million for emergency food assistance, and US$ 68.6 million for emergency cash-for-work. Read more in the 2015 oPt Emergency Appeal.
• The Rafah Crossing was closed from 15 to 16 and from 18 to 29 September. It was open on 17 September for returning pilgrims in one direction.
• The Erez crossing was open for National ID holders (humanitarian cases, medical cases, merchants and UN staff) and for international staff from 15 to 18 September, 20 to 22 September and on 24, 25, 27 and 29 September. It was closed on 19 and 26 September. It was also closed on 23 and 28 September due to Israeli holidays.
• Kerem Shalom was open from 16 to 18, 20 to 21 and on 24 and 29 September. It was closed on 19 and 26 September. It was also closed on 15, 22, 23 and 28 September due to Jewish holidays.