13 April 2017
• The Gaza Field Operations Support Office team has started rolling out a protection training for frontline staff. The first session targeted Field Relief and Social Services and Field Community Mental Health staff who are directly dealing with protection concerns as case managers. The training included an overview of the concept of protection and its origins, the specific meaning of protection for UNRWA and components of UNRWA protection work, an overview of the Gaza Field Office referral system, and key elements of the protection Standard Operating Procedures. Field Education and Health Programme colleagues who are not directly dealing with protection cases will receive a shortened version of the training, aiming to enhance a better general understanding of protection amongst UNRWA personnel in Gaza.
• During March, UNRWA completed one maintenance project at the Rehabilitation Centre for the Visually Impaired (RCVI) which serves 130 visually impaired children. As of end of March, 30 infrastructure projects worth US$ 64.23 million are under implementation while 16 projects worth US $22 million are awaiting implementation. However, project approval does not imply approval of the materials required to complete the project. For more detailed information on UNRWA’s construction activities please consult the attached March UNRWA Construction Update.
• The UNRWA Field Education Programme held an event on 6 April to celebrate the conclusion of the “promising talent” competition. The ceremony at Al Mashtal Hotel in Gaza city, was attended by UNRWA senior field education staff, parents and partner organizations, as well as Palestine refugee students. Seventy children in ten winning teams shared presentations such as dabka dance, poetry, drawing, and playing musical instruments. At the end of ceremony, honouring certificates and trophies were distributed to the winners and representatives of partner organizations for their efforts in making this competition a success. With the aim of discovering and sharing hidden talents of UNRWA students and supporting them, 600 Palestine refugee children from 60 UNRWA schools participated in the contest. The field Education Programme held this competition for the first time in the Gaza Strip, as a step towards embedding Inclusive Education approaches that target talented students and show that no student is left behind. This is also in line with the Agency-wide UNRWA Education Reform Plan adopted by the Field Education Programme more than five years ago, stressing the importance of fostering innovation and creativity.
• On 8 April, to launch the “Gaza Singing” Project, the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music conducted a musical evening at the Palestinian Red Crescent hall in Gaza city. The event included four musical shows with approximately 180 musicians and singers who were selected from UNRWA schools and trained by Edward Said National Conservatory of Music. The musical evening provided the opportunity for training participants to practice their skills. The event was attended by the Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza, Mr. Bo Schack, the Head of Field Relief and Social Services Programme, Mr. Asem Abu-Shawish, the Head of Field Education Programme, Mr. Farid Abu-Athra, the Special Advisor to the Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza, Dr. Yousef Mousa as well as area education officers, parents and community members. The “Gaza Singing” project aims to establish ten choirs in UNRWA schools. Simultaneously, a similar event took place in Birzeit University, a non-governmental public university located in Birzeit, Palestine, near Ramallah.
• The salary crisis in the public sector in Gaza was widely reported in the media this week, following an announcement of reductions in paying certain allowances in Gaza Palestinian Authority (PA) salaries leading to reduction in salaries by 30 to 40 per cent. This includes the salaries of teachers in PA schools. No reductions for PA employees in the West Bank have been announced. At the same time, it is understood that employees of the de-facto government in Gaza have not received full salaries since October 2014. Given the fragile and dire socio-economic conditions in Gaza – including extreme poverty, food insecurity and high unemployment – a delay or loss of salary has a profound impact on the lives of families. Sources report that many PA employees already have loans from local banks, and this reduction in salary will make it even more difficult for them to meet their daily needs and feed their families. The news has added tension to the already fragile coastal enclave. On 8 April, United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Mr. Nickolay Mladenov, expressed deep concern by the growing tensions in Gaza. “Over the past decade, Palestinians in Gaza have lived through four conflicts, with no freedom, unprecedented Israeli restrictions, a dire humanitarian crisis, high unemployment, an ongoing electricity crisis and the lack of political perspective. While the Palestinian Government needs to ensure its fiscal sustainability under increasingly difficult economic conditions, it is important that reforms or decisions to reduce expenditures are fairly distributed and made with consideration to the harsh conditions under which people in Gaza live.” In his statement, the Special Coordinator urged all responsible parties to work together to find a solution to the current crisis, saying that “leaders have a responsibility to avoid escalation and bridge the growing divide between Gaza and the West Bank that further fragments the Palestinian people.”
• In a landmark report presented on 7 April, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. António Guterres, urges all member states to actively support and make the funding of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) "sustainable, predictable and sufficient". The central message of the Secretary-General's report is that a combination of initiatives is required to stabilize UNRWA's financial situation and that this must be "vigorously pursued" by all UN member states. These should include strengthened and predictable voluntary funding from a broader base of donors; setting up and accessing the instruments of international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the Islamic Development Bank, as well as continued and possibly increased contributions from the UN's regular budget. In committing his leadership to concrete and prompt action, the Secretary-General notes that he will work with UN members “to ensure that Palestine refugees are not left behind in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Agenda 2030." UNRWA's Commissioner-General, Mr. Pierre Krähenbühl, welcomed the unprecedented nature of the initiative, underlining that “while nothing is more important today than a just and durable political solution to the plight of Palestine refugees, it is imperative in the meantime that UNRWA be in position to live up to its mandate and ensure the provision of its key services.”
Movement restrictions imposed by the de-facto authorities from and to Gaza through the 4/4 checkpoint on the Gaza side of Erez crossing eased during the reporting week from 6 April. There is no indication of how the backlog of medical cases will be processed (please see crossings section for open and closed details).
On 8, 10 and 11 April, Israeli patrol boats fired towards Palestinian boats off the coast of the Gaza Strip, forcing them ashore. No injuries were reported. Israeli bulldozers and tanks entered approximately 100 metres from the perimeter fence into Gaza on 5 and 6 April to conduct a clearing and excavation operation. They withdrew on the same days.
Civilians, mostly youth, staged protests near the perimeter fence in different areas of Gaza to express their eagerness to defend Al Aqsa Mosque and in solidarity with Palestinians in the West Bank and Palestinians in Israeli prisons. When some of them approached the fence and threw stones towards Israeli observation posts, Israeli forces responded with gunfire and teargas. No injuries were reported.
Several protests were held regarding the allowances reduction causing 30-40 per cent cut to Palestinian Authority employee salaries in Gaza (see highlights section for details). Other protests that took place included condemning the bombing of two churches in Egypt, those in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, demands for UNRWA fixed term jobs, and against the blockade. A sit-in was also held to mark International Health Day.
Road checkpoints continued on 4 April in Gaza. Some UN vehicles were stopped for searching, but any attempts to search were refused.
Latifa is a mother of nine children; her husband doesn’t work and she is participating in the training because she is hoping it will help generate income to support herself and her family.
“We don’t have an income source; my family and I currently depend on the UNRWA food parcel to meet our needs,” said Latifa. “I came here to learn about food processing hoping it will provide me with enough skills to generate income for my family.”
The UNRWA training aims to empower and integrate vulnerable women in the local community to develop food processing and marketing skills, as well as teaching about rights in the workplace. The training also supports in leading to job opportunities for women to help them increase revenue and improve livelihoods at the individual household level.
One of the additional benefits of the initiative is the social networking it provides. “Before participating in the training I was rarely going outside the home; now in addition to gaining new skills, I have built new friendships,” said Latifa. “I am very interested in the marketing topics because I believe that even if we produce the most high quality product, if we can’t market it, then we can’t sell it.”
The training runs for two months, three days per week, providing approximately 120 training hours. The initiative includes other activities such as providing space to display products, supporting participants in establishing productions groups and assisting in linking them in the local community to market their products.
Latifa says she has plans beyond herself and her own learnings. “I transfer the skills I have learnt in the training to my daughters, so when I finish I will try to get a micro loan and start my small business with my daughters to support my family.”
The UNRWA Relief and Social Services Programme (RSSP) aims to empower Palestine refugees, focusing on the most vulnerable groups, by meeting their social and economic needs through community social interventions. RSSP activities range from the distribution of food baskets and the regular assessment of refugees’ poverty status and eligibility for services through social workers, to a variety of skills training and capacity building mainly for women, children and youth. In total, UNRWA maintains seven Women Programme Centres in refugee camps across the Gaza Strip. WPCs aim to empower women socially and economy and enhance women’s participation in the community through offer legal advice, skills-based trainings, for example in computer literacy, hair dressing, or traditional handicrafts and embroidery. The centres also try to assist illiterate women in entering the formal education system by providing education and literacy classes.
UNRWA is confronted with an increased demand for services resulting from a growth in the number of registered Palestine refugees, the extent of their vulnerability and their deepening poverty. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions and financial support has been outpaced by the growth in needs. UNRWA encourages all Member States to work collectively to exert all possible efforts to fully fund the Agency’s Programme Budget in 2017. UNRWA emergency programmes and key projects, also operating with large shortfalls, are funded through separate funding portals.
Following the 2014 conflict, US$ 257 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$ 463 million. UNRWA urgently appeals to donors to generously contribute to its emergency shelter programme to provide displaced Palestine refugees in Gaza with rental subsidies or cash assistance to undertake repair works and reconstruction of their damaged homes.
As presented in UNRWA’s occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) Emergency Appeal for 2017, the Agency is seeking US$ 402 million to meet the minimum humanitarian needs of Palestine refugees in the oPt.
The Gaza portion of the Emergency Appeal amounts to US$ 355 million for 2017, to address protracted, large-scale humanitarian needs. Read more in the 2017 oPt Emergency Appeal.
Longstanding restrictions on the movement of people and goods to and from Gaza have undermined the living conditions of 1.9 million Palestinians in Gaza. Israel prevents all access to and from the Gaza Strip by sea and air. Movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza is restricted to three crossings: Rafah crossing, Erez crossing and Kerem Shalom crossing. Rafah crossing is controlled by the Egyptian authorities and technically allows for the movement of a number of authorized travellers, Palestinian medical and humanitarian cases only. Erez crossing is controlled by Israeli authorities and technically allows for the movement of aid workers and limited numbers of authorized travellers, including Palestinian medical and humanitarian cases. Kerem Shalom crossing, also controlled by Israeli authorities, technically allows for the movement of authorized goods only.
• Rafah crossing was closed during the reporting week.
• Erez crossing is usually open six days a week. This week it was open for National ID holders (humanitarian cases, medical cases, merchants and UN staff) and international staff to cross into Gaza from 4-7 April and 9 April. The Arba Arba checkpoint (controlled by the de facto authorities) allowed only medical cases and special coordination cases to enter and exit Gaza between 4 and 5 April. The crossing was closed on 8 April. It was open only for ambulances and Christians on 10 April, due to Israeli holidays. It was open for emergency cases only on 11 April.
• Kerem Shalom crossing is the only official crossing open for the transfer of goods into and out of the Strip and is usually open five days a week. It was open on 4-6 April. The crossing was closed 7-8 April, and also on 10-11 April for Israeli holidays.