increased poverty in PalestineThe Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has been ongoing for more than 70 years, has placed strain on the economic stability of Palestinian citizens. In the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has further contributed to the economic challenges that people have faced in Palestine, leading to a widespread and worsening state of poverty. Increased poverty in Palestine calls for increased international aid and support.

Poverty in Palestine

A large portion of Palestine’s population lives below the poverty line and cannot afford food, clothing and shelter. In 2017, the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) found that one in every three Palestinians lived in poverty, equating to almost 30% of people. The Gaza Strip had the highest concentration of citizens living in poverty at a rate of 53%.

Inadequate work opportunities and low wages play a large role in poverty in Palestine. Research indicates that the job status of the head of the house greatly impacts the risk of poverty. The PCBS also found that 42.1% of households whose heads did not have a steady job lived in poverty compared to 25.8% of households with an employed head of the house.

This is especially alarming when one takes the unemployment rate into account as 43.1% of Gaza’s citizens were unemployed in the last quarter of 2020. The average monthly wage for those with a steady source of income in Gaza is a mere 682 ILS (about $207). Many people earn below the minimum wage, making it difficult for Palestinians to pull themselves out of poverty.

The Effect of COVID-19 on Poverty

The COVID-19 pandemic destroyed the little progress that Palestine made toward economic stability. While Palestinians were able to narrowly dodge the first wave of the pandemic, the next two waves destroyed economic gains. The World Bank predicted that “after growth of a mere 1% in 2019,” the Palestinian economy may contract by a minimum of 7.6% in 2020. In addition, due to decreased revenue, the financing gap could increase from $800 million in 2019 to more than $1.5 billion in 2020. Vaccines have become an issue as well.

Although the U.N. released a statement declaring that Israel is responsible for providing equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, Israel excluded Palestinians from the vaccination campaign until recently. Israel prioritized only Palestinians working in Israel, overlooking the millions of Palestinians living in or near Gaza, for whom Israel has allotted only 5,000 doses.

Without vaccines, Palestinians are unable to leave their homes for work and food, plunging them further into poverty. The international COVAX scheme, backed by the WHO, should cover up to 20% of vaccine requirements for Palestinians. Palestinians have also sourced “limited quantities of vaccines from elsewhere” but have a long way to go to achieve herd immunity.

Education in Palestine

Many Palestinian children no longer have access to safe schooling. A U.N. report detailing the violence keeping children out of school mentions “threats of demolition, clashes on the way to school between students and security forces, teachers stopped at checkpoints and violent actions of Israeli forces and settlers on some occasions.”

These conditions impacted more than 19,000 children in the 2018 school year, limiting their ability to safely obtain an education. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the struggles of securing an education, especially for the impoverished population of Palestine. The Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights reports that 34.83% of Palestinian students could not join virtual classes due to a lack of resources and internet connection.

Due to a lack of education and opportunities, Israeli officers have arrested many children trying to cross the Israeli border for a better life. As of April 2021, 71.4% of children who attempted to cross the border were school dropouts trying to escape increased poverty in Palestine.

Organizations Working to Reduce Poverty

Organizations like UNICEF are addressing the education crisis through initiatives such as the Life Skills and Citizenship Education Initiative, which began in 2015. The program focuses on enhancing life skills and improving citizenship education. UNICEF also conducts “entrepreneurship skills programs for adolescents to support their future employment.” The program includes internships and career counseling.

In 2020, the World Food Programme (WFP) spent $57 million of U.S. funding to ease poverty in Palestine, assisting more than 430,000 citizens. This included 33% of women-led households and 4.3% of the disabled population. The WFP provided cash-based transfers, food packages and “agriculture assets and training” to address increased poverty in Palestine.

The Road Ahead

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has severely worsened the state of poverty in Palestine as citizens end up in the crossfire. However, the ceasefire that Palestinian and Israeli officials announced in May 2021 may be a step in the direction of safety and stability for Palestinians and Israelis alike. Greater international support will help lower poverty rates and raise the quality of life in Palestine.

Mariam Abaza
Photo: pixabay

VaccineAs is the case in much of the world, the need for COVID-19 vaccines in Israel and Palestine is significant. However, amid the Israel-Palestine conflict, Palestine has been struggling to obtain and distribute COVID-19 vaccines. This is especially true in the West Bank and Gaza. Many obstacles have impeded an equitable distribution of vaccines in Israel and Palestine. Israel’s military restrictions, laws and refusal to offer COVID-19 vaccines to Palestinians have made it difficult for Palestinians to get vaccinated.

A Human Rights Issue

According to the United Nations’ human rights body, it is Israel’s responsibility to provide vaccines for the five million Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank. Providing differential access is legally and morally unacceptable under international law.

However, despite vaccinating Israeli citizens since December of 2020, Israel did not offer the vaccine to Palestinians until March of 2021. So far, Israel has vaccinated more than 50% of Israelis and about 5% of Palestinians. Increasing violence in the region has left thousands of Palestinians even more vulnerable to COVID-19. Despite many efforts for a ceasefire, conflict continues to engulf the citizens of Gaza and the West Bank. This has made it even more difficult for Palestinians to gain access to the vaccine.

Other obstacles have made it difficult to equitably distribute vaccines in Israel and Palestine. Gaza has been under blockade by both Egypt and Israel since 2007. This military restriction has made it difficult for resources and aid to reach the Palestinians living there. Today, an Israeli citizen is 60 times more likely to have a vaccination than a Palestinian citizen.

International Response

Thankfully, with the help of the international community, there have been several shipments of COVID-19 vaccines to Palestine. On March 17, 2021, Palestine received 37,440 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 24,000 doses of the Astra Zeneca vaccine through the COVAX initiative. COVAX is an international organization working to distribute the vaccine to the entire world, particularly to low-to-middle countries, and is backed by the World Health Organization.

Many communities and celebrities around the world, including Gigi and Bella Hadid, have been raising awareness of Palestinians struggles. Awareness is imperative as it highlights the unequal access Palestinians have to COVID-19 vaccines. The international support for Palestine can hopefully encourage leaders and nations to continue to fight vaccine inequity in Israel and Palestine and around the world.

China and Russia have sent thousands of vaccines to Gaza and the West Bank over the past few months. Many within the international community, including the U.N., continue to urge Israel to provide Palestinians with equitable access to the vaccine. Providing the COVID-19 vaccine to Palestinians helps the whole international community in its fight against the COVID-19 virus.

– Ariana Chin
Photo: Flickr