Poverty after the Israeli-Palestinian ConflictWhile the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been brewing since 1948 after Israel became a sovereign state, the two regions’ dispute reached a boiling point in May 2021. While each side exchanged fire, the citizens of both nations were in the middle of the crossfire. However, conditions will hopefully improve as the two nations continue to make amends.

What is Happening Now?

In May 2021, after a multitude of Palestinian demonstrations, Israel launched both lethal and nonlethal attacks on the Palestinian group Hamas in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Israel raided a mosque in Gaza which caused Hamas to retaliate. The Global Conflict tracker says that Israel launched more than 100 rockets during the attack leaving dozens of Palestinians dead.

Although both sides declared outright victory in the recent battles, both Hamas and Israel agreed to a ceasefire on May 21. The United States has offered to orchestrate an agreement between Israel and Palestine during both the Trump and Biden presidencies. While Palestine denied the Trump agreement, Biden is still working to alleviate tensions.

The Impact on Citizens

The conflict has impacted both Israeli and Palestinian citizens. Refugees in Jerusalem face removal amidst the debate. According to Amnesty International, Palestinian citizens in Israel experience discrimination as they cannot obtain marriage licenses or education, and experiencing home evictions and torture. Gender-based violence and racism are also running rampant.

The BBC has stated that the nations have lost electricity and have lost their homes due to the rocket attacks, however, the power is slowly turning back on. Gaza City faces severe overpopulation; 9,000 people inhabit the area per square kilometer. People have experienced limitations in regard to health, water and food convoy services. For example, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has left a million citizens in Gaza City who is “moderately-to-severely food insecure.” Over 40% of those citizens are also unemployed in the strip.

How is the World Helping?

The United States Senate recently passed the Israel Normalization Act of 2021. The bill, according to Congress, “[promotes] the normalization of relations between Israel, Arab states, and other relevant countries and regions” and by improving relationships between Israel and other Arabic countries including Palestine. Another facet is that “the State Department must report on options for U.S. international efforts to promote the strengthening of ties between Israel, Arab states, and other relevant countries and regions.” The State Department also announced that it would donate $360 million worth of assistance to Palestine; many of the funds are supporting the U.N. and other humanitarian organizations. The Palestinian government will receive another $75 million for “economic assistance.”

The Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs has also stated that global aid efforts are present in Gaza, including many of the same teams that helped with recent Haitian earthquakes. The focus of these teams is to promote medical transfers and international aid. The International Red Cross has also delivered more than 1,000 household items to Gaza residents and deployed a surgical team to the area. In late May 2021, the BBC reported that aid had arrived in Gaza via a convoy only hours after the implementation of the ceasefire. Recent reports state that conditions are steadily improving as more help comes from international partners.

– Laken Kincaid
Photo: Flickr

Access to Education in PalestineAmid the escalating Israel-Palestine conflict, there remains a generation of Palestinian children denied access to traditional education. Despite immense adversity, education remains an important priority in Palestinian society. Education is, in part, a mode of sustaining Palestine’s unique culture amid exile and foreign occupation. More than 95% of children are enrolled in basic education across Palestine. While impressive, this statistic obscures the tribulations and barriers that Palestinian youth experience in their educational journeys. Both males and those with disabilities are at a disproportionately higher rate of not completing their education with 25% of boys dropping out of school by age 15. Equally concerning, is that “22.5% of boys and 30% of girls aged 6-15 years with a disability have never enrolled in school.” International aid organizations are committed to improving access to education in Palestine.

Low School Completion Rates

Low rates of school completion are inherently tied to Palestine’s failing job market. The economy is crippled by decades of sanctions and isolationism. Currently, youth unemployment rates are 40% in the West Bank and 62% in Gaza. Simply, many young Palestinians do not see the incentive in completing their education if it will not guarantee them job opportunities.

For the Palestinian education system to thrive, the state’s circulation of job opportunities needs to be drastically improved. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) offers a technical and vocational training program to Palestinian refugee youth to help them gain skills for the Middle Eastern job sector. The UNRWA runs eight centers with a capacity for about 7,500 students. Furthermore, UNICEF works on “life-skills and entrepreneurship skills programs for adolescents to support their future employment.”

Influence of West Bank Violence on Education

Violent episodes of conflict along the West Bank and Gaza Strip hinder education in Palestine. Due to the crisis in the region, almost half a million children in Palestine require humanitarian assistance. The closure of the Gaza Strip and its accompanying physical access restrictions vehemently infringe upon the liberties and learning potential of young Palestinians. Having to regularly pass by military checkpoints and settlements on the way to school has untold psychological effects on Palestinian youth. Even at home, almost 90% “of children are subjected to psychological aggression” and 74% are physically punished.

Organizations such as UNICEF fight to create violence-free environments across Palestine. “It is our collective duty to protect every child on the journey to school and at school and to ensure that they can access the quality education which is the right of every child, everywhere,” says Genevieve Boutin, UNICEF special representative in the State of Palestine. She further explains that education is integral to achieving peace.

The Future of Palestinian Education

Still, much remains to be done to improve access to education in Palestine. Across Palestine, classrooms remain immensely overcrowded and underfunded. From a lack of classrooms to textbook shortages, Palestinian students are forced to beat the odds. Sometimes, students must study with no light due to frequent power outages. In fact, the Gaza Strip is only able to garner a meager four to six hours of electricity daily.

It is crucial that the United States and other powerful countries increase their humanitarian assistance and aid to the Palestinian territories. As violence continues to erupt, the U.N. is actively involved in mediation efforts. International organizations must continue targeted development projects in marginalized Palestinian communities. The future of education in Palestine depends on the unity and support of the international community.

Conor Green
Photo: Flickr

Art and Poetry at the West Bank WallIn the early 2000s, the decades of conflict between Israel and Palestine led many to demonstrate solidarity with the Palestinians. Around this time, Israel built the West Bank Wall that divides the territory. This wall has become a platform for artistic expression regarding the situation in the region and the overwhelming impoverished conditions. It also made way for a rise in poetic expression.

The West Bank Wall

In the early 2000s, the Israeli government began building the West Bank Wall to isolate and separate regions and landscapes. It has become one of the many issues and burdens that Palestinians have had to face. The wall stretches for over 400 miles, longer than the Green Line, the 1949 border set between the two territories. Additionally, 85% of the wall lies in the West Bank.

Since most of the wall sits on the West Bank, the Israeli government seized Palestinian land and homes for its construction. Hundreds of families lost their homes, livelihood, farms and water sources. The rest were isolated from the other side of the wall. About 140 Israeli checkpoints control the area, which exists under Militia Law. Within the boundaries of the wall, Israel has denied Palestinians basic freedoms, humanitarian assistance and material supplies, all of which have worsened the living conditions, especially for those living in poverty.

Despite the West Bank Wall’s detrimental effect on the Palestinians, they turned to art for hope and an escape from the daily violence and impoverished conditions. The West Bank Wall became a literal platform for artistic expression regarding the circumstances. Palestinians have contributed to different forms of art across the entire wall, whether it be portrait, symbolism, graffiti or abstract. This marked the drastic rise of the use of art as a form of communication. It has also kept the Palestinian flag alive, which was banned by the Israeli authority. Even international artists, like Banksy, contributed to the symbolic street art and murals across the wall.

Art Initiatives by Anera and UNRWA

While the West Bank Wall provides a platform for Palestinian artists, NGOs like Anera and UNRWA have worked to implement educational art and music programs for young children in Gaza and the West Bank. Anera works closely with local arts, music and cultural organizations in the West Bank and Gaza to promote artistic expression and learning. Anera has implemented summer camps at several preschools in Gaza that use artistic expression to provide psycho-social support for children. Since the situation in Gaza is relentless and draining, especially for children, it is important to provide an outlet that promotes stress relief. These summer camps serve to use art as a way to remove children from the constant austere conditions and the stresses of life. UNRWA schools provide similar classes and camps for the same purpose; to mitigate the psycho-social effects of the conflict and the stresses of poverty.

Gazan Women Sell Their Embroidered Art

Some Palestinian groups have even used art as a form of income. These individuals sell sewn accessories and painted portraits and landscapes of culturally significant symbols. A historical example that lives on to this day is The Sulafa Embroidery Project. Established in 1950, the organization employs several hundred women in Gaza and provides them with the necessary materials to create embroidered masterpieces. These pieces are sold internationally. In 2014, the women began making these pieces for the New York International Gift Fair. Unfortunately, due to the Gaza bombings in 2014, The Sulafa Embroidery’s initiatives temporarily ceased and The Poverty Alleviation Fund stepped in to ease the circumstances and allow the products and samples to reach the New York International Gift Fair.

The Gaza Poets Society

Art, however, is not the only escape from the stressful and burdensome environment. Poetry in Palestine has been around for a very long time. From Mahmoud Darwish to Fadwa Tuqan, poetry is rooted in Palestinian culture. Recently, there has been a break from the traditional and classical Arabic poetry — often performed in coffee shops and saloons — and a rise in poetry and live performances of all kinds of performing arts among young Palestinians, all for a way to feel free.

In 2018, Mohammed Moussa, a Palestinian born and raised in Gaza, founded the Gaza Poets Society, a nonprofit group of more than 30 young aspiring poets and performers from Gaza who meet every week to write and share poetry as well as plan for a monthly live event of performances. “It’s easy to lose hope when you’re locked in a place where 70% of Gazans are suffering from depression, 60% are classified as poor and 65% of college graduates have no job and no chance of getting one because of Israel’s blockade on Gaza,” said Moussa on a 2018 campaign raising money for the Gaza Poets Society operations.

Escape and Hope

Moussa understood the burdens that came with living in Gaza. “I think I have experienced a lot, growing up here. I experienced genocides, wars, deaths, suicide, siege. I was a friend of chaos, I was born in chaos, I still live in chaos.” he said. Moussa was born in the Jabalia Camp, the largest of the Gaza Strip’s eight refugee camps. It is a place not unfamiliar with the struggle to find hope. To Moussa and the rest of the group, the Gaza Poets Society is one of Gaza’s biggest forms of optimism. “Poetry is a beautiful escape from the unbearable reality we live in.” He said. “Words hold us more than the ground does in this city. That’s what we feel about poetry.”

For many Palestinians, art and poetry began as a form of resistance. Now, it provides hope and faith in a better future as well as a soothing outlet from the difficult and trifling times of today.

Nada Abuasi
Photo: Flickr

refugee work in Jordan
In a message to his donors, Helping Hand for Relief and Development (HHRD) CEO Javaid Siddiqui stated, “We are committed to extending a helping hand to our brothers and sisters in need around the world and hope you will continue to be our partner in this journey of service to humanity.” Though the organization has worked in more than 85 countries, Helping Hand has consistently engaged in refugee work in Jordan. Its work in the country is not only admirable but also a reflection of its impactful, long-term service to all of humanity.

In 2013, HHRD established an office in Amman, Jordan as the headquarters for HHRD-MENA. HHRD-MENA is a branch of Helping Hand that focuses on providing relief to the Middle East and North Africa. Since then, Helping Hand has provided clean water, proper food, education, development programs and stable homes for different Syrian and Palestinian refugees throughout Jordan.

Refugees in Jordan

Surrounded by countries suffering from conflict and disaster, Jordan hosts the second-highest number of refugees when comparing population sizes. Since the Syrian war in 2011, it has almost 1.4 million Syrian refugees. As of 2019, around 650,000 of them still have refugee status. Though most of the 2 million Palestinian refugees in Jordan have received citizenship, 370,000 are currently living in refugee camps in different parts of Jordan. The remaining 84,000 refugees currently living in Jordan are from Iraq, Yemen, Somalia and Sudan.

Most of the Syrian refugees live in urban areas and 85% of them are living below the poverty line. Many of the Syrian and Palestinian refugees in the city are not only suffering from poverty but also psychological trauma and lack of educational opportunities. Around 10,000 Syrian refugees are between the border of Syria and Jordan. They live in informal settlements, where access to basic needs and services is minimal and relies on humanitarian aid.

In an interview with The Borgen Project, Abdullah Sheikh, a participant in Helping Hand’s annual Youth for Jordan trip, described the different refugee situations he witnessed during his 2018 visit. “There are various camps, like the organized ones run by the government, which are usually huge. The camps we went to were people who would cross the border and then prop up a makeshift tent. And when I say tent I mean like a towel or a big blanket and a pair of sticks or something.”

Building Temporary Homes

According to Abdullah Sheikh, part of Helping Hand’s refugee work in Jordan involves providing decent shelter to refugees living outside the organized, official camps. During his visit, he assisted in the establishment of what Helping Hand calls a “micro-home.” These caravans replace the handmade shelter of the refugees, providing them with a temporary home until they are safe to return to their homeland. Within the micro-homes are two rooms, a small kitchen, running water and a toilet. Each home costs $5,000.

To install the homes, the team uses a crane to lift the micro-home out of the back of a truck. Then, all the members work together to place the home on rocks to keep it stable. Since the start of the project in 2016, Helping Hand has established 1,000 micro-homes. These homes have benefitted more than 5,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan as well as Lebanon.

Supplying Food and Water

When describing the food situation for the refugees, Abdullah Sheikh noted that it was “different depending on the camp.” He explained, “The [unofficial camps] in the desert, they really just rely on whatever people give them. [The refugees] just have a big tank of water in the middle of the camp and Helping Hand comes and refills it. And the food, Helping Hand would just bring them bread, oil and other things they can use to make food.”

Helping Hand’s food refugee work in Jordan also includes a Ramadan Iftar Tent. There, it provides Iftar meals for families every year. In 2020, it provided 160 families with proper meals. Besides the Iftar Tent, Helping Hand also distributes food packages and donated meat to refugees throughout Jordan all year round. In just May 2020, the team distributed a total of 3,000 food packages. Helping Hand also provides drinking water within the food packages.

Developing Programs and Schools

A big part of Helping Hand’s refugee work in Jordan involves educating children. Another major component is providing resources for adults to develop life skills. Just in 2019, Helping Hand provided 800 men and women in Jordan with life skill training through its development program.

Many of the women participated in the development programs near the HHRD-MENA office in Amman. The purpose of this specific program is to teach women different careers to earn a living. These careers include sewing, other crafts and computer training. With knowledge of finance and different skills, the women from this program can secure an income by opening up their own businesses and/or obtaining a job. Abdullah Sheikh says that his team had the opportunity to buy some of the products of the current trainees.

Through the Education Support Program, Helping Hand also provided 1,590 Syrian refugee children with basic education scholarships and tutoring in 2020. The organization gave seven students four-year scholarships to the University of Jordan.

Spending Time with Children

“My favorite part was when we played soccer in the camps in Mafraq near the Syrian border, with some of the kids there. It was just fun,” said Abdullah Sheikh. Throughout his visit with Helping Hand, he spent a lot of time playing with the refugee children his team came in contact with. “Some of the camps we went to twice. So, we bought [the kids] a soccer ball and then played with them again, because the ball they had was super messed up.”

During their visit to the refugee orphanages located in Amman, Jordan, the 2018 Youth for Jordan team went to a strip mall with some of the orphans. There, they played games and enjoyed rides. Another one of the days, the team spent the day with young Palestinian boys in a skills development program. Later during the week, they drove out to the Dead Sea where they hung out at the beach.

From building homes to providing support to helping children, all of Helping Hand’s refugee work in Jordan is a reflection of the organization’s hard work and dedication. In Jordan and around the world, humanitarian organizations have the ability to make a significant impact on the lives of refugees.

Maryam Tori
Photo: Flickr

Two young women in the Middle East2020 has taught the world a series of valuable lessons. Still, one that strikes most potent is the importance of women’s presence in critical fields, such as conflict resolution. For years this issue has received a poor reputation for ineffectiveness and persistent recidivism, specifically due to continued violence. However, the recent inclusion of women has changed this and transformed the field as we know it. Since 2016, women’s inclusion in conflict resolution has shown a 64% prevention rate for failed peace negotiations and a 35% increase in likeability for long-term peace.

While women are beginning to shine on the world stage, there are still conflict-ridden regions where they are kept away from the negotiating table. One of these regions is the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

Conflict in MENA

In addition to the US’ recent departure under the Trump Administration, the MENA has been riddled with conflict. There are longstanding ideological tensions between Saudi-Arabia and Iran. A bloody civil war in Yemen and the recent Assad-Putin take over of Syria. Libya is becoming a failed state and more terrorist organizations are rising to power.

This is an integral time for women to be included in conflict resolution, as said previous conflicts will require new models of engagement and unique perspectives. If women are to achieve an equal socioeconomic standing to men in the MENA, now is the time for action.

Overview of Progress

Since the early 2000s, women have begun playing an active role in conflict resolution. A prominent example is the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace Movement. In both the first and second Liberian Civil Wars, the movement’s women hosted communal activities, such as prayer gatherings, to unite the warring Christian and Muslim populations. Eventually, they gained so much momentum that they advanced their organization to more direct advocacy and activism. This was during a time of rampant sexual violence and the murders of child soldiers. In 2005, the women helped ensure one of the nation’s first free and fair elections, which resulted in the first female African president.

Another way in which women have fought for change in the MENA is through women-led nonprofits. Take, for instance, the Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assitance (CEWLA). Under current dictator Abdel Al-Sissi, Egypt has faced a series of religious violence, economic corruption, and denial of fundamental human rights. Nevertheless, since 2013, CEWLA has worked with local grassroots organizations in Egypt to promote female rights. It has fought several legal battles to improve ongoing “legal, social, economic and cultural rights.”

In addition to inter-regional violence, mass immigration and displacement in MENA has resulted in severe economic losses. In response to such conflict, female entrepreneurs in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, and Palestine banded together to form Ruwwad. Ruwwad is a community engagement organization that focuses on providing women with education, income generation methods, and social justice.

Nonetheless, even when it comes to complex matters such as Intra-State Conflict, women have shown up to unite deeply divided communities, often struggling with severe poverty. The Wajir Association for Women’s Peace embodies the said fight for justice. The Association is a group of local women in Wajir, Kenya. They lead conflict resolution initiatives between the clans’ Elders and the at-risk youth. Wajir’s women’s power has even reached the desks of local parliamentary offices. Nationwide reforms have begun to take aim at resolving much of the turmoil occurring in this region as a result of these efforts.

A Plan for the Future

While women’s leadership in the MENA is far from perfect, there have been massive improvements over the years. This provides an ample opportunity to transform the region. Analysts have found that Women need political and economic backing from international organizations in order to help promote their localized mediation initiatives and garner stronger support for future peacebuilding. Bills such as the Girls Lead Act, currently being negotiated in Congress, is a step in the right direction and will help develop future female leaders in at-risk developing countries. The MENA region has seen conflict and ethnic violence for decades, but when we empower women, we empower change.

Juliette Reyes
Photo: Flickr

UNRWA
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) was specifically created to help Palestinian refugees after the 1948 Israeli-Arab war. The Palestinian refugee problem has only grown since its formation, so the U.N. has allowed the agency to continue operating.

Palestinian refugees are unique. Every person who was a resident or a resident’s descendant of what is now Israel all have a legal designation as ‘refugees.’ UNRWA now serves four generations of Palestinian refugees, having grown from serving 750,000 to 5.6 million.

The United States Pulls Funding

The United States pulled its funding from UNRWA in 2018. President Trump cited the reason behind the defunding as the agency’s incompetency. The United States had previously been contributing about $355,000 million of UNWRA’s budget.

The United States’ decision affected refugees who rely on UNRWA’s aid for education, health care, protection and basic human needs like food security. In 2017, reports determined that 39% of Palestinian refugees lived in poverty, and very little effort has occurred to assimilate Palestinians into host communities.

Palestine, Israel and the international community, in general, see the United States’ choice as an effort to delegitimize UNRWA and the 5.6 billion Palestinian refugees it serves. Revoking these generations of Palestinians’ refugee status would take away their right to return to their homeland.

Aftermath of Funding Removal

In 2020, the U.N. extended UNRWA’s mandate to the year 2023. However, UNRWA is still struggling financially. Not only did it appeal to the international community to donate a minimum of $1.4 billion for the yearly budget, but it requested another $14 million for COVID-19 emergency aid.

The UNRWA reported that it can only sustain operations until May 2020 with the added health crisis that COVID-19 brought on. It has only raised one-third of its budget. UNRWA’s director stated that the UNRWA must run on a “month to month basis” enduring the biggest financial instability since its creation.

Pleas for Help

The United States made the suggestion to transition the UNRWA’s responsibilities into the hands of the Arab countries that host Palestinian refugees. However, these nations are struggling to fill their own funding gap. Arab countries are suffering from high poverty rates and an influx of refugees from the ongoing conflict in Syria.

UNRWA has also sought the help of NGOs, such as Islamic Relief USA, to fill the funding gap. This is a faith-based organization that works to raise funds and mobilize volunteers for a range of initiatives including UNRWA. It has been helping Palestinian refugees since 1994. Islamic Relief USA has served 1,077,000 people from 2017 to 2019.

The United States government might have cut off funding to UNRWA as a result of flaws within the agency. It might have hoped to delegitimize the Palestinian right of return. Either way, Palestine’s impoverished people need UNRWA’s support. If UNRWA is not successful in gaining new donors, they will lose their access to education, health care and other necessary securities that are human rights.

Olivia Welsh
Photo: Flickr

children in palestine
Palestine is a country located in the Middle East, off the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Its boundaries are disputed but include the major territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Palestine has a population of over five million people, with almost two million living in the over-populated Gaza Strip and three million in the West Bank.

The ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict has played a detrimental part in the livelihoods of 2.4 million Palestinians, denying them access to necessities such as health care, stable housing and education. The 13-year blockade on Gaza has restricted freedom of movement for inhabitants in Gaza, limiting one million children of Palestine access to basic commodities found in Israel. Children are subject to shocking levels of violence on the way to and from school, during school and even in their own homes. Every year, the Israeli military detains and prosecutes around 700 Palestinian children, many of whom commit mild crimes, such as throwing rocks during demonstrations.

Much of Palestine consists of young people, about 53% of its population is made up of children under the age of 18. In every society, including Palestine’s, the children are the most valued members; dreams are built with the hopes of manifesting a better future for the youth who have a potential that is yet to be realized. Here are four ways to invest in the children of Palestine to help them attain the right to a safe and just future.

4 Ways to Invest in the Children of Palestine

  1. Participate in Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) – The Palestinian BDS is a movement for freedom, justice and equality, protecting the principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of the world. It endorses nonviolent protest on Israel until the state complies with international law, which includes ending the violence on and detainment of Palestinian children. BDS entails boycotting goods from well-known companies, such as HP, Puma and Sabra, all of which are complicit in violations of Palestinian children’s’ rights. Divestment and sanctions campaigns urge banks, churches, universities, local councils and governments to withdraw aid and investments from Israel and all companies that uphold the state’s noncompliance with international law.
  2. Sponsor a child – There are a number of nonprofits that give people the opportunity to sponsor one of many Palestinian children and invest in their futures. Organizations such as Humanium and SOS Children’s Villages look to provide children with a safe living environment, education, emotional and mental support, as well as access to healthcare services. These organizations also fight injustices aimed specifically at Palestinian children, such as child labor and marriage.
  3. Support legislation – Much good work comes from initiatives such as the Promoting Human Rights for Palestinian Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act (H.R.2407). This bill, proposed by Minnesota Democrat Rep. Betty McCollum, prohibits the use of U.S. foreign assistance funds to support the military detainment, interrogation, and ill-treatment of children in violation of international law. It also prohibits funds from being used to support certain practices against children, including sensory deprivation, solitary confinement and torture. It is important for U.S. citizens to speak up on behalf of Palestinian children, to let their voices be heard by urging Congress to take action against these injustices via phone calls, emails, and lobbying meetings.
  4. Stay informed –  Several initiatives aim to improve conditions for the children of Palestine. UNICEF, for example, plans to work closely with partners to provide children with safe drinking water, solar power, improved latrines, sanitation services and access to school WASH facilities. The nonprofit will continue to prioritize strengthening child protection systems, addressing negative coping mechanisms and supporting neonatal and postnatal care. The organization will also ensure that children benefit from improved access to quality learning in safe and inclusive environments, and are empowered to contribute to their society’s development.

Youths are not only the future, but they are also the present. The children of Palestine have a right to a safe and just life, where persisting conflict and a lack of human rights do not define their potential. It is important that citizens of the developed world play an active role in investing in these young people and helping empower them so that they can graduate from a life riddled with conflict and violence, to a fulfilling, more sustainable one.

– Sarah Uddin
Photo: Flickr

 

 

Access to HealthcareThe West Bank is a region of Palestine but has been occupied by Israel since the Six-Day War in 1967. Due to this occupation, as well as the West Bank’s landlocked location, citizens often struggle to gain access to healthcare. Without sufficient medical resources, individuals living in the West Bank are subject to higher infant mortality rates, untreated psychological ailments and the risk for chronic disease to become acute. Despite these barriers, both physical and political, there are Israeli and Palestinian organizations working to aid people most at risk in the West Bank including women, children, elderly, disabled and the rural poor.

Five Obstacles in Access to Healthcare

  1. Mental Health Stigma: Mental health in occupied areas is an immediate and crucial concern, but it is often stigmatized by locals and, therefore, is unaddressed and unrecognized. Of the patients who manage to get access to a medical practitioner, adults will frequently complain of PTSD related symptoms like headaches, generalized weakness and palpitations. Children are also overlooked when it comes to mental health. According to the Palestine Medical Relief Society (PMRS), an NGO working to increase access to healthcare, 54.7 percent of children in a sample of 1,000 have experienced at least one instance of trauma. Despite the high rates of trauma in children, however, parents are often unaware and unable to recognize the signs of PTSD present in their children like nightmares, insomnia and bedwetting. Instead, they assume the symptoms are normal child behaviors.
  2. Infant Mortality Rates: Children are at a high risk of death when there is impaired access to medical services. World Bank data shows the infant mortality rate in the West Bank and Gaza is 18 per 1,000 live births and 21 per 1,000 live births for children under 5. Compared to Israel’s three and four live births per 1000 respectively, these are extremely high numbers and show the direct consequences of poor healthcare access.
  3. Limited Access to Essential Drugs: In an article about Palestine, the World Health Organization notes that for people low on the socio-economic scale, healthcare expenditures are one of the most financially burdensome household expenses. The unavailability or unaffordability of medicine enormously impacts patients dealing with a chronic disease like hypertension, asthma and diabetes.
  4. Long Ambulance Rides: Numerous military checkpoints and barriers physically obstruct the ability of ambulances to bring patients from the West Bank to hospitals in Israel. According to the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, wait times at checkpoints can last up to 15 minutes. For a patient in critical condition, delays like these can hinder their ability to get the right medical treatment in time.
  5. Revoked Treatment in Israeli Hospitals: A recent declaration by the Palestinian Ministry of Health to cease funding in Israeli hospitals means that many patients, especially those in poor rural areas, are unable to gain access to healthcare. There are few other options available for these individuals to seek treatment, especially those living in poor areas that cannot incur travel costs.

NGOs Improving Access to Healthcare

Healthcare access on the West Bank is limited due to a number of interrelated reasons. In order to make it more accessible to those who are most affected, NGOs have been developed in both Palestine and Israel. In particular, the Palestine Medical Relief Society was founded in 1979 to aid the most vulnerable members of society. They have a mobile clinic program that includes a first-aid training program to help people gain access to healthcare in remote areas.

Another prominent NGO is Physicians for Human Rights (PHR). Founded in 1988 by Israeli physicians, this organization focuses on humanitarian aid and policy change. Furthermore, there are volunteer medics who provide free services to people with limited or no access. PHR serves more than 20,000 individuals each year.

Both of these organizations recognize the importance of addressing the fundamental issue through and data collection, policy and education, and they are working to improve access to healthcare on the West Bank.

– Tera Hofmann
Photo: Wiki

Water Crisis in Gaza
Although access to safe drinking water is a basic human right, many people in Gaza are struggling to find sanitary water. There is an acute water crisis in Gaza, as only one in 10 households has access to safe water sources.  People in this region struggle to find access to a clean and safe water source, only adding to the already bad living conditions in the area. Contaminated water causes severe problems such as disease outbreaks, which can be fatal without proper hygiene tools.

The Water Crisis in Gaza

Experts have estimated that 97 percent of drinking water in Gaza is contaminated by sewage and salt. The regions main source of water is from their coastal aquifer, but the extreme overuse of the aquifer is diminishing its supply at an unprecedented rate. The system has also been contaminated by seawater, meaning that only 4 percent of the water that comes from the aquifer is safe to drink. Water in the region has even become privatized and many families must pay a vendor that owns a private well simply to obtain water. Even when this water is delivered to households, two-thirds of it is already contaminated. On average, around 33 percent of an individual’s income in Gaza goes towards purchasing water.

Effects on Hygiene

This water crisis in Gaza not only affects water consumption but hygiene as well. Gaza is only able to have electricity for four to five hours a day, which prohibits sewage pants from being able to treat all of the sewage that comes through. An extreme amount of sewage is pumped back into the ocean in Gaza daily and around 70 percent of the beaches in the region are contaminated. As a result, polluted water is the leading cause of child mortality in Gaza. As aid organizations work to improve access to clean water,  the sanitation crisis can be improved as well.

Organizations Working to Improve Water Quality

In January 2017, UNICEF built the largest desalination system in Gaza to provide 75,000 citizens with access to drinking water. Electricity remains a problem in the region, but UNICEF plans to build a large solar panel field to ensure that the plant remains running at full capacity so that it can provide up to 250,000 people with clean water. The organization also partnered with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to create a new desalination technique that can make almost 90 percent of water from the aquifer into safe drinking water. The United Nations’ WASH program has also concurred that other steps still need to be taken such as purifying the aquifer and improving rainwater harvesting.

Some experts believe that the region will be uninhabitable by 2020 due to the extreme burden of the water crisis in Gaza. Aid organizations along with the Palestinian Water Authority are aiming to avoid that by planning to build a large sewer network with several desalination plants. Donors have already pledged $500 million to the project. The only problem with the project is the lack of electricity in the region, but officials are claiming that they will soon solve this problem.

Although the water crisis in Gaza has only worsened in the last 20 years, recent aid work in the region provides hope for those who have been struggling to find clean water. As UNICEF and other agencies work to give clean water to the people of Gaza, the privatized water vendors may disappear and the idea of having to purchase largely contaminated water can become a thing of the past for the people of the region.

– Olivia Halliburton
Photo: Flickr

poverty in JerusalemThe period between 2014 and 2016 proved to be an especially difficult time for the people of Jerusalem. It was reported that in 2014, 82 percent of East Jerusalem lived in poverty, while in 2016, about four out of five East Jerusalemites were living in a vulnerable situation.  

How Did Poverty in Jerusalem Reach Its Present Levels?

According to the Jerusalem Post and Naomi Hausman, poverty in Jerusalem increased due to the unique disparities in its population. 61 percent of its people are Jewish (30 percent of whom are ultra-Orthodox), 36 percent are Arab and the remaining 3 percent are Christian-Arab or another minority. Hausman states that different educational standards and work ethics between groups have caused a social and economic divide, while both groups are willing to work for a lower rate. However, there are a few ways to help combat poverty in Jerusalem to create a safer environment for its people.

Tsidkat-Elaou Organization

The Tsidkat-Elaou Organization is a sanctuary that provides resources for those in Jerusalem experiencing and living in hardship. Tsidkat-Elaou has been fighting poverty in Jerusalem by taking donations to providing necessities for children, such as school supplies, food and clothes, provides financial aid vouchers, organizes altruistic events and contributes goods for Shabbat and other Jewish celebrations such as Passover and Rosh Hashanah. Tsidkat-Elaou also provides a safe space for those who would like to study or worship through building their synagogue, Ohr Yaacov Velsraёl. Tsidkat-Elaou is truly a key part of fighting poverty in Jerusalem.

School Improvement Program

Funded by USAID, the School Improvement Program (SIP) has budgeted $20 million over four years to invigorate school leadership, improve the quality of teachers and promote community engagement within 50 schools in areas of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Each school will undergo pervasive assessment strategies to identify the underachieving schools. Once the list of institutions is complete, SIP and USAID will host district-wide events with parents, teachers, students and other members of the community to get them engaged in the educational journey. The School Improvement Program will not only improve educational tactics, but will also provide career guidance and experiential training as well as vital life skills training.

Facilitating Access to Infrastructure Resilience (FAIR)

The FAIR Program was put into action by the Ministry of Local Government (MoLG) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The project will aid national institutions in addressing infrastructure concerns and provide access to viable, equitable and affordable industrialization to decrease poverty in Jerusalem. These infrastructure plans will concentrate on housing, cultural heritage, energy, transportation and water. MoLG and the UNDP are hoping this will strengthen communities and improve living standards while preserving their existence.

Partnering with the FAIR program, the Program of Assistance to the Palestinian People and the Royal Charity Organization – Kingdom of Bahrain are establishing a public library in East Jerusalem for $517,880. Their hope for this library is to renew the position of culture within East Jerusalem by promoting national identity. The plan is to remodel and restructure an old building in the Old City of Jerusalem in the area of Aqbat Risas. The library will be equipped with books, furnishings, IT equipment, a library system and a website where the library catalog can be accessed.

Enduring years and generations of war and turmoil, Jerusalem has definitely seen hardship and fallen on difficult times. Through education, infrastructure and an increase in appreciation for their culture and heritage, poverty in Jerusalem is sure to decrease throughout the next few years, rebuilding social status and enriching traditions.

– Rebecca Lee
Photo: Unsplash

Learn more about poverty in Israel