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 Jerusalem
The 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

 

The Jerusalem Embassy Act
In January 2017, the Jerusalem Embassy and Recognition Act proposed that the U.S. recognize Jerusalem as the “undivided” capital of Israel, while also relocating the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Introduced by Senators Ted Cruz, Dean Heller and Marco Rubio, the Jerusalem Embassy Act references the congressional passage of a 1995 order relocating Jerusalem. Ever since then, presidents have stopped further developments by enacting incremental waivers to halt developments due to potential threats to national security that could arise as a result.

This legislative proposal also finds conflict with historical peace precedents such as agreements in the Oslo Accord of 1993, which laid out new agreements for cooperation and compromise. A turning point in Palestinian-Israeli relations, the accord set the framework for future reallocations of land between the two actors in the region.

The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which is the overarching manifestation of the Palestinian nationalist movement, has stated that it will denounce recognition of Israel should the embassy transfer to Jerusalem come to pass. Structures of peace and security amidst the two-state conflict are fragile and political actors cite that “explosions of violence” may rise as a consequence.

According to statements from Trump administration officials like Kellyanne Conway, the relocation of Israel’s embassy to Jerusalem will be a “very big priority.” Other presidents, such as Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush, have also vowed to move the embassy, but have gone back on their decision due to the state of transnational relations in the Middle East.

In addition, the legislation would also amend the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 to eliminate presidential authority to waive funding restrictions. The bill would also constrict the availability of federal funding allocated to the State Department for the fiscal year 2017 regarding “embassy security, construction, and maintenance” in the case of an emergency.

Amber Bailey

Photo: Flickr

Iraq
Israeli encroachment on Palestinian territory began in 1967 and has since established frameworks for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s statement on the expansion of settlements in the West Bank. Since the Trump administration has transitioned to the White House, Israel has announced the expansion of 4,000 new illegal Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory.

Legislation to build the new settlements would violate international law, especially considering that Palestinians possess title deeds to prove ownership of occupied land. U.N. Security Council resolution 2334 (2016) defines that Palestinian territory settled upon by Israelis would constitute “flagrant violation” of international law.

The bill to facilitate illegal settlements in the West Bank is highly controversial. Israel’s attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, is in opposition to its passage and promised to fight against it in the Supreme Court.

Netanyahu also perceives that the Trump administration will facilitate “significant opportunities” succeeding Obama’s policies in the Middle East that he cites as “huge pressures.” The creation of new illegal Israeli settlements in the region would be the first in 25 years.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) cites that there are almost 775,000 registered Palestinian refugees in the West Bank. A quarter of these refugees live across 19 camps and the rest in towns and villages. At least 270 Palestinians have been displaced and forced from their homes since the beginning of 2017.

U.S. foreign aid to Palestine began in the mid-1990s following the onset of “limited Palestinian self-rule” in Gaza and the West Bank. The U.S. is the largest single-state donor to the UNRWA and has committed more than $5 billion in bilateral aid to assist in decreasing terrorism against Israel, promote efficient governing infrastructures that could lead to regional peace and to provide humanitarian aide.

Amber Bailey

Photo: Flickr

Education in PalestineWhile issues that adversely affect education are yet to be fully resolved, programs that benefit education in Palestine show promise for creating a positive, lasting impact on the country. Here are five facts about education in Palestine:

  1. Literacy rates in Palestine are extremely high—even when compared to developed countries. According to the most recent data published in 2014, Palestine has a 96.3 percent literacy rate. The UNDP states that this percentage is, “higher than that of the UNDP 2014 HDI ‘high human development’ category average.” With the constant turmoil and poverty within the Gaza Strip and West Bank, these statistics may come as a surprise to many. Ninety-four percent of women in Palestine are literate (compared to 98.4 percent of men). This is a huge improvement from 1995, when less than 80 percent of women could read and write.
  2. In 2013, only 9.4 percent of children did not complete any level of education in Palestine. The UNDP states that dropout rates among schoolchildren have declined significantly in recent years. Data shows the average amount of schooling for Palestinian children is close to nine years.
  3. Poor infrastructure and lack of funding are major barriers to quality education in Palestine. Over 280 schools were damaged in Gaza due to the 51-day conflict between Israel and Palestine in 2014. According to UNICEF, the infrastructure problem has yet to be fully resolved largely due to sanctions on the transport of certain construction materials. In addition to infrastructure damage, overcrowding presents a major challenge to the Palestinian education system. Overcrowded schools impede upon the quality of education that children receive on a daily basis.
  4. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) is working to improve education within the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. While the West Bank offers adequate primary education, the UNRWA is working to improve secondary education within the area. In the Gaza Strip, the agency is expanding upon educational programs as well as out-of-school initiatives.
  5. The Palestine Children’s Relief Fund’s “Gaza Educational Initiative” is raising money to support education efforts in the region. Following the 2014 bombings within the West Bank, PCRF started a fund to help provide tutoring and extra education services to affected children. Programs like this and efforts made by the U.N. are helping Palestinian kids achieve higher education despite the unstable state of their home environments.

U.S. foreign aid to Palestine is an incredibly contentious topic in current politics. However, putting past political disagreements for the sake of education is crucial for Palestinian children. Educating younger generations of children can provide hope for less poverty, radicalization and violence within the community.

Saroja Koneru

Photo: Flickr

poverty in palestine
For years, the conversation on Palestine and its territories has almost exclusively focused on the relationship between Palestine, Israel and Egypt. For the 1.1 million Palestinians that live in poverty as a result of high unemployment, lagging wages and harmful inflation rates, Israel’s recent military actions in the Gaza strip have hardly encapsulated the extent of Israel’s effect on Palestinians.

Official statistics from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics reveal the poverty rates to be 25.8 percent in the Palestinian
Territory, 17.8 percent in the West Bank and a staggering 38.8 percent in the Gaza Strip for 2011, the last year for which statistics are available.

While these rates sound high, there’s more to the story than the statistics suggest.

In a sobering July 2013 report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, it was reported that “the Palestinian Authority suffered its most serious fiscal crisis since 2006” because of less foreign aid and “Israel’s withholding of Palestinian revenue.” In 2012, Palestine’s growth was halved from the previous two years to just six percent due to structural barriers imposed by Israel and the international market.

Israeli restrictions on the movement of Palestinian goods, for example, meant less money returned to the pockets of Palestinians, severely reducing growth and worsening already high rates of poverty. Furthermore, the illegal expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank left Palestinians with fewer options to physically export their goods, and many were simply incapable of accessing the same productive resources because of aggressive Israeli settlement expansion.

In the Jordan Valley, Palestinian workers are forced to take longer roads and go through checkpoints. These actions imposed by Israeli officials increase costs and decrease Palestinian competitiveness in the international market, ultimately reducing employment opportunities and deepening levels of extreme poverty.

Of course, not all of Palestine’s economic woes can be ameliorated with less aggressive Israeli policies. Low labor productivity contributes to poor Palestinian economic performance and leaves less money in the coffers of government officials, who spend large portions of the government’s budget on social spending. Illegal smuggling of economic goods is also a major drain to the taxable actions of Palestinian officials.

Overall, those living in poverty in Palestine make up a significant portion of the population, which consists of about nine million citizens.

While no World Bank data exists to detail the number of individuals living on two dollars a day or less in Palestinian-controlled territories, the research conducted by the United Nations and the statistics compiled by the Palestinian government provide a distressing picture of the state of the poor in Palestine. These poor are large in number, and if international donors do not pledge aid to assist Palestinians or if Israel adopts less-aggressive economic policies in the West Bank, the number of impoverished living in Palestine will surely increase.

Joseph McAdams

Sources: UNCTAD, PCBS, Reuters
Photo: GIJN

unity government
After only a week of peace, Israel attacked the Gaza Strip via aircraft, injuring three and killing one. This is the first act of aggressive violence between the two nations since the Palestinian government developed the unity government plan. The aircraft attack was a response to the rocket fired into southern Israel earlier that day by Palestinian extremists.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas pledged to create peace with Israel and said this attack was nothing but a simple rebuttal. Israel blames the terrorist group Hamas for these actions.

Hamas senior leader, Moussa Abu Marzouk, when interviewed by the Associated Press, claimed that “The reconciliation is ahead of us and the split is behind us. We are heading this way because reconciliation is the choice of our people. We have taken real steps and will continue.” The flare ups, such as this interaction, will continue but will not impede the direction of progress they are heading in.

Since 2007, Hamas has controlled the Gaza Strip since taking it from President Abbas, creating high levels of tension on top of previous issues. Hamas is the de facto leader of Gaza, but Abbas is still considered the international representative.

One of the victims in Israel was identified as a militant, an active member of Hamas police, who was linked to a group inspired by al-Qaida. In response to this report, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that “our policy is clear. Kill those who rise up to kill us.” It is evident that both countries wish to get rid of groups such as Hamas and other known terrorist groups.

Israel is tentative to respond to peace offers from Palestine, citing to Reuters that the unity government merely serves as a protective shield, allowing the voices of Hamas to have their way, and suspending peace talks with Palestinians.

The unity government appeared to many as a sign of change, but it’s becoming evident the new government will have little impact on relations between Palestine and Israel. Even with the support of western countries and the United Nations, the unity government is receiving little positive feedback in terms of internal opinions.

Gaza is a hot bed for conflict between the two and it’s clear that this will not be the end of their violent interactions.

— Elena Lopez

Sources: Reuters, Chron
Photo: Epoch Times

kerry_peace_effort_middle_east_opt
Although the Oslo Accord was designed to facilitate the peace negotiations in the Middle East between Israel and Palestine under the supervision of the UN, some are starting to believe that the whole process will ultimately result in failure due to two decades of no deals being reached.

In an Al Jazeera article, Mairav Zonszein said that despite U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s goal to help both sides reach an agreement, Israel appears to be controlling the region anyway.

“Prospects for negotiating a two-state solution to conclude the Oslo peace process, launched in 1993, appear more remote than they were 21 years ago,” said Zonszein. “The difference, perhaps, may be in the balance of pressure operating on both sides then compared with now.”

According to Zonszein, Israel considers itself a sovereign nation and dominates the lives of all Palestinians who live under its occupation. In fact, Israel is so powerful that even Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of Palestine, is required to seek permission to leave the West Bank.

While the Palestinians (and the international community, including the U.S.) demand that the boundaries drafted in 1967 should be considered by Israel to grant statehood to Palestine, Israel continues to expand settlements beyond those boundaries.

“The original premise of the Oslo Accord was that a decades-old conflict could be resolved through bilateral negotiations in a framework based on relevant UN resolutions, out of the understanding that is must be a win-win situation for both sides,” Zonszein argued.

However, the only winner in the region turned out to be Israel. After realizing that the talks between Israel and Palestine are going nowhere, Kerry proposed a new idea to resolve yet another of the many problems the two sides have with each other.

“In a last-ditch effort to stop Israel reneging on a promise to release a final batch of Palestinian prisoners, the U.S. briefly threw in possibly the biggest bargaining chip in its hand: the release of Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard,” said Jonathan Cook in a Counterpunch article.

Cook argues that both Israel and the U.S. have been involved in negotiations that did nothing but distract the true developments within the region.

Cook also references Richard Falk, professor emeritus in international law at Princeton University, who claims that the Israeli policies were created to ethnically cleanse the Palestinians from their own homeland.

This is the reason the Palestinians refuse to recognize Israel as an official Jewish state in the first place.

Thus, “if negotiations collapse, it should be clear that, while both sides were supposed to be talking, one side – Israel – was vigorously and unilaterally acting to further its goals,” Cook said.

At this point, only time will tell whether or not the Israelis and Palestinians will one day reach a deal that has already been delayed by two decades.

– Juan Campos

Sources: Al Jazeera, CounterPunch
Photo: Al Jazeera

heavy_metal_cultural_harmony
An Israeli heavy metal band by the name of Orphaned Land has generated a loyal fan base with their catchy lyrics and head-banging beats. Besides this accomplishment, however, this band has also transformed their artistic abilities into a political movement, as they convey the message of peace to their listeners. 

Orphaned Land has been on their ‘All Is One’ tour since the summer of 2013. The band toured in Europe, playing 18 shows in six countries, during the fall of 2013. For that leg of the tour, Orphaned Land invited the Palestinian heavy metal band, Khalas, to perform with them and share in the small confinements of their tour bus.

Other bands to join the tour were Klone, The Mars Chronicle and Bilocate. The latter two are bands from France, and the third is from Jordan. This added to the diversity of the tour, and consequently portrayed to the world that people can collaborate harmoniously despite their differences.

The decision for Orphaned Land and Khalas to play together specifically gained attention, as it is an unlikely occurrence for Palestinians and Israelis to work together. The two bands respected the cultural disparities between them, however, and even embraced these differences. This union exemplified the importance of focusing on what brings people together, rather than what drives them apart.

Orphaned Land’s lead singer, Kobi Farhi, highlighted the purpose of the tour, besides the obvious reason of expressing themselves through music, as he explained, “We can’t change the world, but we can give an example of how coexistence is possible… Sharing a stage and sharing a bus is stronger than a thousand words. We’ll show how two people from different backgrounds who live in a conflict zone can perform together.”

The conflict that Farhi mentioned refers to the fight over territory and disputes over ambiguous borders between Israel and Palestine, which arguably began in the late 19th century. Conversely, the war in 1947 was when the extreme violence amplified, which completely changed the map of the Middle East and the temperament of the neighboring states. The conflict and turmoil has persisted ever since, with constant cases of illegal settlements on each other’s land, and violent attacks occurring daily.

Despite this perpetual turmoil, these bands left the conflict behind them for the sake of their love for music. This is a political statement in and of itself, since they are epitomizing tolerance, which is a necessary virtue for the resolution of such a pressing issue.

“We’re living together, we’re playing together, and we’re pissing on all those politicians. It takes them ages to even come to the table or talk about something,” Farhi stated about the politics imbedded in the tour.

The lyrics in the songs composed by Orphaned Land are also focused on politics, as opposed to typical songs written about heartbreak. One of their most popular songs, Disciples of the Sacred Oath, contains the line, “Shall we see the end of war, blood brothers? Or shall we fill another grave, for ourselves we couldn’t save,” which is a direct reference to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Khala’s lead guitarist, Abed Hathut, claimed, “We are metal brothers before everything.” Khala as a group also holds the message of peace close to their hearts, as Hathut added, “There is no bigger message for peace than through this tour.”

The ‘All Is One’ tour certainly speaks volumes on the possibilities for the future of both Israel and Palestine. With younger generations creatively projecting peace through the arts, perhaps a wave of sensibility can overcome these two warring states.

The devastation and poverty caused by the constant conflict between Israel and Palestine cannot be resolved until both sides can shake hands across the table at peace talks. Until then, Orphaned Land and Khalas have left a positive example of cultural harmony, both through their music and their ability to focus on their similarities rather than their differences.

– Danielle Warren

Sources: The Guardian, Orphaned LandSBS
Photo:  StockFreeImages