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

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