10 Facts About Girls’ Education in Palestine
Despite Palestine’s constant immersion in conflict as a result of Israeli occupation, there are some positives in regards to girls’ education. Here are 10 facts about girls’ education in Palestine that showcase both the good and the bad of the country’s education system.

10 Facts About Girls’ Education in Palestine

  1. Literacy Rates: Palestine has one of the highest literacy rates in the world with 96.9 percent of its population being literate. In particular, there have been great strides in improving women’s literacy rates. The literacy rate went from 78.6 percent in 1995 to 97 percent in 2018. Female literacy rates are at their highest in the West Bank and their lowest in Salfit.
  2. School Infrastructure and Teachers: The education system is struggling due to insufficient school infrastructure and a lack of teachers with adequate training, as well as the existence of schools in marginalized areas. During the first 10 years of the Israeli occupation, the government built no new schools and classrooms of existing ones were overcrowded. The lack of schools led to an emergency-like situation in education, which resulted in some positive achievements, such as the regaining of the credibility of the Tawjihi, a secondary school matriculation exam. There has also been an improvement in extracurricular activities for students.
  3. The Effects of the Israeli Occupation: The Israeli occupation is mostly responsible for the struggles of the education system, given that it continually causes the exposure of schools to rockets and bombs. Building restrictions that Israeli rule implemented in places such as Area C and East Jerusalem are primarily responsible for the shortage of infrastructure. There are also movement restrictions, such as checkpoints and the Barrier, which can pose challenges to accessing services like education. The Barrier is an Israel-approved physical barrier in and around the West Bank in Palestine.
  4. Enrollment in Early, Primary, Secondary and Higher Education: There is a comparable amount of enrollment in primary education when it comes to boys and girls. Still, admissions are higher for female students to both secondary and higher education institutions. However, when it comes to Early Childhood programs, only 14.9 percent of girls are enrolled. Therefore, the U.N. has made it a priority to start investing in early childhood education, focusing on funding both teacher education and gender equality awareness.
  5. Raising Awareness About Female Education: Some of the U.N.’s planned interventions include raising awareness about the disadvantages of early marriage and the importance of female education. This effort is on-going, as women still struggle with early marriage, and gaining education and employment in Palestine. A female Palestinian student interviewed by the L.A. Review stated that “we have this thing in our society that is like, your house, your kids are [more] important than anything else. Your job is not so important because it’s like, your husband is working.”
  6. Education and Conflict: Education is critical in Palestine because it can be a non-violent form of protest against the on-going conflict. UNICEF enforces this ideology by using a behavioral change approach towards students. It encourages students, parents and teachers to challenge the acceptance of violence. It enforces this mindset by providing education and raising awareness.
  7. Women and Unemployment: Women in Palestine experience marginalization despite their education, suffering from a high rate of unemployment when compared to the rest of the world. The unemployment rate among women with 13 years of schooling or more was 50.6 percent in 2016, which was a significant increase from the 21.9 percent recorded in 2000.
  8. Women’s Participation in the Labor Market: Palestinian women have the lowest participation in the labor market within the MENA region. When it comes to labor force participation, women have a 19 percent participation rate compared to 71 percent of male participation. There is a joint effort to find and apply solutions to this problem. One solution is the U.N.’s policy to encourage girls to have Technical and Vocational Education Training, which the U.N. has partially implemented to date.
  9. Dangers on Route to School: Approximately half a million children in Palestine require humanitarian assistance to receive a quality education. The violence in the West Bank poses threats and challenges, which lead to children to experience distress and fear, even when going to and from school. This is because they might pass high-risk locations or checkpoints.
  10. Electricity Shortages: Electricity shortages that constant conflict causes are affecting access to education, both at school and at home, by striking study time and concentration. These shortages are a result of the sole electric company facing a lack of fuel, which is a consequence of the closure of the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza. To reduce the reliance on fuel, organizations such as the World Bank and the International Committee of the Red Cross have been working on providing alternative energy sources.

Foreign aid and raising awareness about the importance of girls’ education in Palestine have enabled some progress. However, as a conflict-ridden area, there is more that the country requires to ensure long-lasting development and enforce quality education. By looking at these 10 facts about girls’ education in Palestine, one can begin to see some of these efforts and realize how it should be a priority to find additional solutions.

– Johanna Leo
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Palestinian Refugee Camps
The first Arab-Israeli War in 1948 resulted in the mass, forced displacement of approximately 750,000 people throughout the Middle East, including in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and Gaza. Today, over 5 million Palestinian refugees live in the region, where socio-economic issues, health conditions, food security, education and living conditions are all deteriorating, plunging refugees deeper into poverty. This article will discuss poverty in Palestinian refugee camps and what some are doing to alleviate the situation.

The Gaza Strip

There are 1.4 million Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip, and according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), the poverty rate increased to 53 percent by the end of 2017, from 38.8 percent in 2011. The poverty line in Palestine is at $4.60 per day to cover the minimum needs of a household, basic health care and education. Nonetheless, 656,000 people live in absolute poverty in Palestinian refugee camps in Gaza with less than $3.60 per day, which only suffices to cover food, clothing and shelter. This drastic increase in the poverty rate is due to several factors including the volatile nature of the economy due to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Israeli blockade on land, air and sea since 2007, and the United States’ $300 million budget cut towards the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in 2018.

Indeed, the drastic economic conditions not only increase food insecurity in Gaza due to the lack of economic access to food but also caused the average unemployment rate to rise above 50 percent in 2018, reaching one of the highest in the world. Moreover, the United States’ decision to cut $300 million from the UNRWA’s annual budget directly impacted education and schools in refugee camps. There is a shortage of staff in Gaza schools as the UNRWA and the Ministry of Education runs over two-thirds of them on double shifts, generating overcrowded schools and so impeding students’ learning and the level of education. The continuing blockade on Gaza affects health care as medical supplies are scarce and deficient, including medication for cancer and immunological diseases. All these factors have led to the impoverishment of Palestinian refugees in Gaza, leaving an estimated 80 percent dependent on international assistance.

Syria

There are 552,000 registered Palestinian refugees in Syria, however, since the start of the Syrian crisis in 2011, approximately 120,000 PRS have fled to neighboring countries like Lebanon and Jordan where they have an irregular status. The poverty rate among PRS is approximately 89 percent, including 9 percent living in extreme poverty in Palestinian refugee camps.

The UNRWA stepped up its activities in the nine official camps in Syria, as well as issued a Syria regional crisis emergency appeal in 2018 stating that 95 percent of Palestine refugees in Syria was in “critical need of sustained humanitarian assistance,” and improving PRS’ living conditions.

Lebanon

The legal restrictions that the Lebanese government imposed upon refugees combined with the country not being a signatory of the U.N. Refugee Convention (recognizing the legal obligations and basic rights of refugees), jeopardizes economic, political and social aspects of the lives of Palestinian refugees. Indeed, two-thirds (160,000 people) of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are either poor or extremely poor, which is the highest percentage of people living in poverty in Palestinian refugee camps.

Palestinian refugees face strong discriminatory labor laws; only 2 percent have an official work permit, 75 percent earn below the national minimum wage of $200 per month and 95 percent have no health insurance. Moreover, Palestinian refugees in Lebanon do not receive full citizenship and so suffer from limited access to public services, including public schools and Lebanon’s public health system. The UNRWA provides schools and medical facilities in the country’s 12 refugee camps, however, these suffer from understaffing and limited funds, and so do not suffice to secure decent education and health care for all Palestinian refugees. Besides, the Syrian conflict caused 30,000 Palestinian refugees to move to Lebanon, adding a new dimension to the existing issue. This reinforces the declining housing conditions in the overcrowded refugee camps which lack basic infrastructures and experience continuous electrical outages.

Jordan

Jordan hosts the largest amount of Palestinian refugees in the region with over 2 million registered people. Jordan is the only host country that grants full citizenship to Palestinian refugees, integrating them more into society. However, the 158,000 Palestinian refugees coming from the Gaza strip did not receive citizenship, limiting their rights in the country and making them more prone to poverty. In addition, 17,000 Palestinian refugees left Syria and entered Jordan during the Syrian conflict, of which 30 percent were highly vulnerable, according to the UNRWA. These refugees’ irregular or uncertain legal status in Jordan as Palestinian Refugees from Syria (PRS) exposes them to an insecure environment including difficulties to access government services. UNRWA is in dire need of funding and financial assistance in order to protect the most vulnerable Palestinian refugees living in Jordan.

Conclusion

UNRWA provides cash assistance to over 400,000 Palestinian refugees in one of the largest cash programs in the world, and it has deeply affected poverty levels among Palestinian refugees. Indeed, cash assistance decreased the number of Palestinian refugees living in absolute poverty (under $2 per day) from 90 percent to 74 percent in 2017. However, the lack of financial aid and assistance limits the UNRWA’s activities in refugee camps, and the ongoing state of conflict in the region prevents significant improvements from occurring.

Andrea Duleux
Photo: Flickr

Popes help end international conflict
The Pope stands in the international arena as a unique authority without traditional elements of influence that countries hold. In place of an impressive military or a large economy, the Pope controls the hearts and minds of 1.28 billion Catholics globally.

Over the course of the past century, various Popes have stepped up in international discussions as mediators, condemned human rights violations and organized days of prayers and fasting for those caught in conflict zones. Here are the five most well-known examples of how Popes helped end international conflict.

Pope Benedict XV and WWI

Pope Benedict initially attempted to stop Italy from entering WWI and, when that failed, he offered papal peace mediation throughout the war. He wrote up the 1917 Papal Peace Appeal, which focused on free seas, war reparations, disarmament and Belgian independence. It emerged as a skeleton of a treaty that the leaders of the various states would expand upon, the negotiations in which “the Holy See would not necessarily itself be involved.” In the end, the Treaty of Versailles copied the points of the Papal Peace Appeal two years prior but excluded the Pope from talks.

Pope John Paul II and Poland’s Solidarity

As a native Pole, Pope John Paul became personally invested in the swift conclusion of martial law in Communist Poland in 1981. The Pope directed the Primate of Poland to meet with the Polish Prime Minister at the time, Wojciech Jaruzelski, to broker peace talks between the worker union Solidarity and the government. Additionally, John Paul II published a letter in which he substantiated this meeting and supported the goal of peace.

Pope John Paul II, Israel and Palestine

In 1993, after three years of negotiations, the Pope established diplomatic relations with Israel under the condition the country invite him to regional summits. When talks broke down between Israel and Palestine after the 1994 mosque massacre in the West Bank, the Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin asked Pope John Paul II to help restart the discussions. Unfortunately, the Palestine Liberation Chairman, Yasser Arafat, rejected this offer of mediation due to his resolute stance that he would not resume talks unless the Israelis guaranteed that Palestinian women, children and holy sites would have protection. By 2000, the Holy See legitimized Palestinian territory, stopping just short of fully recognizing it. This put the Vatican on extremely good terms with both Israel and Palestine and strengthened its sway in the region.

Pope Francis, Israel and Palestine

In a continuation of the previous Pope’s work in the region, Pope Francis invited the leaders of Palestine and Israel to the Vatican for a day of prayer in 2014. He requested both sides to live in peace together, advocating for the two-state solution. Rather than force politically charged discussions, the Pope simply brought the two leaders together for a prayer summit followed by a private discussion. Years later, Francis’ 2018 Christmas Address further urged for peace in the region.

Pope Francis and South Sudan

South Sudan, with 70 percent of its population Christian, plunged into civil war in 2013 after an alleged coup that the vice president designed. Two years into the conflict, Pope Francis privately met with South Sudanese President Kiir in Uganda while he was visiting the region. In a similar manner to how other Popes helped end an international conflict before them, Francis aimed to create an open dialogue between the warring factions. In 2019, Pope Francis invited President Kiir to the Vatican to discuss and encourage the implementation of the 2019 ceasefire agreement.

By wielding their immense power in these five instances, these popes helped end international conflicts. At the very least, their efforts as a neutral party created opportunities for hostile forces to move towards peace. While this list highlights major interventions by recent popes, these men also influence international politics every day in extraordinarily subtle and powerful ways.

Daria Locher
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Poverty in Palestine
Palestine, a country consisting of Gaza and the West Bank, faces ongoing conflict with Israel, political instability and resource insecurity. While the historical and political scenario of Palestine is complex and cannot be simply explained, in the text below top 10 facts about poverty in Palestine are presented in order to provide a clearer picture of the situation in the country.

  1. Poverty is widespread and severe in Palestine. Palestine Central Bureau of Statistics finds that 29.2 percent of Palestinian individuals lived in poverty in 2017. In addition, 16.8 percent of Palestinians live below the poverty line. Individuals that live below the poverty line are unable to acquire the necessities of food, clothing and shelter.
  2. Poverty is particularly acute in the Gaza and Palestine’s refugee camps. While the 13.9 percent poverty rate in West Bank is alarming, over half of the individuals in Gaza and 45.4 percent of individuals in refugee camps live in poverty. Additionally, 33.8 percent of Gazans and 29.3 percent of those in Palestinian refugee camps live below the deep poverty line. Over 1.5 million individuals, displaced due to the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, 1967 Six-Day War and Israeli occupation, live in Palestine refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan, the Syrian Arab Republic, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
  3. Poverty in Palestine is on the rise. Palestine’s poverty level increased by 13.2 percent from 2011 to 2017. In the next two years, the World Bank predicts a decline in real per capita income and an increase in unemployment, given that the current scenario of Israeli restrictions and internal divide between West Bank and Gaza persists.
  4. Unemployment is alarmingly high. Unemployment in Palestine reached 27 percent in 2017, with unemployment in West Bank at 18 percent and Gaza at 44 percent. In fact, Gaza had the third highest unemployment rate in the world in 2017. The actual rate of unemployment in the West Bank and Gaza is higher than reported as these rates do not account for those who have dropped out of the labor market. Israeli settlements and import restrictions led to increased unemployment by damaging the Palestinian economy through increased production costs and decreased land and resources available for production.
  5. Foreign aid has played a large role in reducing poverty in Palestine. According to the Palestine Central Bureau of Statistics, public aid has reduced the poverty percentage by 11.5 percent, with deep poverty reduced by 20 percent. International aid, with the U.S. and U.K. as leading donors, is critical for the Palestinian economy. The West Bank’s economy is seen as fully dependent on aid and 80 percent of Gazans relying on humanitarian aid for survival.
  6. Just under a quarter of all Palestinians are food insecure. Many Palestinians lack the resources to put substantial meals on the table. Food insecurity poses a threat with 32.7 percent of Palestinians or 1.5 million people that are food insecure. In Gaza, this figure jumps to 68.5 percent.
  7. Water quality is low, particularly in Gaza. Water experts have agreed that 97 percent of the water in Gaza is polluted. Dangerous diseases such as diarrhea that now affects 80 percent of children under the age of 3 have become more widespread as a result.
  8. Some Israeli policies hinder Palestine’s economic growth. A 12-year blockade of the Gaza strip, a separation wall in the West Bank and time-consuming checkpoints are all Israeli policies that harm Palestine’s economy. Israeli land restrictions in the West Bank lower Palestine’s GDP by $3.4 billion a year, or 35 percent of Palestine’s economy, by restricting Palestinian access to agricultural and resource-rich land.
  9. Gaza is currently facing an electricity crisis. The two million Palestinian residents of Gaza receive electricity for no more than eight hours each day. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, for the past decade, Gaza has suffered from a chronic electricity deficit or a situation where demand for electricity far exceeds the supply. The shortage of electricity has decreased the availability of water, sanitation and health services, along with undermining Gaza’s fragile economy, particularly the agriculture and manufacturing sectors.
  10. Many organizations are working persistently to alleviate poverty in Palestine. One of those organizations is the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) that gives support to the most vulnerable communities through sustainable economic empowerment approaches that decrease dependency on aid. An example of a UNDP project is the Deprived Families Economic Empowerment Programme, a project that aims to graduate impoverished families from being recipients of humanitarian assistance to being economically self-sufficient by providing services specific to their needs. The financial services provided through this program generated 23,000 paid and sustainable jobs and 9,560 family-owned enterprises. The Boycott Divest Sanction (BDS) movement also intends to improve the lives of Palestinians through applying economic and political pressure on Israel to end their occupation of Palestine.

These top 10 facts about poverty in Palestine are just snippets of the complex picture of political, historical and economic factors that influence the Palestinian standard of living. There is no magic bullet solution to poverty in any country, but a combination of international support and political collaboration has the potential to greatly improve the lives of many Palestinians.

– Carolina Sherwood Bigelow
Photo: Pixabay

Water Security in Gaza
The Gaza Strip is a Palestinian territory, located on the Mediterranean Sea, that borders with Egypt and Israel. However, it is separated from the West Bank, with Israel severely limiting movement of Gazans wishing to transit between the two territories. Additionally, since Hamas, a Palestinian Sunni-Islamist fundamentalist organization, got elected to power in 2007, the help from the Western nations to Gaza has been limited.

This has hampered Gaza’s infrastructure, including a resource vital for all life on Earth, water. Pollution and groundwater depletion are the major concerns, with some sources estimating that 95 percent of groundwater sources are contaminated in the area. Water security in Gaza depends mainly on improving infrastructures, such as sewage treatment and groundwater withdrawal practices.

A Brief History of Gaza

Following the partition of Israel into Jewish and Palestinian territories in 1948, Egypt occupied Gaza. The territory remained under the Egypt control until Israel seized it in the Six Day War of 1967. Israel withdrew in 2005 and only two years later, the Palestinian Authority was ousted in elections in favor of Hamas, considered to be a terrorist organization by most of the world. Israel’s response was a complete blockade of Gaza, limiting the abilities of goods and services to enter the territory.

With the blockade came severe restriction of movement for Gazans, at both the Israeli and Egyptian borders. Beginning with the second Intifada, the Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation, Israel drastically reduced the number of Palestinian crossings at the Erez border, the only land crossing for the movement of the people, generally limited to humanitarian aid and medical treatment. Statistics outline the decline in crossings. Before the outbreak of the intifada in 2000, an average of 780,000 Palestinians entered Israel through Erez monthly. That number is now around 12,000. Such restrictive border controls have implications for water security in Gaza as well.

Water Security in Gaza

Water accessibility and quality in Gaza are quite poor. Compounding to the problem of poor facilities, Gaza’s location in a water-stressed, drought-prone region affects water security in Gaza. Israel handles droughts through innovate methods such as drip irrigation and desalination plants. The Israeli government can afford to finance these projects because they are a highly prosperous nation. However, these methods are a luxury in Gaza.

Gaza’s main source of drinking water for decades, an underground aquifer, is depleted, with rapid population growth outpacing supply. Consequentially, seawater from the Mediterranean is seeping in, making the aquifer largely unusable. Gaza imports desalinated water from Israel, but the tense situation on the border has resulted in an increase of just five million more cubic meters of water in 20 years, a meager amount for a population of over two million people.

International Response

The international community has a strategic interest in water security in Gaza. The present, squalid conditions in Gaza create an environment ripe for extremism and resentment towards its more affluent neighbor. Recently, Israel has approved a shipment of building materials to enter Gaza in order to construct a large desalination plant. A notable nonprofit organization called Interpal is providing Gazans with immediate solutions, such as water filtration systems. However, effective water quality reform will require infrastructure reform, as well as coordination with Israel to ensure lasting water supply in the region.

Water security in Gaza affects at least two million people living in the region but should concern the international community as well. Desperate conditions create desperate civilians, and given the history of conflict in the region, solving this problem is paramount. A water-secure Gaza improves Israel’s long term security and improves the security of the Middle East, which has positive implications for everyone.

– Joseph Banish
Photo: Flickr

Refugees in Lebanon

While the Syrian civil war and other conflicts in the Middle East continue to make international headlines, the refugee crisis caused by these conflicts has slowly faded from the public eye. Many countries around the world are now focused on more immediate internal problems. For Syria’s neighboring countries, though, the refugee crisis continues to be an impactful part of their society.

Lebanon is one of these countries. This country shares most of its land border with Syria, and this made it an obvious place for war refugees to flee. The government has allowed many to remain in the country. Estimates say that there are still more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, and this is only part of the country’s refugee population.

Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

Life for Syrian refugees in Lebanon today is complicated, to say at least. While they are allowed to stay within the country, a combination of unfriendly government policies and heavily-strained infrastructure mean that few can maintain a high quality of life. Residency laws are difficult to navigate, leaving many fearful of arrest and open to exploitation.

Good work is hard to find, and 71 percent of Syrian refugees live below the country’s poverty line. This lack of financial resources helps explain why more than 200,000 refugee children were kept out of school in 2016. This education gap will only lead to more economic vulnerability in the long term.

Compounding these difficulties is the legitimate strain that 1.5 million refugees put on a Lebanese population that totals only six million. The Lebanese residents of some host communities are outnumbered by refugees. Since the start of the crisis, government spending and debt have risen while GDP has dropped and expenses have mounted. The economic troubles have heightened perception of refugees as a drain on Lebanese society and many want them to return to Syria. Of course, many Syrians would like to return home as well, especially given the conditions in Lebanon.

With the war continuing to progress, though, the United Nations does not recommend that refugees return. President of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, and his government continue to make returning difficult even for those that would like to take the chance. Beyond the obvious physical danger of the ongoing conflict, a strict military draft and the threat of property seizure for the many refugees who are left without formal documentation for their homes are harsh deterrents for many people.

Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon

It’s important to note that Syrians are not the only refugees in Lebanon. A population of around 270,000 Palestinians has settled in a few dozen U.N. camps around the country. Many of these people (or even parents of these people) have been in Lebanon since the Palestinian war in 1948. Today, these camps are essentially considered permanent settlements, and their longevity is part of what has inspired a more aggressive governmental push to ensure that Syrian refugees are only settled temporarily.

Palestinians in Lebanon have always been considered a separate legal class, with restricted access to certain public facilities, educational paths, careers and job opportunities. Many are forced to take low-paying, informal jobs.

The Syrian crisis has made life even more difficult for them, as both refugee groups must now compete for the same undesirable jobs. In 2015, 23 percent of the Palestinian population in Lebanon was unemployed. That number was only 8 percent before the crisis. Conditions are even worse for the 33,000 Palestinians who were living in Syria and have since become refugees in Lebanon as 93 percent of these people are reliant on U.N. aid as their primary source of livelihood.

International Aid for Refugees

While international news has largely moved on from the crisis, international aid continues to be involved in Lebanon and other similarly-strained countries. Thousands of families receive aid from U.N. groups, nonprofit organizations and other groups like the World Bank, to supplement governmental support and their own limited personal resources.

These sources of aid can be effective at reducing poverty, but many have been geared at short term solutions so far. As budgets and international aid dry up, support for the refugees in Lebanon will likely be most effective if it focuses on the long term effects. Groups like Habitat for Humanity are hoping to improve living conditions by building new homes and renovating old buildings as well as water and sanitation facilities. The UNHCR also has plans to shore up Lebanese infrastructure as part of the international effort.

However, with the instability in the region and the ongoing pressure to return to Syria and Palestine mounting, permanent solutions may not be a winning political idea in Lebanon. Time will tell, but in the meantime, it is vitally important not to forget the millions of people- Syrians, Palestinians, Lebanese and others- who are still impacted by the Syrian refugee crisis.

– Josh Henreckson

Photo: Flickr

Creative arts help the poor
In 2000, the second intifada erupted in West Bank and The Gaza Strip. The conflict resulted in 4,300 fatalities over the course of five years. Located in the heart of the conflict, Palestinian refugees residing in Aida Camp were subjected to frequent military attacks and their 
inexpensively built houses were exposed to land and air raids.

Israeli forces occupied their houses and commandeered their camp for military purposes all while schools were destroyed and roads were severely damaged. In the midst of this chaos, 11 young refugees of the Aida Camp assembled a group where creative arts help the poor in Palestine.

Starting The Lajee Center

Within the year, these creative members secured a 70 square meter garage for their place of operation. Their goal was to create a space in which Palestinians could creatively address their enduring struggle to secure their rights. They called this space The Lajee Center, a place where the creative arts help the poor on a daily basis.

Today, The Lajee Center is a cultural center that provides “refugee youth with cultural, educational, social and developmental opportunities.”  It services not only the roughly 39 percent of Aida Camp residents living on less than $2 a day but is also open to all Palestinians.

According to the organization’s website, “activities are organized with the goal of fostering in participants a wider understanding of the world in which they live, focusing on issues relating specifically to their own society, culture and history, as well as the global context.”

Lajee Center Programs

The programs of Lajee Center reflect the increasing reliance on the creative arts in order to address situations of extreme poverty. In fact, UNESCO has launched several initiatives in which the creative arts help the poor in various impoverished communities.

The organization recognizes that publishing, music, cinema, crafts and design play a role in allowing for freedom of expression, cultural diversity and economic development. The group also recognizes that the arts have the ability to address emerging inequalities that have resulted from the development of new technologies and international trade.

A Therapeutic Escape

The therapeutic benefits of creative outlets are well-known — children in the camp are guided in arts and crafts in which they are encouraged to visually express their greatest aspirations. Some partake in weekly dance lessons in the traditional Palestinian folk dance while others participate in the camp’s choral group or individual music lessons. The children report that the music not only connects them to their history but it also provides them with welcomed escapes from their harsh surroundings.

Perhaps, most importantly, the creative arts are a source of identity formation. The residents of the Aida Camp continue to be subjected to military violence as a result of the Israeli occupation. Members of the dance troupe have been injured and detained while others have been banned from travel.

Healing Powers of Art

A group of 50 was once detained in a building without ventilation and then targeted with tear gas grenades; however, the troupe has continued dancing because they value how dance is a part of their identity. It instills them with a sense of belonging and strengthens their claim as a distinct people deserving of basic human rights.  

The Lajee Center has earned international acclaim for its many artistic endeavors. The Lajee’s Center’s Palestinian folk dance troupe has performed not only around West Bank but has also toured to both The U.K. and Syria on several occasions. The organization has also participated in two cultural tours around The U.K. which exposed members’ photography, film and dance to over 3,000 members of the British public.

Global Renown

Furthermore, Lajee Center has organized 30 international photography exhibits showcasing the work of the camp’s youth. These exhibits took place in 9 different countries covering 4 different continents. In addition, 4 books written by Aida camps residents have been published internationally in both Arabic and English.

When attempting to find solutions to cases of extreme poverty in the world, it is easy to focus on economic barriers, access to education and lack of basic utilities.

Humanitarian Aid

Humanitarian groups readily assist in building wells, providing new agricultural technology and renovating schools. In all the frenzy, the cultural and artistic components are oftentimes overlooked; however, in order to most effectively implement these developmental measures, it is essential to understand the daily lives and beliefs of the people’s expected to adopt these new measures.

It is essential to address not only physical needs but also the emotional ones. Recognizing this importance, the Lajee Center has put culture and the arts at the heart of its grassroots humanitarian efforts and recognizes how creative arts help the poor in ways that traditional relief efforts cannot.

Joanna Dooley
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts About Poverty in Palestine
Due to the ongoing conflict in the region, poverty in Palestine has been a notable topic. Below are 10 facts about poverty in Palestine that describe the statistics of the issue, yet portray hope for the future.

Facts About Poverty in Palestine

  1. Statistics show how poverty in Palestine is rampant. Approximately 26 percent of individuals fall into the poverty rate of having an average monthly household consumption of 985.8 Jordanian Dinar, which is equivalent to approximately $1,389.44 USD. The deep poverty rate is 13 percent. Lastly, the real GDP growth rate is zero percent.
  2. Palestine’s history lends itself to high unemployment rates. The 2016 Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics report shows that only 32.5 percent of Palestinians were working full time. Since 2013, the unemployment rate has steadily increased from 23 percent to approximately 27 percent. The highest unemployment rate is between the ages of 14 to 24, with 41.7 unemployment rate.
  3. Education does not extend much past the preparatory phase as about 38 percent of Palestinians receive this education. This is the average education for Palestinians. Only 13 percent achieve a Bachelor’s degree and on the other end of the spectrum, approximately three percent are illiterate. Following this pattern, as Palestinian children age, the educational attendance rate drops significantly. From 6 to 11 years of age, 98.4 percent attended school, while of those who are 18 years of age and older, only 11.4 percent attend education. Overall, about 40 percent of young Palestinians are attending schools.

The Role of Oxfam International in Palestine

  1. According to Oxfam International, 80 percent of the Palestinian population relies on humanitarian aid to survive. Many people living in the occupied territories have little access to basic services. Millions are denied the right to free movement to access their basic needs. These issues lead to the extreme poverty in Palestine.
  2. Since 1950, Oxfam International has been working in the occupied territories partnering with approximately 60 organizations to help the most vulnerable communities of Gaza, East Jerusalem, and Area C, “the 61 percent of the West Bank where the government of Israel maintains full military and civil control.”
  3. In these communities, Oxfam International helps citizens in a variety of sectors improve their quality of life and to reduce the poverty in Palestine. This organization advocates for land rights and rights of women and other marginalized groups. Oxfam also helps improve the quality of farms and help women start businesses. Overall, they “campaign for lasting peace, security for all civilians, respect for international law and an end to the blockade.”

Sustainable Development Goals Affected by Poverty

  1. In Palestine, 1.3 million do not have access to, or cannot afford, nutritious food. This is approximately 22.5 percent of the population. Food insecurity affects families headed by women more, accounting for approximately 36 percent of families, as opposed to the 21 percent of families headed by men that are food insecure. These statistics are even higher in the Gaza Strip, where 39 percent of families are food insecure.
  2. In 2015, the United Nations created the Sustainable Development Goals, which include Zero Hunger, food security, and improved nutrition. With the ongoing conflict, economic stagnation, restricted trade and access to resources, high unemployment and high poverty rates, Palestine faces difficulties reaching these goals.
  3. In 1991, the World Food Programme started assisting communities with high prevalence of food insecurity. Food insecurity is increased with the constant conflict, restricted movement, and reduced access to land. This organization is helping Palestine reach the Zero Hunger sustainable development goal.
  4. Other Sustainable Development Goals affected by the restricted movement and armed conflict include good health and well-being, quality education, and reduced inequalities, among others. These goals show how interconnected conflict, poor education and other injustices are to poverty.

These facts about poverty in Palestine demonstrate how help is available, but more programs led by organizations like Oxfam and the World Food Program are necessary to expedite Palestine’s ability to reach the Sustainable Development Goal of no poverty.

– Jenna Walmer

Photo: Flickr

Facts About Human Rights in Palestine
The history that created Israel, Gaza and the West Bank is not brief. The tensions can not be simply put as they require delicate unpacking and care. Until 1948, these three regions were all Palestine; following the Arab-Israeli War of 1947-1948, the land was divided between Jewish Israelis, whose ancestors began migrating to the area in the 1880s, and the Palestinian Arabs whose ancestors had lived in the region for hundreds of years. The dispute over ownership has since led to continued conflict.

Palestine/Israel Conflict

Jewish Israelis lay claim to the land based on a promise from God for a safe haven from widespread hostility to their faith. Palestinian Arabs, whose majority are Muslim but also include Christians and Druze, contest that they are the rightful inhabitants due to the length of their ancestors existence on the land.

Palestinians have been displaced to two regions, Gaza and the West Bank. Under the Oslo peace accords signed in 1993, Gaza was turned over to the newly created Palestinian Authority, to form one wing of an emerging Palestinian state, along with the West Bank and a potential land corridor between them. But two different parties rule these two regions — the militant Hamas controlled Gaza and Fatah ruled the West Bank.

These tensions run deep, and conflict persists. The Israeli government continues to enforce severe and discriminatory restrictions on Palestinian’s human rights, and Palestinian security forces continue to treat their own people with disrespect. Here are the top 10 facts about human rights in Palestine/Israel.

10 Facts About Human Rights in Palestine/Israel

  1. The Israeli government restricts the movement of people and goods into and out of the Gaza Strip. Israel continues to maintain a decade-long effective closure of Gaza, as does the region’s neighbor, Egypt. This imposed border imposes restrictions that limit the supply of water and medical care as well as educational and economic opportunities. These blockades restrict exports and cripple the economy leading to exacerbated and widespread poverty. Approximately 70 percent of Gaza’s 1.9 million people rely on humanitarian assistance.
  2. Israel’s parliament has given itself the ability to dispossess Palestinian’s of their land. In February of 2017, the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, passed the Regularization Law allowing Israel to take control of private Palestinian land on which they have profited from building settlements for Israeli settlers.
  3. Preferential treatment is given to Israeli settlers in the West Bank. In 2017, Israeli authorities destroyed homes and other property, and forcibly displaced hundreds of Palestinians while continuing to provide security, administrative services, housing, education and medical care for about 607,000 Israeli settlers residing in unlawful settlement housing built in the West Bank. The discriminatory practices also include the rejection of almost all building permit applications submitted by Palestinians.
  4. Feuds between Gaza’s two main governmental parties has led to periodic shutdowns of its only power plant. Disputes between Fatah and Hamas concerning responsibility for paying the plant’s fuel has led to frequent loss of electricity in Gaza. Power outages jeopardize water supply, interfere with sewage treatment and cripple hospital operations.
  5. Thousands of Palestinians have been imprisoned, on what Israeli authorities call “security grounds,” without charge or trial. The majority of these prisoners are overwhelmingly Palestinian. As of November 1, 2017, Israeli authorities incarcerated 6,154 inmates. In April and May later that same year, hundreds of Palestinian prisoners spent 40 days on a hunger strike seeking better conditions.
  6. The two leading Palestinian political groups — the Palestinian Authority and Hamas — have arrested and mistreated activists critical of their leaders, security forces and policies. The Independent Commission for Human Rights in Palestine received 205 complaints of torture and ill-treatment by Palestinian Authority security forces and 193 similar complaints against Hamas security forces.
  7. Torture perpetrated by the Palestinian police and security forces remain common. In September 2018, a 16-year old boy and another detainee died in unclear circumstances in a Hamas-controlled detention center. Instances of torture have been carried out with impunity in both the West Bank and Gaza.
  8. Security forces use excessive force to disperse protests. Palestinian security forces have used excessive force to violently suppress peaceful protests in the West Bank. On March 12, 2018, at least 13 men and eight women were injured. Seventeen people were hospitalized during a protest outside of the Ramallah District Court. Despite the Prime Minister’s commitment to upholding recommendations made by a Fact-Finding Commission to follow government regulations on the dispersal of protests, none of the officers responsible for the violence were brought to justice.
  9. Women and girls continue to face discrimination is both law and practice. The violation of women’s human rights in Palestine is most clearly seen in the inadequate protection of women and girls against sexual and other gender-based violence including “honor” killings. In 2017, at least 28 women and girls were reported to have been killed by male relatives in honor fashion. Article 308 of the Jordanian Penal Code allows those who commit rape or sexual assault to escape punishment by marrying their victim.
  10. Capital punishment has been used in Gaza. Six people were executed in 2017 after civil and military courts sentenced them to death for their “collaboration with Israel” and other offenses. In May, Hamas executed three men in a public square in Gaza city after a trial that lasted only one week (consisted of four brief sessions).

Supporting Humanity

Violence committed with impunity is a trait of no one creed but man; both Israelis and Palestinians violate the human rights of each other and themselves. These top 10 facts about human rights in Palestine/Israel and their total violation do little justice to what it is to live under the weight of so much hate.

“We are of one blood you and I.” This sentiment is as true between the people of Palestine and Israel as it is between those reading this and those suffering from the things discussed in this list. Showing indifference to hate allows it to flourish. Do not support representatives and policies that excuse indifference to crises such as what is happening in Palestine/Israel.

– Carolina Sherwood Bigelow
Photo: Flickr

Threatens Millions of Palestinians
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) was established in 1949, after the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict, in order to offer relief and works programs for Palestinian refugees. Since its inception, UNRWA has gone from helping some 750,000 Palestinian refugees to approximately 5 million Palestinians today.

Funding

Funded entirely by the contributions of U.N. member nations, UNRWA directs its efforts towards services ranging from education to healthcare to microfinance. Their budget is divided into 54 percent to education, 17 percent to health, 16 percent to support services, 9 percent to relief and social services, and 4 percent to infrastructure and camp improvement.

Unfortunately, these services are at risk due to a potential $250 million shortfall. A significant decline in the United States’ contribution, from $364 million last year to $60 million this year is said to be responsible for the shortage of funds.

Impact in Syria

Amidst the destructive conflict in Syria, 560,000 Palestinian refugees are among the worst affected. Through the Syria Crisis Response Plan, UNRWA provides vital humanitarian assistance through emergency healthcare, education, food and household items. In Syria alone, $411 million is necessary to maintain these crucial provisions.

The UNRWA has provided 44,000 young Palestinian refugees with the opportunity to pursue primary and secondary education. However, if the funding shortage cannot be met, their safety, as well as their education, is at risk.

Impact in Gaza

Through 22 health centers, UNRWA provides healthcare services to over 1.2 million Palestinian refugees in Gaza. Due to the ongoing conflict in Gaza and limited resources available, UNRWA also offers emergency food assistance to 830,000 Palestinian refugees living below the poverty line as well as 45,870 cash-for-work opportunities and counseling for upwards of 25,000 refugee children. Funding shortages place all of these essential services at risk.

UNRWA has 252 schools in Gaza that educate more than 240,400 students. These schools now face a similar, bleak fate to their Syrian counterparts should this massive funding gap fail to be filled. Aside from providing students a basic education, many of these schools include a dedicated human rights curriculum that promotes conflict resolution.

Impact in the West Bank

Palestinian refugees living in the West Bank are also at significant risk should the UNRWA not be able to resolve its funding shortage. UNRWA provides emergency food assistance to almost 36,000 households, in addition to working to improve camp environments for female and youth refugees. In 2012, for example, UNRWA assisted 113,374 food-insecure Palestinian refugees.

Significance of UNRWA Funding

According to Pierre Krahenbuhl, the commissioner general of the UNRWA, the most urgent threat the funding shortage poses is to emergency food aid to Palestinians in Gaza and Syria. However, the UNRWA has also been instrumental in offering high-quality education throughout the region, promoting gender equality, providing near-universal immunization, investing in small businesses, and providing food assistance to 1.7 million refugees.

What do all of these services have in common? They have been integral to raising Palestinian refugees out of poverty and ensuring basic human rights. We cannot allow UNRWA’s efforts to disappear. Failure to offer these resources threatens millions of Palestinians and only guarantees continued hardship for their communities and the region. 

– McAfee Sheehan
Photo: Flickr