peace in palestine
The current issue between Israel and Palestine is a critical conflict as Palestinians face possible annexation from regions in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, affecting 2.1 to 3 million Palestinians. The political strife has been off and on for approximately 100 years as the possibility of annexation becomes a reality. However, the questions of education, healthcare and human rights become prevalent when considering Palestine and its people. Here’s what you need to know about the problem with peace in Palestine.

The Conflict

Palestine and Isreal’s conflict of political power stems from the want for the same land and the power over it. With Isreal already in control of 60% of the West Bank and looking to control upwards of 30% more, Palestinians are worried about their homes and lives as they could force individuals to leave as a result. For many Palestinians, the overall result of the annex is hard to determine, but United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights leader Michelle Bachelet states, “shockwaves of the annexation will last for decades.” As annexation is illegal in terms of international law and is a violation of human rights, the result of backlash is expected.

In 2019, Isreal destroyed hundreds of properties in the West Bank for a lack of approved permits, many of which were owned by Palestinians who had built homes without proper licenses. Although they’ve built homes without authorization, Palestinians may only get construction approved by the Israelis. More often than not, they are denied.

The destruction of these areas can be detrimental to many individuals and any future of peace in Palestine. Palestinian refugees are offered services from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) to cater to basic needs such as education, healthcare, shelter and more. The agency defines Palestinian refugees as “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.”

Impact on Education

As a result of violence, many are concerned about the safety of children, educational systems and peace in Palestine. Threats of destruction complicate the route to school as students or teachers may be stopped at security checkpoints, and past violence has occurred by Israeli forces. An estimated 19,000 children were involved in the 111 different educational inference cases in the West Bank documented by the UN in 2018.

In 2018, the UNRWA endured a sizeable financial burden as a result of the American government’s decision to decrease the budget for that year. This was the most significant budget cut in history for the agency, resulting in a loss of $300 million for the year. For many, school is supposed to represent a safe and comfortable environment. As a result of the new budget, children and families worried they would not be able to return to school. This led to the UNRWA launching the Dignity is Priceless campaign, a global fundraising campaign advocating for student’s educational and health needs. The campaign’s purpose was to ensure that there would be enough funding and support to reopen the doors. It led the way for other organizations to support education funding.

Campaigns for Aid

Many organizations are standing in support of peace in Palestine, looking to help during this significant humanitarian crisis. UNICEF is working to make an impact in these communities that now lack necessities like drinking water and unsafe access to education. UNICEF’s Humanitarian Action for Children 2020 has accepted $13.7 million in funding, improving access to water for over 30,000 persons and providing water tanks to over 4,100 households. By the end of 2019, they continued to support Palestine’s education system assessing that 6,200 children safely accessed school, and 90,000 students could participate in summer activities.

For many children in Palestine, education is a want, not a given opportunity. The Rights to Education (Right2Edu) campaign strives to bring awareness to the importance of education for Palestinian children and to the hardship’s educational systems face. At the same time, there is a struggle for peace in Palestine. Right2Edu began assisting students and faculty who would be subjected to arrests of the Israeli troops and provides legal assistance to those who may have experienced an educational interference on their way to or from school. The Rights to Education’s primary mission is to pursue the human right of education for all.

The struggle for peace between the two states continues to be an uphill battle. With an emphasis on the future of children in Palestine, 3 campaigns from NGOs show their support through campaigns and field visits to continue to provide supplies and hope for those in Palestine.

Allison Lloyd
Photo: Flickr

Poverty Eradication in Palestine
Palestine, located in Western Asia/the Middle East, consists of Gaza and the West Bank. While facing years of conflict with Israel, Palestine battles increasing poverty and unemployment rates as well as a lack of resources. Below are some programs that UNDP has put into place to help promote poverty eradication in Palestine.

The Context

Palestine has cities with some of the highest population densities and population growth rates while suffering from both limited financial resources and space for efficient growth. Despite the prominence of urban cities with flourishing economies, like Ramallah, Rawabi and Gaza City, Palestine is also centered in a fragile, conflict-afflicted area and this placement has contributed to the increase in poverty. The conflict has weakened government power, caused damage to infrastructure, broken social networks due to forced displacement of families and increased youth unemployment. All of these factors lend themselves to poverty.

The poverty rate in Palestine is 25% and unemployment reached about 29% across the board. For youth ages 15–24, however, unemployment reached 42% in both Gaza and the West Bank, placing Palestine as the country with the eighth-highest youth unemployment rate. This is mostly due to the rapid population growth, the deteriorating economy and the lack of Palestinian students with degrees or vocational training. In addition to these high rates of unemployment, more than 1 million children in Palestine require some form of humanitarian assistance. These conditions have influenced the United Nations to request organizations such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to implement programs centered around innovative ways to reduce and potentially eradicate poverty in Palestine through economic empowerment.

UNDP’s Successful Initiatives

Among these programs is the Deprived Families Economic Empowerment Programme (DEEP). Emerging in 2006, DEEP aims to create interventions that target families who have enough community connections to flourish, through small businesses. This program has helped more than 23,756 households and is working on developing new strategic approaches for economic empowerment such as “community mobilization” and targeting youth employment and group projects. DEEP generated 9,560 family businesses and 23,000 paid and long-term jobs. This newly generated income supports 215,000 people, many of whom are children. Most importantly, this program helped 79% of these families close the poverty gap by more than 50%.

Another successful approach to reducing poverty in Palestine is through the Integrated Agricultural and Rural Development Programme which emerged in 2014. This initiative promotes agricultural production for consumption and seeks to reform the existing infrastructure. The program combats the lack of resources and high unemployment rate by constructing agricultural roads, water storage units, planting trees and installing electricity. All of these activities generate employment and supply the locals with fresh foods such as olives and other fruit. This program also aims to make at least 4,000 hectares of agricultural land suitable for production and support farmers with cultivating and utilizing an additional 7,000 hectares.

The Three-pillar Strategy Against COVID-19

In recent months, the UNDP of Palestine has also implemented programs to combat the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the restricted access to resources, the pre-existing high levels of unemployment and poverty and the decades of political aggression and occupation — the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a harder toll. However, the UNDP is coordinating with the Ministry of Health to bring forth a proper response to the crisis. This response is framed by a three-pillar strategy that includes increasing healthcare staff, disinfecting facilities, supporting livelihoods, promoting businesses and aiding in government responses that fight misinformation and foster discussion through media outlets. All of these efforts aid in ensuring economic empowerment while responding to the crisis.

A Hopeful Outlook

The poverty and unemployment rates in Palestine remain high as political tensions rise. However, the programs that UNDP has actively put into effect contribute to the progression of the economy and the eradication of poverty in Palestine. Through UNDP’s tremendous efforts alongside the humanitarian assistance that various organizations like UNICEF and UNRWA provide, Palestine should be able to decrease its poverty and unemployment rates and restore its economy.

Nada Abuasi
Photo: Flickr

Hisham Hijjawi Collage of Technology, representing young people who may enter the IT sector in Palestine
The COVID-19 pandemic has put thousands of livelihoods and careers in Palestine in jeopardy. Experts predict that the Palestinian economy will reduce by a minimum of 7.6% in 2020. Facing these economic hardships, many Palestinian business owners had to close down because they lacked the supplies or training necessary to continue their businesses digitally. Digital technology, as a whole, has been one of Palestine’s main economic shortcomings. A new initiative can help to address Palestine’s current digital ailments as well as provide job opportunities for the Palestinian youth through the IT sector in Palestine.

TechStart Project Making Waves

The Technology for Youth and Jobs (TechStart) Project will receive funding from a $15 million USD grant from the World Bank. Its mission is to improve Palestine’s IT sector and create more economic opportunities for the youth in Palestine. The project’s end goal is to help the Palestinian IT sector increase the number of high-quality jobs and establish a sustainable economic market for IT-related positions in Palestine. This project directs itself toward the thousands of yearly IT graduates from Palestinian universities who struggle to find jobs after college.

IT Sector Creating Jobs for Youth

According to Kanthan Shankar, the World Bank Country Director for the West Bank and Gaza, IT development aimed at creating job opportunities for young people in Palestine is crucial. This is especially true considering that the youth in Palestine “constitute 30% of the population and suffer from acute unemployment.”

Moreover, IT jobs offer remote positions. During the COVID-19 pandemic, working remotely from home has been necessary for many to remain employed. Another aspect of the project is to draw in investments from foreign companies. By spreading information about the IT sector’s potential and market opportunities, the project hopes that global tech companies will then invest in Palestinian IT firms (equipment, training, etc.) and foster new business relations with these smaller firms.

Despite the fact that these developments for the IT sector in Palestine received authorization last month, Palestine has been continuing to improve its digital economy every year. This project, however, might be the boost necessary to make IT a priority not only for the Palestinian economy but also for young college graduates looking for IT jobs in Palestine.

IT Sector Becoming More Prominent

More familiar career paths such as agriculture or trade have overshadowed the IT sector in Palestine. However, IT is slowly becoming more prominent throughout the Palestinian territories. Between 2008 and 2010, the IT industry in Palestine increased to 5% from 0.8% of GDP. Palestine’s digital growth does not stop there. By 2017, there were 241 tech startup companies in Palestine that were responsible for the creation of 1,247 jobs.

The IT sector in Palestine is still in its infancy, and it will take some time to realize its full potential as a sustainable economic outlet. However, the future of Palestine’s youth and IT sector are promising. Within at least five years, college-educated Palestinian men and women will have more IT employment opportunities than ever before if the project’s goals come to fruition.

Maxwell Karibian
Photo: Flickr

palestinian children
Palestine is a Middle Eastern state that borders the Mediterranean Sea and primarily consists of the Gaza Strip and West Bank regions. Over five million people make up the population of both regions combined. Decades of conflict with Israel have left the land, especially Gaza, in a precarious state, with 80% of the population in Gaza needing some form of external aid to survive. Thus, Palestinian children face unique challenges and experiences.

Two-thirds of Palestinian families live above the poverty line, leaving almost one-third below the line, defined as having a monthly income of less than $640.

Children in Palestine, who make up about half of the population, are the most affected by these conditions. In both regions, more than one million children are in need of humanitarian assistance. Here are seven facts about the lives of Palestinian children.

7 Facts about Children in Palestine

  1. Infant mortality in Palestine is among the lowest in the Middle East. Infant mortality rates in the Middle Eastern region average to 18.3 deaths per 1,000 births, which is greater than Palestine’s alone. On average, there are 18 deaths per 1,000 births in Palestine between the West Bank and Gaza regions. As restrictions in movement confine Palestinians to their homes, the accessibility of adequate health care services may deprive children of their right to obtain necessary medical care.
  2. 70 percent of Palestinian children attend primary school. However, nearly 25 percent of boys and seven percent of girls drop out by age 15. These numbers are much larger for children with disabilities, who have a more difficult time accessing education. This is, in part, due to movement restrictions, as children and teachers need to cross at least one checkpoint to attend school. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Education and Higher Education, over 8,000 children and 400 teachers are in need of protective presence to obtain safe access to schooling in the West Bank.
  3. More than 80 new school buildings and 1,000 new classrooms are needed in Gaza over the next five years. The lack of sufficient classrooms has reduced learning hours for Palestinian students to 4.5 hours a day and has forced two-thirds of schools to operate on multiple shifts per day to prevent overcrowding. A lack of resources, materials, and willing teachers makes it difficult for children to attend school.
  4. Since 2000, over 10,000 Palestinian children in the West Bank have been detained by Israeli military forces in the Israeli military detention system. Defense for Children International — Palestine (DCIP) took the testimonies of 739 children, between 12 and 17 years old. Based on these testimonies, the organization found that 73 percent faced physical violence following their arrest, 64 percent faced verbal abuse and intimidation tactics by Israeli interrogators, 74 percent were not informed of their rights and 96 percent were interrogated without a family member present.
  5. The joint American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and DCIP led the No Way to Treat a Child campaign that exposes the systematic ill-treatment of Palestinian children in Israeli military detention facilities. The campaign challenges Israel’s extended military occupation of Palestine by creating a sizeable network of people demanding immediate safeguarding of Palestinian children. As such, the proposed Promoting Human Rights for Palestinian Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act (H.R.2407) follows these protocols and calls for U.S. citizens and policy-makers to take measures against unlawful detention.
  6. Conflict-related violence significantly impacts the physical and mental health of Palestinian children. Violent discipline in Palestinian homes and schools is widespread, where 91.5 percent of children have experienced psychological aggression or physical violence. The Israeli occupation has increased stress-levels and dysfunctionality within Palestinian families. The most vulnerable population— children— experience violence from both their families and Israeli soldiers alike. They are traumatized, confronting “flashbacks, nightmares, agoraphobia,” according to a UNICEF study involving children in the Gaza Strip.
  7. Coping mechanisms are eroding. Palestinian children and families are resorting to unhealthy coping strategies, such as school dropout, early marriage and child labor. Socio-economic difficulties, poverty and violence from the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict have forced children to mature early in life, with one in 10 girls between the ages of 15 and 19 years old getting married. Checkpoints have contributed to significant dropout rates. Some children are even referred to as “One Shekel Kids”, moving into the labor sector to support their families.

Poverty and conflict greatly affect children in Palestine, leading to high dropout rates and negative mental and physical health impacts. More than one million children in Palestine are in need of humanitarian assistance. Despite these conditions and traumas, Palestinian children still present inspiring stories of hardiness and hope. 

Sarah Uddin
Photo: Flickr

Clean Water in Palestine
Palestine is a sovereign state in the Middle East that contains both the Gaza Strip and West Bank. It is undergoing conflict with Israel, with Israel in control of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Today, many Palestinians live with limited access to clean water, which disturbs their ability to live peacefully. Here are 10 facts about access to clean water in Palestine.

10 Facts About Access to Clean Water in Palestine

  1. Limited Clean Water Access: In the Gaza Strip, only one in 10 people have direct access to clean and safe water and 97% of freshwater from Gaza’s only aquifer is unfit for human consumption. Overpopulation, over-pumping and the seeping of seawater into freshwater have significantly reduced the amount of clean water available in Palestine.
  2. Clean Water is Expensive: Due to the severe shortage of clean in Palestine, private vendors charge high prices for their water. Freshwater costs 30 shekels ($7) per cubic meter. As of 2017, 95% of Gaza’s population depends on these private vendors for desalinated and clean water.
  3. Violence Damages Water Networks: In 2014, the Gaza War caused $30 million worth of damage to water storage tanks and pumping and piping systems. Tensions with Israel have exacerbated this problem, as Israel maintains a blockade around the Gaza Strip, which prevents Palestinians in Gaza from seeking clean water sources outside of the Gaza’s contaminated aquifer.
  4. There is a Sanitation Crisis: After the Gaza Power Plant ran out of fuel and shut down, energy shortages adversely affected more than 450 water and wastewater facilities. As a result, 108,000 m3 (about 43 standard Olympic pools) worth of sewage flows every day into the Mediterranean Sea. About 70% of Gaza beaches have experienced contamination; in the winter, sewage floods the streets. UNICEF is tackling this by supporting WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) services that improve access to clean water for 40,000 people. Other services and interventions UNICEF supports include rehabilitation of infrastructure, repairs of public sanitation facilities and maintenance works and rehabilitation of water wells and stormwater pumping stations.
  5. Risk of Disease is High: With access to clean water deteriorating, Palestinians cannot shower and wash their food and hands frequently, which intensifies the risk of disease. In 2017, diarrhea in children as young as 3-years-old doubled in 3 months, from nearly 1,483 cases in March to 3,713 in June. UNICEF has been combating this since January and February 2020 by supporting the monthly distribution of sodium hypochlorite to public water facilities in Gaza. This helps avert waterborne disease outbreaks as well as improve access to safe and clean water in Palestine.
  6. Poverty Hinders the Ability to Pay: Between 80% and 85% of people in Gaza live in abject poverty and cannot afford to pay their water bills. The 11-year blockade has worsened unemployment in Gaza, which is at 60% for young adults. Meanwhile, the municipality cannot afford to fuel water pumps. Jamal Al-Khudari, a Palestinian legislator, said in February 2020 that long-distance or remote employment opportunities might help unemployed Palestinians, though the best way to reduce unemployment is to end the Israeli siege.
  7. Water Usage Per Day is Meager: Palestinians in the West Bank only use about 72 liters of water per day. In contrast, the average American uses about 302-378 liters of water per day, and the average water usage per person in the U.K. in 2018 was 149 liters.
  8. Gaza Could Become Uninhabitable: The United Nations reported that Gaza may become uninhabitable by 2020, with the principal reason being the water crisis. The damage to the Gaza aquifer may become irreparable by that time. UNICEF planned to prevent this by funding the Gaza Strip’s largest desalination plant in 2017, which projections determine will produce 20,000 cubic meters of desalinated water in 2020. This will serve about 275,000 people in Rafah and Khan Younis with 90 liters of water per capita per day. UNICEF also funded the largest solar field in Gaza, which will help power the seawater desalination plant and allow more citizens to obtain safe and clean drinking water in Palestine.
  9. Other Organizations Working to Help Palestine: The Alliance for Water Justice in Palestine collaborates with many organizations around the world to raise awareness about the water crisis in Palestine. One such organization is House of Water and Environment, a Palestinian nonprofit NGO that works with Newcastle University to conduct water and environmental research and development projects that improve water supply as well as sanitation services in Palestine. HWE also develops simulation models to solve regional and national water and environmental problems.
  10. Another NGO is Working to Provide Clean Water to Schools: The Middle East Children’s Alliance started The Maia Project to provide clean water to children in Gaza by installing and maintaining water purification and desalination units to children in Gaza schools and community kindergartens. MECA has constructed 42 water purification units, with 10 more currently being constructed. Each unit provides clean water for more than 2,000 students and staff. MECA plans to continue The Maia Project until it has installed units in all 221 U.N. schools in Gaza refugee camps as well as in hundreds of kindergarten and preschools in Gaza. The Maia Project accepts donations for maintenance, cleaning and purchases of water purification units and drinking fountains on its website. As of June 2020, it raised about $78,000 of its $80,000 goal.

One can infer from these facts that the Palestinian water crisis is severe. Organizations such as UNICEF, MECA and HWE are working to provide greater desalination processes and improve water and sanitation infrastructure in Palestine. Even an ordinary citizen can help by donating money to a project such as The Maia Project to help Palestinians obtain access to clean and safe drinking water.

– Ayesha Asad
Photo: Flickr

Theater of the Oppressed
Amidst all the papers, meetings and phone calls that make up nonprofit work, one can forget that drama and emotion are at the center of social justice work. Is tending to drama and emotion really necessary to push the social justice needle further towards progress, though? The Theater of the Oppressed argues that it is and it can be the fuel vital to creating change.

What is the Theater of the Oppressed?

The Theater of the Oppressed is equal parts performance, activism practice and educational forum. It is a rising form of activism that refugees, homeless, minority groups and other populations are using to fight issues of oppression that can cause poverty. The Theater of the Oppressed is definitely not like a typical play or musical where the cast rehearses for weeks on end to create a perfect show. It is very improvisational and involves audience participation, thus transforming a passive audience into an active one.

The Theater of the Oppressed is an umbrella term for many different techniques such as forum theater, image theater and legislative theater. Brazilian visionary, Augusto Boyal, invented these techniques during the late 1950s. The application of these techniques initially happened with workers and peasant worker populations in Latin America. Forum theater is the most popular theater of the oppressed technique around the world. In the forum theater technique, a story plays out in front of an audience that discusses one of the issues of poverty and human rights at hand. After actors perform the story, they perform the story again. When the actors perform the story again, individual audience members can then say, “stop!” to interrupt the scene. Once someone has interrupted a scene, they can then replace an actor in the scene and improvise how they could change the situation in the story for the better.

Fighting for Human Rights

Combatants for Peace is an egalitarian, bi-national, grassroots organization in Israel and Palestine. It is also just one of the many nonprofits using the forum theater technique to fight for human rights. When it started in 2005, this theater group helped mitigate violence between Israeli and Palestinian civilians and it has performed in cities such as Tel Aviv. Israeli fighters and Palestinian freedom fighters decided that there was a better way to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict than violence, causing the organization’s start.

The forum theater includes stories such as those about mothers dealing with the despair of their sons living in war zones. Other stories include one from the Palestinian side about a 12-year-old little boy who formerly took part in the theater group. He and his friends were playing on the playground one day when some rock-throwing began suddenly in the background. Someone fired a shot and it accidentally hit the friend, causing his death. Through forum theater, audience members had a chance to interrupt these scenes after the actors performed them and were able to fill in for the actors to try and solve the issues in a more peaceful way.

The Jana Sanskriti Centre for Theatre of the Oppressed

The Jana Sanskriti Centre for Theater of the Oppressed is the longest-running forum theater company in world history. This group started in 1985 in the small village in Sunderbans, India. Now, the theater company has grown greatly and there are 36 satellite theater groups in districts such as West Bengal and New Delhi. Its theater teams reach many spectators every year and it has a bi-annual forum theater festival called Muktadhara, which has been going on since 2004, and noted Indian theater personalities visit.

Alongside forum theater, it uses image theater, where actors recreate images of their own reality through consensus. It views the reality objectively and analyzes it through “real image.” Actors proceed to make the image of a situation they desire (the ideal image) that does not include oppression. Participants then turn back to the “real image” and come up with different scenes to represent transitions from the “real image” to the “ideal image.” The image technique, like the forum technique, allows participants to introspect on how social change can happen.

In an interview with The Borgen Project on Jan 15, 2020, Theater of the Oppressed organizers like Ann Admon from Combatants for Peace discussed how these programs truly give people hope, something that can be hard to come by in war-torn zones. As she says, this form of activism “opens the door to have a glimpse into seeing that everybody’s a human being and everybody has a story and everybody is suffering,” amidst all the continual separation and stereotyping.

The Cardboard Citizen’s Theater Group

The Cardboard Citizen’s theater group, a London-based theater group working with homeless populations that is one of the leading practitioners of forum theater in the world, has helped empower the homeless through forum theater as well. Donovan, a participant of the group, stated that they “turned his life around” after he received a release from jail and lived in a hostel. The group helped him stay out of trouble by keeping him busy with going to drama practices and he has since become a member of the board of directors for the group.

Practices of Theater of the Oppressed show no signs of stopping any time soon. Continuing practices of this form of activism are sure to further strengthen communities at the grassroots level. Theater of the Oppressed brings to light how people are not alone in their oppression and can work as an empowered collective to spark the fire of change in a form like no other.

Emily Joy Oomen
Photo: Pixabay

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