Child Poverty in Palestine
Palestine is an occupied state in West Asia with scattered claims over territories now under Israeli occupation, including Gaza, which borders the Mediterranean Sea and West Bank bordering Jordan. The territories of West Bank and Gaza alone are home to 5 million Palestinian people. Decades of conflict with Israel over territorial disputes has left the country ravaged. Poverty, malnutrition and the worsening humanitarian situation in the region have deeply affected the living conditions in Palestine. This has caused increased child poverty in Palestine.

A UNICEF report in 2018 predicted that around 1 million children in Palestine were in dire need of humanitarian assistance. Additionally, it stated that one-third of the population was living below the poverty line with unemployment rates in Gaza peaking at 53.7%. The current COVID-19 pandemic has made the situation worse for Palestinian children. The Ministry of Social Development of Palestine suggested in April 2020 that nearly 53,000 families in Palestine were at risk of poverty in the very first few months of the pandemic. Here are some facts about COVID-19 and how it has impacted child poverty in Palestine.

5 Facts About Child Poverty in Palestine During the COVID-19 Pandemic

  1. Crisis in Gaza: The territory of Gaza, which is one of the most populated areas in the world, has been under a blockade that Israel imposed since 2003. This has further severed access to humanitarian assistance in the region. In September 2020, the Special Rapporteur of the situation of Human Rights in Palestinian Territory commented that Gaza was on a brink of being unliveable. The prolonged blockade also led to a weak healthcare system in Gaza with hospitals lacking funding, medications, equipment and supplies. With closely packed settlements devoid of any prospect of physical distancing, frail healthcare systems and lack of basic humanitarian access, the COVID-19 virus has been ravaging the area and is massively affecting Palestine’s children. As of April 2020, over 17% of the population with COVID-19 in Gaza and West Bank were children.
  2. Education: According to a UNICEF report, as of 2018, nearly 25% of boys and 7% of girls in Palestine had to drop out of school by the age of 15. With an inflating economy, numerous job losses and an increasing number of parents unable to afford expenses related to education and transportation, these numbers may be higher by the end of 2020. The closing down of schools and transition to remote learning has had a deep impact on the education of children in Palestine. Data by the World Health Organization (WHO) suggested that around 1.43 million children in Palestine were required to learn remotely, while 360,000 children lacked access to the internet.
  3. The Detainment of Children: Israel has detained a large number of Palestinian children. According to the U.N. Human Rights Office in the occupied Palestinian territory, 194 children were facing detention as of March 2020. Children in detention do not only face a higher risk of contracting COVID-19, but they also experience torture and violence. A large number of children have also received convictions without committing any offense. The U.N. has called for the immediate release of Palestinian children in Israel, expressing valid concerns over the status and condition of detained children at a time when Israel has put a hold on legal proceedings and has suspended visits to prisons. With no foreseeable help, several Palestinian children are still in detention centers.
  4. Electricity and Water: Living conditions have degraded further due to the recent decision of the Government of Israel to block the fuel necessary for the operation of the only power plant in Gaza. Electricity supply, water treatment and sewage facilities in Gaza were heavily dependent on the power plant in Gaza. However, the lack of fuel has severely impacted health facilities, electricity supply and access to clean water to children in Gaza. Families in Gaza are struggling to thrive on reminiscent fuel resources, and are able to access electricity for only three hours in a day. This has also had a major impact on hospitals and healthcare systems as a lack of electricity is challenging their effectiveness. The region may soon run out of clean water, leaving children devoid of water to drink or wash hands with.
  5. Solutions: Amidst this double crisis lingering upon the children of Palestine, agencies of the United Nations including UNICEF, the United Nations Relief Works Agency and World Health Organization (WHO) have been working intensively to provide relief to children and eradicate child poverty in Palestine. UNICEF and the Government of Palestine have issued recommendation-based solutions in order to ensure the rights of children during the pandemic while the UNRWA continues to provide aid to displaced Palestinian children. WHO has also come up with a response strategy through coordination of the various U.N. agencies and NGOs in order to combat violence and poverty among children, food insecurity, fragile health care systems and more. However, these organizations lack the funds to operate at their full capacity.

In the face of the current pandemic, child poverty in Palestine may spike at a rapid rate, which could result in a setback of a whole generation. Children in Palestine need the immediate and urgent attention of the world community so that another generation does not have to live with poverty, malnutrition and underdevelopment with immensely poor living conditions.

– Prathit Singh
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in PalestinePalestine, like many territories in conflict, engages in an ongoing struggle to secure the civil rights of its people. Women’s rights in Palestine is a particularly pressing issue, with women making up one of the state’s most vulnerable populations.

What is Causing the Problem?

The Daily Sabah published a telling article by Najla M. Shahwan that discussed the major issues at hand. Shahwan outlined two of the major reasons why women’s rights are deprioritized in Palestine: “the Israeli occupation and internal patriarchal control.” These two causes, amongst others, are responsible for an unsteady landscape in which to protect the rights of Palestinian women and address their specific vulnerabilities. For example, areas that compromise women’s rights in Palestine are the agricultural sector, land ownership and the domestic sphere.

Israeli Arrest and Human Rights

The circumstances surrounding Palestine have always lent themselves to protest and tension between the Israeli military and Palestinians. Many Palestinian women see the devastating effects of a lack of access to basic resources like food and clean water. The armed conflict in civilian spaces also severely impacts them. This has led to various forms of dissent including protest and clashes with Israeli law enforcement. Unfortunately, Palestinian women that do get arrested and jailed in Israel “suffer unbearable living conditions in Israeli prisons, deprived entirely of basic human rights, including the right to privacy and the right to education,” according to the Daily Sabah.

Gender in Agriculture, Land Ownership and Recognition

Another example of a gendered issue in Palestine is land ownership as it regards agriculture and food security. Work and workers’ agency are both historically intersectional issues but have always included the subjugation of women. In Palestine, the UN reports that “although women contribute actively to the agricultural sector, less than 5 per cent actually own agricultural property.” This is compounded by the fact that, according to the National Cross-Sectoral Gender Strategy for 2014-2016, “the prominent role that women play in the agricultural sector is largely unrecognized.”

Violence Against Women

Violence against women and domestic abuse are of particular concern to Palestinian women. Palestinian women have advocated for protective laws and cultural shifts in the treatment of victims for a number of years. The problems facing Palestinian women are complicated by the regional division between Gaza and the West Bank, but both areas share goals for the protection of survivors.

Violence on Two Fronts

One of the primary trackers of abuses of women’s rights in Palestine is the United Nations. The UN works with its various commissions, including the refugee commission and the UNRWA, to collect data and shed light on these human rights abuses. The UN reports describe the issue of violence against women as a multifaceted issue. Both the Israeli military and internal domestic abuse are the major perpetrators of violence against Palestinian women. Women of all ages can be exposed to violence, but younger women (ages 25-29) are the group most vulnerable to violence and abuse.

In a 2011 UN report the following statistics illuminated the scope of this threat:

  • Just under 40% of married Palestinian women are “subject to some kind of violence from their husbands.”
  • In Gaza, the number of domestic abuse cases within marriages jumps to around 50%.
  • Around 23% of women experienced violence while at work.

The Legal Side

Legal precedent is essential for the advancement of women’s rights. Currently, in Palestine, there is “no comprehensive domestic violence law.” Palestinian women’s advocates and organizations have been pushing for these types of legal protections, as well as family law protections, for over ten years, with little success.

Human Rights Watch reporter Rothna Begum explains that the type of law for which Palestinian women have been advocating for upwards of 10 years would accomplish 3 things:

  1. Train law enforcement on how to identify signs of domestic abuse.
  2. Secure proper training for investigations.
  3. Change social norms to make reporting accepted and protect reporters.

Another key element of women’s protection law to note is the presence of a victim’s “formal complaint.” Begum explains the importance of ensuring that the investigation is not contingent on a victim’s complaint by pointing to the following scenario: what if a woman does not voice a complaint? By ensuring that the investigation is based on evidence and not a complaint allows “prosecutors to pursue a criminal case in the absence of a formal complaint from the victim if they have evidence of abuse, which is critical as otherwise abusers or their families can pressure victims not to start or proceed with a complaint.”

Women in Palestine should have the platform to advocate for the equality and protections that they deserve. It is time to recognize women’s rights in Palestine. The most pressing issue is the establishment of women’s protection laws to ensure a basis for legal protection and a secure system for survivors. Geographical factors complicate the organizational abilities of this movement. However, with today’s networking abilities the movement will only continue to grow in size and in unity.

Kiahna Stephens
Photo: Flickr

Improving Water Supply in Palestine
Water is an extremely important resource in Palestine; yet, its inhabitants struggle to obtain adequate amounts of it to survive. When Palestine and Israel signed the Oslo Accords, Palestinians were to receive a certain degree of water access. However, the population of Palestine has doubled since the Oslo Accords came into play. Despite its growing population, Palestine retains the same amount of water access as in 1995. This is troublesome, considering the Oslo Accords’ purpose was to guarantee Palestinians’ water supply would increase to about 200 million cubic meters by 2000. The current amount of water access the Palestinian people have is simply insufficient. In the face of this dire situation, various international organizations are working on improving the water supply in Palestine.

United States Agency for International Development (USAID)

One organization that has assisted Palestinians for some time now is the international development agency, USAID. Since 1994, the group has been committed to improving Palestinian infrastructure. One of the agency’s key successes in improving water resources in Palestine was the upgrading of water distribution networks. This resulted in access to clean water for about 310,000 people as of 2014.

Since 1994, USAID has drilled or refurbished 17 wells and installed 900 kilometers of water pipelines. In addition to helping residents meet basic human needs, USAID initiatives have improved the state’s economy. In total, the organization’s accessibility efforts have provided 1,300,000 days of employment for Palestinians.

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

The United Nations Development Programme has also been improving the water supply in Palestine. One example of the program’s support is in the Palestinian city of Rafah. Here, only 7% of water is utilized for domestic use as defined by the World Health Organization. Fortunately, the UNDP aided these Palestinians by building a 3000-cubic-meter water tank. This water tank has raised the water supply for about 50% of the city’s population. To date, the UNDP has conducted 200 other projects aimed at improving water supply in Palestine.

The UNDP has also initiated its Emergency Water Supply and Rehabilitation Programme. Many of the ongoing improvements have helped people in Rafah. Moreover, the Tel Al Sultan area, near Rafah, has seen boosts in its water supply as well. For example, 75,000 people living in the area have access to a reliable water supply for about 12 hours per day. This stands in stark contrast to previous statistics of half that amount, provided every three days. Another city the Emergency Water Supply and Rehabilitation Programme reaches is Beit Hanoun. About 70,000 Palestinians in this area now have a reliable source of water due to the implementation of two water tanks. Both tanks fairly distribute water from wells throughout the city. Finally, the UNDP has installed 10,000 meters of a new and improved water network that will prevent pipeline contamination.

Hope Flows

While Palestinians still struggle to obtain the water resources that they need, they have received crucial assistance from international organizations like USAID and UNDP. As Palestine continues receiving this beneficial assistance and reaps the subsequent health and economic benefits, there is hope that this state will soon provide clean water to all of its inhabitants.

– Jacob Lee
Photo: Flikr

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

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

The United States Pulls Funding

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

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

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

Aftermath of Funding Removal

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

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

Pleas for Help

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

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

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

Olivia Welsh
Photo: Flickr

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