The Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in the Palestinian Territories
The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in the Palestinian territories has been extensive. COVID-19 devastated the previously struggling economies of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In the last quarter of 2019, the Gaza Strip had a 43% unemployment rate while the West Bank had a 14% unemployment rate. Moreover, the recent conflict between Hamas and Israel, lasting from May 10, 2021, to May 21, 2021, further disrupted the Palestinian economy.

COVID-19 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip

In March 2020, the Palestinian Authority (PA) identified the first cases of coronavirus in the Palestinian territories. Surges in cases since August 2020 have resulted in intermittent lockdowns and stressed an already burdened Palestinian healthcare system. The Palestinian healthcare system’s already limited capacity and dearth of specialized medical care workers means the Palestinian territories have an insufficient ability to handle large influxes of COVID-19 patients. Also, Israeli-implemented movement restrictions between the Palestinian territories and Israel have constrained Palestinian efforts to combat COVID-19 by delaying the Palestinian territories’ acquisition of necessary medical equipment.

As of June 2, 2021, the vaccination campaign across the Palestinian territories has vaccinated 344,260 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip or 7% of the population. Thus far, COVAX has heavily supported the Palestinian vaccination effort and aims to vaccinate 20% of the Palestinian population.

State of the Palestinian Economy

Coronavirus-induced social distancing and lockdown measures have further weakened the fragile Palestinian economy. Even before COVID-19, political instability, periods of violence and Israeli restrictions on human and material movement in and out of the Gaza Strip were already causing a state of humanitarian emergency in the Gaza Strip. In the West Bank, the PA’s suspension of coordination with Israel between May 2020 and November 2020 intensified the impact of COVID-19 on poverty. The suspension led Israel to suspend tax transfers to the PA, which account for the majority of the PA’s budget.

Due to the health and socioeconomic crisis, the Gaza Strip’s unemployment rate jumped to 49% by the end of 2020. Likewise, the pandemic has caused wages to decline by 50% or more in nearly 40% of West Bank households. In the West Bank, the pandemic and tax revenue crisis caused the PA, the territory’s largest employer, to cut its staff’s pay in half.

The pandemic also intensified Gazan food insecurity. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) reported that “food expenditure declined in 40% of surveyed households in Gaza once lockdowns went into effect.” As of early 2021, 68% of Gazans were food insecure.

Altogether, the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in the Palestinian territories has been drastic as experts project the pandemic will push many households below the poverty line. Specifically, estimates indicated the proportion of Gazan households living in poverty would jump from 53% in 2019 to 64% by the end of 2020 and the proportion of West Bank households living in poverty would rise from 14% to 30% in the same period.

Israel-Hamas Conflict

The May 2021 conflict between Israel and Hamas worsened already dire living conditions in the Gaza Strip and may increase COVID-19 cases in the territory. The conflict damaged 57 Gazan educational facilities and 29 Gazan health facilities. Moreover, the conflict damaged the Gaza Strip’s water, sanitation and hygiene infrastructure, which serves 1.2 million people.

When the conflict caused the number of Gazan internally displaced persons to temporarily spike to 77,000, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) raised concern that the displacement may spread COVID-19. Following the conflict, positive cases in the Gaza Strip increased and now account for 84% of all COVID-19 cases in the Palestinian territories.

Renewal of US Aid to the Palestinian Territories

The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in the Palestinian territories has been stark. However, the Biden administration recently ended a nearly three-year U.S. hiatus on aid to Palestinians. On April 7, 2021, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced an aid pledge promising $275 million. The pledge dedicates $150 million to fund UNRWA, which serves nearly six million Palestinians across the Middle East.

The Biden administration earmarked another $15 million to aid the Palestinian response to COVID-19 and provide food assistance. Furthermore, the aid plan will provide the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) with $75 million to fund economic and development assistance projects and $10 million to fund peace-building programs. USAID will use more than half of the $75 million to improve access to water and sanitation and upgrade Palestinian infrastructure.

During Secretary Blinken’s visit to Ramallah, he announced another $112 million of aid to Palestinians. Specifically, the U.S. will provide another $32 million to fund UNRWA. The pledge will also provide another $75 million in economic and development assistance to Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and $5.5 million in immediate assistance to the Gaza Strip. During the visit, Secretary Blinken also outlined the United States’s goal to procure 1.5 million COVID-19 vaccines for Palestinians.

Future Outlook

While the U.S. only recently announced its Palestinian territories aid plan, the pledge will contribute to combating COVID-19 and provides a hopeful outlook for reversing the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in the Palestinian territories. Additionally, international efforts to procure vaccines and support COVAX have the potential to increase Palestinian access to COVID-19 vaccinations.

Zachary Fesen
Photo: Flickr

increased poverty in PalestineThe Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has been ongoing for more than 70 years, has placed strain on the economic stability of Palestinian citizens. In the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has further contributed to the economic challenges that people have faced in Palestine, leading to a widespread and worsening state of poverty. Increased poverty in Palestine calls for increased international aid and support.

Poverty in Palestine

A large portion of Palestine’s population lives below the poverty line and cannot afford food, clothing and shelter. In 2017, the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) found that one in every three Palestinians lived in poverty, equating to almost 30% of people. The Gaza Strip had the highest concentration of citizens living in poverty at a rate of 53%.

Inadequate work opportunities and low wages play a large role in poverty in Palestine. Research indicates that the job status of the head of the house greatly impacts the risk of poverty. The PCBS also found that 42.1% of households whose heads did not have a steady job lived in poverty compared to 25.8% of households with an employed head of the house.

This is especially alarming when one takes the unemployment rate into account as 43.1% of Gaza’s citizens were unemployed in the last quarter of 2020. The average monthly wage for those with a steady source of income in Gaza is a mere 682 ILS (about $207). Many people earn below the minimum wage, making it difficult for Palestinians to pull themselves out of poverty.

The Effect of COVID-19 on Poverty

The COVID-19 pandemic destroyed the little progress that Palestine made toward economic stability. While Palestinians were able to narrowly dodge the first wave of the pandemic, the next two waves destroyed economic gains. The World Bank predicted that “after growth of a mere 1% in 2019,” the Palestinian economy may contract by a minimum of 7.6% in 2020. In addition, due to decreased revenue, the financing gap could increase from $800 million in 2019 to more than $1.5 billion in 2020. Vaccines have become an issue as well.

Although the U.N. released a statement declaring that Israel is responsible for providing equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, Israel excluded Palestinians from the vaccination campaign until recently. Israel prioritized only Palestinians working in Israel, overlooking the millions of Palestinians living in or near Gaza, for whom Israel has allotted only 5,000 doses.

Without vaccines, Palestinians are unable to leave their homes for work and food, plunging them further into poverty. The international COVAX scheme, backed by the WHO, should cover up to 20% of vaccine requirements for Palestinians. Palestinians have also sourced “limited quantities of vaccines from elsewhere” but have a long way to go to achieve herd immunity.

Education in Palestine

Many Palestinian children no longer have access to safe schooling. A U.N. report detailing the violence keeping children out of school mentions “threats of demolition, clashes on the way to school between students and security forces, teachers stopped at checkpoints and violent actions of Israeli forces and settlers on some occasions.”

These conditions impacted more than 19,000 children in the 2018 school year, limiting their ability to safely obtain an education. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the struggles of securing an education, especially for the impoverished population of Palestine. The Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights reports that 34.83% of Palestinian students could not join virtual classes due to a lack of resources and internet connection.

Due to a lack of education and opportunities, Israeli officers have arrested many children trying to cross the Israeli border for a better life. As of April 2021, 71.4% of children who attempted to cross the border were school dropouts trying to escape increased poverty in Palestine.

Organizations Working to Reduce Poverty

Organizations like UNICEF are addressing the education crisis through initiatives such as the Life Skills and Citizenship Education Initiative, which began in 2015. The program focuses on enhancing life skills and improving citizenship education. UNICEF also conducts “entrepreneurship skills programs for adolescents to support their future employment.” The program includes internships and career counseling.

In 2020, the World Food Programme (WFP) spent $57 million of U.S. funding to ease poverty in Palestine, assisting more than 430,000 citizens. This included 33% of women-led households and 4.3% of the disabled population. The WFP provided cash-based transfers, food packages and “agriculture assets and training” to address increased poverty in Palestine.

The Road Ahead

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has severely worsened the state of poverty in Palestine as citizens end up in the crossfire. However, the ceasefire that Palestinian and Israeli officials announced in May 2021 may be a step in the direction of safety and stability for Palestinians and Israelis alike. Greater international support will help lower poverty rates and raise the quality of life in Palestine.

Mariam Abaza
Photo: pixabay

Access to Education in PalestineAmid the escalating Israel-Palestine conflict, there remains a generation of Palestinian children denied access to traditional education. Despite immense adversity, education remains an important priority in Palestinian society. Education is, in part, a mode of sustaining Palestine’s unique culture amid exile and foreign occupation. More than 95% of children are enrolled in basic education across Palestine. While impressive, this statistic obscures the tribulations and barriers that Palestinian youth experience in their educational journeys. Both males and those with disabilities are at a disproportionately higher rate of not completing their education with 25% of boys dropping out of school by age 15. Equally concerning, is that “22.5% of boys and 30% of girls aged 6-15 years with a disability have never enrolled in school.” International aid organizations are committed to improving access to education in Palestine.

Low School Completion Rates

Low rates of school completion are inherently tied to Palestine’s failing job market. The economy is crippled by decades of sanctions and isolationism. Currently, youth unemployment rates are 40% in the West Bank and 62% in Gaza. Simply, many young Palestinians do not see the incentive in completing their education if it will not guarantee them job opportunities.

For the Palestinian education system to thrive, the state’s circulation of job opportunities needs to be drastically improved. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) offers a technical and vocational training program to Palestinian refugee youth to help them gain skills for the Middle Eastern job sector. The UNRWA runs eight centers with a capacity for about 7,500 students. Furthermore, UNICEF works on “life-skills and entrepreneurship skills programs for adolescents to support their future employment.”

Influence of West Bank Violence on Education

Violent episodes of conflict along the West Bank and Gaza Strip hinder education in Palestine. Due to the crisis in the region, almost half a million children in Palestine require humanitarian assistance. The closure of the Gaza Strip and its accompanying physical access restrictions vehemently infringe upon the liberties and learning potential of young Palestinians. Having to regularly pass by military checkpoints and settlements on the way to school has untold psychological effects on Palestinian youth. Even at home, almost 90% “of children are subjected to psychological aggression” and 74% are physically punished.

Organizations such as UNICEF fight to create violence-free environments across Palestine. “It is our collective duty to protect every child on the journey to school and at school and to ensure that they can access the quality education which is the right of every child, everywhere,” says Genevieve Boutin, UNICEF special representative in the State of Palestine. She further explains that education is integral to achieving peace.

The Future of Palestinian Education

Still, much remains to be done to improve access to education in Palestine. Across Palestine, classrooms remain immensely overcrowded and underfunded. From a lack of classrooms to textbook shortages, Palestinian students are forced to beat the odds. Sometimes, students must study with no light due to frequent power outages. In fact, the Gaza Strip is only able to garner a meager four to six hours of electricity daily.

It is crucial that the United States and other powerful countries increase their humanitarian assistance and aid to the Palestinian territories. As violence continues to erupt, the U.N. is actively involved in mediation efforts. International organizations must continue targeted development projects in marginalized Palestinian communities. The future of education in Palestine depends on the unity and support of the international community.

Conor Green
Photo: Flickr

Child Marriage in Palestine
In 2014, the State of Palestine ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. These treaties aim to protect children from child marriage in Palestine. However, child marriage is still a threat to children due to gender discrimination and economic struggle.

The Main Causes of Child Marriage in Palestine

Gender discrimination is among the causes of child marriage in Palestine. Children living in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, especially girls and women, suffer gender-based violence throughout their communities and even in their families. Some girls face physical, sexual and psychological abuse. In 2015, the Women’s Affairs Center (WAC) reported that 65% of women married before 18 experienced at least one act of violence in the Gaza Strip. Although Palestine produced laws and treaties to help women and children, many of them are incredibly broad. In addition, they are subject to varying degrees of interpretation by the police and legal institutions. Because of the number of gender-based attacks, families use marriage to protect these girls from poverty, sexual harassment and assault. However, marriages frequently lead to more negative effects for these child brides.

The necessity for economic survival also ties in with the prevalence of child marriage in Palestine. Political instability has led to widespread poverty with more than half of families in Palestine living below the poverty line. A 2019 survey showed that the highest rate of child marriage exists in encampments and the Jordan Valley. These areas also struggle the most with education. According to this report, families in this area have turned away from the socioeconomic and demographic transitions that have taken place in the West Bank over the past two decades. While the rate of child marriage has decreased through Palestine, certain areas still have issues keeping their children safe.

The Effect of Child Marriage in Palestine

Child marriage is a violation of basic human rights. Consequently, it often results in early pregnancy and social isolation. In addition, many child brides have minimal school experience, which is reinforcing the cycle of poverty. In the West Bank, 21.3% of girls have had a live birth below 18, and in the Gaza Strip, the number is 23.8%. Pregnancy-related deaths are the leading cause of death in both married and unmarried girls below the age of 18.

Child marriage has many long-term effects on children’s psyche. It negatively affects any likelihood of a future healthy relationship and employment. This forceful engagement brings out trust issues, leaving victims of child marriage isolated and vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. Many of these child brides do not receive any support. Furthermore, child brides’ social wellbeing frequently declines as well. Child marriage has many long-term effects on a child’s physical, psychological and social health.

The Men Who Stand Against Child Marriage in Palestine

Freeh Abu T’ema is one of the first 20 ambassadors of change working to persuade their community to stop early marriages. After two of the ambassadors came to his house to stop his daughter’s wedding, he realized that the marriages of young girls is unethical and decided to join the ambassadors to advocate for change. The two ambassadors who visited him were Mossa Abu Taema and Wael Abu Ismael. These men had undergone training from a community-based organization, the Future Brilliant Society, as part of the U.N. Women’s Regional Men and Women Gender Equality Programme.

This organization focuses on educating men on gender equality issues to promote gender equality. This training helped them become advocates for change. As a result, the group expanded to more than 30 men in eastern Khan Younis (and the Gaza Strip) and prevented 50 marriages and counting.

Freeh Abu T’ema and the rest of the ambassadors raise awareness by educating people in their communities. Teaching people, protesting early marriage and donating to charities are ways to raise awareness about early marriage in Palestine.

– Aahana Goswami
Photo: Flickr

Children in GazaMalala Yousafzai is an activist who works to provide educational opportunities to girls around the world. Yousafzai began the Malala Fund in 2013. The Malala Fund helps girls gain access to 12 years of free, quality education in a safe environment. Today, Yousafzai continues to help children in developing countries with access to education. In May 2021, Yousafzai made a significant donation to safeguard children in Gaza. With the assistance of Save the Children, Defense for Children International Palestine and KinderUSA, Yousafzai’s $150,000 donation will help children and families in Gaza rebuild their lives.

The Conflict Between Israel and Palestine

The Gaza bombings since May 10, 2021, caused devastating damage to infrastructure and depleted resources for the two million people living in Gaza. The violence between Israel and Palestine is worse than it was during the Gaza War in 2014. While the tensions reached a ceasefire on May 20, 2021, the conflict stems from more than 25 years of issues between Israel and Palestine. The U.N. reports that 72,000 Palestinians have fled their homes in search of safety in the aftermath of the violent outbreak. Gaza’s hospitals are running low on resources to treat the thousands of wounded victims impacted by the bombings and violence. Many of these victims include children.

Malala Yousafzai Supports Children in Gaza

In May 2021, it was reported that “six hospitals, nine health clinics and about 50 education facilities were damaged in Gaza.” Furthermore, crucial infrastructures were destroyed and water pipes burst, all while hospitals struggle to care for those in need of medical attention. In order to address these issues, Yousafzai donated a total of $150,000 to three nonprofit organizations in order to help children in Gaza. These organizations are working to provide clean water for children and rebuild schools that were damaged during the conflict. The organizations will also provide medical resources for the children in Gaza.

Organizations Helping Children in Gaza

Yousafzai donated $100,000 to Save the Children, a global nonprofit organization addressing the needs of children in areas where children receive few resources. Save the Children creates programs with families, community leaders and local councils to foster successful and long-term change. As a result of Yousafzai’s donation, Save the Children will provide clean water access and food vouchers for children in Gaza. Moreover, the children will receive mental health support. The organization will also provide nutritional support for pregnant women and new mothers.

Other organizations aiding Gaza are Defense for Children International Palestine (DCI Palestine) and KinderUSA. Yousafzai donated $25,000 to each. DCI Palestine safeguards the rights of Palestinian children. Additionally, KinderUSA is an American Muslim organization with a goal to help “children in crisis through development and emergency relief.” KinderUSA responds to emergencies involving children in Pakistan, Turkey, Uganda, Somalia, Syria and beyond. In 2013, the organization provided winter clothes to Syrian children to protect them from the potential impacts of the harsh weather.

Hope for Children in Gaza

Save the Children asserts that a ceasefire on its own is not enough and that more must be done to safeguard the fundamental rights of children in Gaza. Yousafzai believes that Palestinian children deserve to live in peace and safety with opportunities to pursue an education and reach their full potential. With the help of organizations fighting to protect children’s rights, children living in Gaza have hope of a better tomorrow.

Nia Owens
Photo: Wikimedia

Art and Poetry at the West Bank WallIn the early 2000s, the decades of conflict between Israel and Palestine led many to demonstrate solidarity with the Palestinians. Around this time, Israel built the West Bank Wall that divides the territory. This wall has become a platform for artistic expression regarding the situation in the region and the overwhelming impoverished conditions. It also made way for a rise in poetic expression.

The West Bank Wall

In the early 2000s, the Israeli government began building the West Bank Wall to isolate and separate regions and landscapes. It has become one of the many issues and burdens that Palestinians have had to face. The wall stretches for over 400 miles, longer than the Green Line, the 1949 border set between the two territories. Additionally, 85% of the wall lies in the West Bank.

Since most of the wall sits on the West Bank, the Israeli government seized Palestinian land and homes for its construction. Hundreds of families lost their homes, livelihood, farms and water sources. The rest were isolated from the other side of the wall. About 140 Israeli checkpoints control the area, which exists under Militia Law. Within the boundaries of the wall, Israel has denied Palestinians basic freedoms, humanitarian assistance and material supplies, all of which have worsened the living conditions, especially for those living in poverty.

Despite the West Bank Wall’s detrimental effect on the Palestinians, they turned to art for hope and an escape from the daily violence and impoverished conditions. The West Bank Wall became a literal platform for artistic expression regarding the circumstances. Palestinians have contributed to different forms of art across the entire wall, whether it be portrait, symbolism, graffiti or abstract. This marked the drastic rise of the use of art as a form of communication. It has also kept the Palestinian flag alive, which was banned by the Israeli authority. Even international artists, like Banksy, contributed to the symbolic street art and murals across the wall.

Art Initiatives by Anera and UNRWA

While the West Bank Wall provides a platform for Palestinian artists, NGOs like Anera and UNRWA have worked to implement educational art and music programs for young children in Gaza and the West Bank. Anera works closely with local arts, music and cultural organizations in the West Bank and Gaza to promote artistic expression and learning. Anera has implemented summer camps at several preschools in Gaza that use artistic expression to provide psycho-social support for children. Since the situation in Gaza is relentless and draining, especially for children, it is important to provide an outlet that promotes stress relief. These summer camps serve to use art as a way to remove children from the constant austere conditions and the stresses of life. UNRWA schools provide similar classes and camps for the same purpose; to mitigate the psycho-social effects of the conflict and the stresses of poverty.

Gazan Women Sell Their Embroidered Art

Some Palestinian groups have even used art as a form of income. These individuals sell sewn accessories and painted portraits and landscapes of culturally significant symbols. A historical example that lives on to this day is The Sulafa Embroidery Project. Established in 1950, the organization employs several hundred women in Gaza and provides them with the necessary materials to create embroidered masterpieces. These pieces are sold internationally. In 2014, the women began making these pieces for the New York International Gift Fair. Unfortunately, due to the Gaza bombings in 2014, The Sulafa Embroidery’s initiatives temporarily ceased and The Poverty Alleviation Fund stepped in to ease the circumstances and allow the products and samples to reach the New York International Gift Fair.

The Gaza Poets Society

Art, however, is not the only escape from the stressful and burdensome environment. Poetry in Palestine has been around for a very long time. From Mahmoud Darwish to Fadwa Tuqan, poetry is rooted in Palestinian culture. Recently, there has been a break from the traditional and classical Arabic poetry — often performed in coffee shops and saloons — and a rise in poetry and live performances of all kinds of performing arts among young Palestinians, all for a way to feel free.

In 2018, Mohammed Moussa, a Palestinian born and raised in Gaza, founded the Gaza Poets Society, a nonprofit group of more than 30 young aspiring poets and performers from Gaza who meet every week to write and share poetry as well as plan for a monthly live event of performances. “It’s easy to lose hope when you’re locked in a place where 70% of Gazans are suffering from depression, 60% are classified as poor and 65% of college graduates have no job and no chance of getting one because of Israel’s blockade on Gaza,” said Moussa on a 2018 campaign raising money for the Gaza Poets Society operations.

Escape and Hope

Moussa understood the burdens that came with living in Gaza. “I think I have experienced a lot, growing up here. I experienced genocides, wars, deaths, suicide, siege. I was a friend of chaos, I was born in chaos, I still live in chaos.” he said. Moussa was born in the Jabalia Camp, the largest of the Gaza Strip’s eight refugee camps. It is a place not unfamiliar with the struggle to find hope. To Moussa and the rest of the group, the Gaza Poets Society is one of Gaza’s biggest forms of optimism. “Poetry is a beautiful escape from the unbearable reality we live in.” He said. “Words hold us more than the ground does in this city. That’s what we feel about poetry.”

For many Palestinians, art and poetry began as a form of resistance. Now, it provides hope and faith in a better future as well as a soothing outlet from the difficult and trifling times of today.

Nada Abuasi
Photo: Flickr

Palestinian Refugees
Prior to 2018, the United States was the largest contributor to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). UNRWA provides educational, medical and other resources to Palestinian refugees. While poverty rates of Palestinian refugees differ from country to country, about 25% live in overcrowded, unstable, underfunded and often unsafe refugee camps.

The services that UNRWA provides are vital to Palestinian refugees suffering from poverty. As a result, when diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Palestine severed, the organization lost 30% of its annual funding and basic resources became limited. Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent financial crisis occurring, UNRWA’s resources have experienced severe strain.

In a United Nations press briefing in November 2020, UNRWA Spokesman Tamara Alrifai said, “Despite the immense efforts to raise sufficient funds in 2020 to maintain UNRWA’s critical services to 5.7 million Palestinian refugees across the Middle East, as of yesterday November 9, UNRWA has run out of money.” As a result, the organization had to cut pay for its 28,000 employees, most of whom were refugees themselves, during a global pandemic and international financial crisis.

Twenty-seven days into his presidency, President Joe Biden promised to restore diplomatic relations, including aid, with Palestine. These are three ways that impoverished Palestinian refugees may benefit when diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Palestine resume.

Medical Care

Over 3 million refugees rely on UNRWA’s medical services for basic medical care. Because UNRWA’s financial crisis is also happening during a global health crisis, the biggest strain has been on the organization’s medical services. Medical facilities have been running low on supplies, staff and medicine. The strain on medical services disproportionately affects Palestinian refugees.

Seham al-Lahem, a young expectant mother, and other Palestinian refugees have requested that UNRWA cover their medical fees at a non-UNRWA facility. “We have been hearing of the financial problems facing UNRWA, and it has left me worried about my delivery and the medical services provided to me and my newborn,” said Seham al-Lahem. With the financial struggles facing UNRWA, it is possible that she may not receive the cash she needs to pay for her delivery.

Palestinian refugees are three times more likely to die from the virus than the general population and must rely on local governments to receive vaccines. In Lebanon, for example, 6,200 Palestinians have already registered to get the vaccine. However, in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, Palestinian refugees rely on Israel to provide vaccines. Israel has not, as of yet, provided the Palestinian territories with any doses.

UNRWA Commissioner-General has cried out for global help to provide vaccines for Palestinian refugees in the territories and in the diaspora. “I am counting on the international community to ensure the availability of vaccines to refugees worldwide, including Palestine refugees in the occupied Palestinian territory and throughout the region,” he said. It is possible that, with U.S. funding, it would be more feasible for UNRWA to connect Palestinian refugees living in the territories with vaccinations.

Food Assistance

UNRWA’s food assistance program is also under strain due to the pandemic. The organization is now asking for its donors to provide additional funds so that they can feed 1.2 million Palestinian refugees experiencing hunger. UNRWA’s food assistance programs are absolutely essential for those facing rapidly declining financial conditions. In Gaza, 75% of refugees lack the ability to put food on the table. To remedy this, UNRWA currently provides food packages to 620,310 refugees and cash-credit to another 389,680 to ensure that all Palestinian refugees meet their daily caloric goals.

Education

There are over 526,000 students in 711 UNRWA elementary and preparatory schools. These UNRWA-run schools provide books, school supplies and mental health counseling. Although UNRWA schools have stayed open despite funding cuts, the organization struggles every year to meet educational funding needs. Every year, the organization, parents and students worry that schools might not be able to open up again.

This uncertainty threatened the future of Palestinian refugee children. Education is important for children to gain the confidence, knowledge and connections required to transcend their socio-economic situation.

Schooling also meets a social need for child protective services for refugee children. According to the UNHCR, teachers and counselors at refugee schools often connect children experiencing abuse and violence with the appropriate resources. With restored funding from the U.S., UNRWA children, parents and teachers could thrive without worrying that educational opportunities may cease at a moment’s notice.

The US’s Opportunity to Embrace Humanitarianism

UNRWA’s services are essential to the health, food security and education of Palestinian refugees. The organization provides basic resources to an economically and politically vulnerable population. No political situation should ever get in the way of basic human needs such as access to food and healthcare. Therefore, it is vital that the U.S. include the restoration of funding to UNRWA in its plan to re-extend diplomatic relations to Palestine.

– Monica McCown
Photo: Flickr

Addressing Food Insecurity in Palestinian Territories
In 2018, the World Food Programme reported that 68.7% of urban Palestinian territories and 67.4% of refugee camps experienced food insecurities. As the poverty rate continues to increase, COVID-19 has further damaged the nation’s economy. Despite the Palestinian market’s dependence on agriculture, many factors have affected the region including foreign occupation, insufficient governance and distanced global intervention. Palestine’s history of unsustainable farming practices and social pressures to sell land still exist, making food insecurity in Palestinian territories an ongoing struggle.

A History of Hunger

Poverty has affected these regions since the early 15th century as governing entities have deterred progression in agricultural advancement. Until the 1920s, the British occupation of Palestinian territories did not emphasize its agricultural sectors, leaving many farmers with elementary techniques.

In the 1950s, the neighboring Israeli state emerged, vastly increasing economic competition. The Arab-Israeli War of 1948  resulted in widespread poverty, creating an overflow of Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip. The rule of the Jordanian annexation of the West Bank in the 1950s changed land and water policies and increased taxation on Palestinian lands. Shortly after, Israeli’s markets began to bleed into Palestinian territories, and the two nations’ economies began to blend. Many Palestinians became the cheap labor source under the Israeli market system.

Considering the lack of diplomatic unity and relocation of labor and resources, the state of Palestine has never had a chance to renovate agricultural practices to sustain a consistent food source. One major source of stagnation exists that perpetuates the cycle of economic recession and insufficient production in Palestinian territories: the neighboring Israeli nation. Palestinian resources often go to Israeli markets due to the merging of the two nations’ economies. With Palestinian refugees working within Israel’s economy, Palestinian land, water, livestock and agriculture sectors work to fuel the neighboring commercial systems, deducting from Palestinian progress or self-efficiency.

An Ongoing Challenge

In 2021, Palestinians are still facing severe food insecurity along the Gaza Strip, battling various levels of poverty that the pandemic exacerbated. State efforts have undergone fragmentation, as the governing body is thinly spread between responding to COVID-19, severe food insecurity and the Israeli threat of annexation of the West Bank.

To combat this turbulence and provide aid to Palestinian territories, the UNRWA and IRUSA have collaborated to donate $2.44 million to provide COVID-19 relief and support food security. These nonprofit organizations target refugees and children in need of food assistance and contribute to education, health, food, livelihood and women’s initiatives.

Though these U.S. organizations have supplied funding to alleviate some poverty and food insecurity in Palestinian territories, these projects are temporary assistance because the problem has not experienced complete elimination.

Systemic Solutions

In efforts to mitigate the recession, Palestinian sectors are taking part in “agro-resistance” to reclaim independence and labor. Localization tactics are constantly circulating; the Palestinian people participate in nonviolent demonstrations and work to redefine methods of agriculture. Locals work together to catch rainwater from rooftops, preserve and catalog seeds and create gardens within households to support self-sustainability.

The most crucial advancement within this process is the education of farmers. Nonprofit organizations such as the Union of Agricultural Work Committees and Ma’an Permaculture Center work with the locals to reduce food insecurity in Palestinian territories and to rebuild the economy. The effort still continues as each sector receives education and renovation, even amid COVID-19 and existing poverty.

– Linda Chong
Photo: Flickr

Renewable Energy in Palestine
The Palestinian territories are in the midst of a devastating energy crisis, leaving millions of people without stable access to electricity. However, the natural features of this region may hold the key to solving this crisis and improve the livelihoods of millions. Unlocking the potential of renewable energy in Palestine will help alleviate the growing carbon footprint of areas like Gaza, as well as fill holes in the already strained power grids that support Gaza and the West Bank.

Energy in Palestine

Palestine has a significant dependence on Israel and neighboring Jordan and Egypt for the majority of its energy demands. However, this system is not viable as a long-term solution. Political instability, population booms, rapid industrialization and increasing demand for higher living standards have put tremendous stress on Palestine’s energy supply. In fact, the cost of energy in Palestine is the highest in the region and the scarcity that growing demand has caused has had a devastating effect on the quality of life and poverty levels in the territories.

Rolling blackouts are now commonplace in both Gaza and the West Bank, denying residents access to essential household appliances, like electric stoves and air conditioning. It also hinders access to means of modernization, such as telecommunications and the internet. According to the United Nations, the average citizen of Gaza has, at best, access to electricity for 12 hours per day when the grid is at its most stable, but political instability can diminish access down to only two hours per day. During the summer and winter, when the strain is higher, residents often experience only three to four hours of electricity per day.

As the population of Palestine grows, especially in dense urban zones along the Gaza strip, the Palestinian authorities will need to find new ways to satisfy rising energy demands. The environment around the Palestinian territories could potentially hold the key to mitigating the existing energy crisis, as well as reduce Palestine’s energy dependency on its neighbors and bolstering the economic viability of Palestine as a more self-sufficient nation. The options for renewable energy in Palestine are plentiful and readily available on the domestic level.

Solar and Geothermal Energy

The two most viable options for renewable energy in Palestine are solar and geothermal energy. With over 300 days of steady sunshine a year, residents of Gaza and the West Bank have increasingly turned towards solar energy as a way to power small, everyday appliances, such as electric fans and other forms of air conditioning. This is especially important during the summer months when temperatures soar. Even relatively simple installations of small solar panels have had an extraordinary effect on living conditions, as residents of Gaza often endure roaming blackouts and inconsistent power access. According to an interview conducted in 2018 by the Reuters news source, one resident of the Nusseirat refugee camp in Gaza reported having no access to electricity in her family’s home until installing solar panels. Now her family is able to keep the air cool in their home with electric fans that solar energy powers.

Organizations and NGOs Helping Provide Solar Energy in Palestine

Several groups and NGOs have already paved the way for the broader use of solar energy in Palestine. Sunshine4Palestine is a great example of how a group can utilize solar energy to help alleviate symptoms of poverty. The project designed and installed a modular plant that provides solar energy to the Jenin Hospital in Gaza, upping its hours of operation from four to 17 hours per day. Sunshine4Palestine has also spearheaded the Tree of Light project, using solar-powered “trees” to harness clean energy and turn it into a way to illuminate public spaces at night, creating safer streets in Gaza.

Comet ME is an Israeli NGO that has been providing solar panels to villages in the West Bank. The village of Shaeb al-Buttim is one such village where panels that Comet installed have supplied electricity to 34 families, who, otherwise, would have no means of accessing the power grid. Such efforts, as in this instance, have revitalized otherwise dying villages, granting them access to television and other forms of media, offering villages such as Shaeb al-Buttim a chance to feel connected to the international community.

Other groups, such as PENGON, Ma’an Development Sector and the Palestinian Hydrology Group have supplied solar panels to over 650 farms and homes in Gaza. They have also helped educate members of the community on ways to participate in creating a sustainable Palestine.

Geothermal Energy

Other methods of harvesting renewable energy in Palestine are also on the horizon. In the last decade, geothermal energy has come to represent an innovative solution for saving on the energy costs of heating homes in the winter and cooling homes in the summer. This method relies on harnessing the natural difference between ground and air temperatures that occur in the summer and winter months.

Despite the conflict and struggles that those advocating for a more energy-independent and sustainable Palestine face, both public and private sectors are actively implementing solutions for the region. The players involved have the determination to push past political boundaries to deliver a more stable Palestine for future populations.

– Jack Thayer
Photo: Flickr

HebronHebron, also known as Al Khalil, is an ancient city located within the West Bank. It sits along the heavily-contested boundary between what is considered Palestinian and Israeli territory. As the site of vital religious and spiritual significance, Hebron has endured both strife and cultural development through the years. Demographically, Al Khalil is the most populated city within the West Bank, with 200,000 Palestinian-identifying residents as of 2018. One of the minority populations in the city, the Kurds, often suffered economically and financially due to their marginalized status. This disparity is especially clear in the context of refugee camps, where the majority of Kurdish communities reside. The Multidimensional Poverty Index of Palestine reports that poverty stands at 39% in refugee camps compared to 14% in rural areas and 24% in urban areas.

Life in Gaza

More than half of Palestinians living in Gaza, another site of frequent dissension, are currently in poverty. Furthermore, 33% of the Palestinian population suffers from unemployment. Food insecurity is an unfortunate but harsh reality among this segment of the population. This occurs due to trade boycotts and economic barriers. A variety of obstructions deter Palestinians from obtaining the resources they require. These range from physical checkpoints that divide the land and military frisking to international embargos as well as local trade impediments imposed by the Israeli state. On top of the hunger and poverty that families face, thousands of Palestinians experience homelessness and displacement.

The Israel-Palestine Conflict During COVID-19

As a result of the multitude of issues associated with trade and resource accessibility in Palestinian territory, more members of the population than ever before are presently struggling with extreme poverty. With the recent developments brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, medical resources have become a new source of internal conflict. The unequal distribution of vaccines has caused an uproar across all sides of the ongoing political dispute.

As the death rate among Palestinians rises and more than 2,670 Palestinians have passed away as of March 22, 2021, it is evident that government authorities must equalize the distribution of medical resources to meet citizens’ needs. However, due to the contentious conditions within Israel-Palestine, it is unclear exactly who is responsible for ensuring equal distribution among communities. The United Nations has shrugged off the burden. It instead stated that it is the state of Israel’s duty to vaccinate Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. Such a designation of tasks has not proven successful. Political divides continue to affect the manner in which the population receives access to the vaccine.

The International Trade Drought in Hebron

In terms of the far-reaching effects of the pandemic in Hebron specifically, lack of access to foreign imports from China and East Asia has greatly weakened the already fragile Palestinian market. Many Palestinian business owners rely on Chinese-produced goods to make ends meet. With the increase of trade restrictions due to the global health crisis, merchants are no longer able to acquire the products that they normally sell to consumers. With much of agricultural sources of income blocked off by political circumstances, local trade is one of the few ways that Palestinian individuals are able to make a sustainable income.

According to Abdo Idrees, the head of Hebron’s Chamber of Commerce, another major source of income for Palestinian workers, factory work, has also suffered severely since 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic has made the successes and downfalls of globalization in the local economy extremely apparent. The profits of exports have become unavailable and citizens cannot obtain a majority of the imported products upon which they depend.

Future Relief for the City of Al Khalil

Although current Israeli-Palestinian relations remain tense in the city of Al Khalil, particularly after the decision of the Biden administration to leave the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, a shred of hope still remains for Hebron and its citizens. The United Nations and other international bodies have expressed a firm commitment to attaining stability in the sacred city. The Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) pledged to preserve its mission of protecting the citizens of Hebron and supporting a safe two-state solution that may be the key to finally achieving long-awaited peace and statehood for Palestine.

Luna Khalil
Photo: Flickr