theater accessibilityThe theater is an art form that cultures all across the world partake in. In addition to being enjoyable for many people, exposure to the theater is beneficial. A study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania on impoverished residents of New York City found that residents had better long-term outcomes in areas such as “education, security and health” with greater accessibility to cultural resources. Additionally, theater helps people develop emotionally by cultivating empathy, a humanitarian characteristic essential for molding a generation willing to help others living in poverty. A common aspect of poverty is the lack of opportunities available to people. Improving theater accessibility for impoverished people is one way to provide people in poverty with more opportunities.

3 Organizations Improving Theater Accessibility

  1. The Freedom Theatre. This organization is based in the Jenin refugee camp, a camp in the West Bank with a high poverty rate. The Freedom Theater provides Jenin residents with opportunities to engage in theater and workshops through programs in schools. The theater works with children of varying ages. For example, the daycare program allows children younger than 5 to learn and develop creatively. Modeled off Care and Learning, a project that helped children in the Jenin camp work through trauma by participating in the arts, The Freedom Theatre continues this mission by working with young people to help them develop coping skills. The Freedom Theatre’s work greatly improved theater accessibility in an area that previously had few theatrical opportunities for its residents. Thanks to the European Union funding the project, The Freedom Theatre can continue its work.
  2. Khmer Community Development (KCD). The KCD organization is in the Prek Chrey Commune, a community in Cambodia near the Cambodian-Vietnamese border. KCD commits itself to improving peace and understanding in Prek Chrey. Ethnic tension between different groups in the community is an issue that Prek Chrey continues to struggle with, but KCD is addressing it with theater. Using Forum Theater, an art form developed by Augusto Boal in the 1960s, KCD encourages discussion and exploration of social issues by having actors perform a short play that addresses a social issue. Thereafter, the performance is restarted to allow the audience to intervene with ideas to shape the play and develop “a peaceful solution to the issue.” Since it started, KCD’s Forum Theater is particularly popular among youth in the Prek Chrey Commune.
  3. New Africa Theater Association (NATA). Based in Cape Town, South Africa, NATA works to provide opportunities to underserved young people in the Cape Town area. In South Africa, many people between the ages of 18-24 are unemployed. These young people are also often not receiving an education. With this age group having access to theater, the youth develop valuable skills to secure employment. More than 87% of NATA alumni are employed, in school or are continuing to work with NATA. After acquiring its own building, NATA moved to a location where it is more easily accessible to people in Cape Town and surrounding rural areas.

Thanks to the efforts of these three organizations, theater accessibility is improving for disadvantaged people. Importantly, the arts contribute to social well-being while providing valuable opportunities to help vulnerable people rise out of poverty.

– Caroline Kuntzman
Photo: Flickr

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

Access to HealthcareThe West Bank is a region of Palestine but has been occupied by Israel since the Six-Day War in 1967. Due to this occupation, as well as the West Bank’s landlocked location, citizens often struggle to gain access to healthcare. Without sufficient medical resources, individuals living in the West Bank are subject to higher infant mortality rates, untreated psychological ailments and the risk for chronic disease to become acute. Despite these barriers, both physical and political, there are Israeli and Palestinian organizations working to aid people most at risk in the West Bank including women, children, elderly, disabled and the rural poor.

Five Obstacles in Access to Healthcare

  1. Mental Health Stigma: Mental health in occupied areas is an immediate and crucial concern, but it is often stigmatized by locals and, therefore, is unaddressed and unrecognized. Of the patients who manage to get access to a medical practitioner, adults will frequently complain of PTSD related symptoms like headaches, generalized weakness and palpitations. Children are also overlooked when it comes to mental health. According to the Palestine Medical Relief Society (PMRS), an NGO working to increase access to healthcare, 54.7 percent of children in a sample of 1,000 have experienced at least one instance of trauma. Despite the high rates of trauma in children, however, parents are often unaware and unable to recognize the signs of PTSD present in their children like nightmares, insomnia and bedwetting. Instead, they assume the symptoms are normal child behaviors.
  2. Infant Mortality Rates: Children are at a high risk of death when there is impaired access to medical services. World Bank data shows the infant mortality rate in the West Bank and Gaza is 18 per 1,000 live births and 21 per 1,000 live births for children under 5. Compared to Israel’s three and four live births per 1000 respectively, these are extremely high numbers and show the direct consequences of poor healthcare access.
  3. Limited Access to Essential Drugs: In an article about Palestine, the World Health Organization notes that for people low on the socio-economic scale, healthcare expenditures are one of the most financially burdensome household expenses. The unavailability or unaffordability of medicine enormously impacts patients dealing with a chronic disease like hypertension, asthma and diabetes.
  4. Long Ambulance Rides: Numerous military checkpoints and barriers physically obstruct the ability of ambulances to bring patients from the West Bank to hospitals in Israel. According to the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, wait times at checkpoints can last up to 15 minutes. For a patient in critical condition, delays like these can hinder their ability to get the right medical treatment in time.
  5. Revoked Treatment in Israeli Hospitals: A recent declaration by the Palestinian Ministry of Health to cease funding in Israeli hospitals means that many patients, especially those in poor rural areas, are unable to gain access to healthcare. There are few other options available for these individuals to seek treatment, especially those living in poor areas that cannot incur travel costs.

NGOs Improving Access to Healthcare

Healthcare access on the West Bank is limited due to a number of interrelated reasons. In order to make it more accessible to those who are most affected, NGOs have been developed in both Palestine and Israel. In particular, the Palestine Medical Relief Society was founded in 1979 to aid the most vulnerable members of society. They have a mobile clinic program that includes a first-aid training program to help people gain access to healthcare in remote areas.

Another prominent NGO is Physicians for Human Rights (PHR). Founded in 1988 by Israeli physicians, this organization focuses on humanitarian aid and policy change. Furthermore, there are volunteer medics who provide free services to people with limited or no access. PHR serves more than 20,000 individuals each year.

Both of these organizations recognize the importance of addressing the fundamental issue through and data collection, policy and education, and they are working to improve access to healthcare on the West Bank.

– Tera Hofmann
Photo: Wiki

Youth Unemployment in Gaza and the West BankUnemployment rates in Gaza and the West Bank have remained high since 2000, with few signs of significant improvement. Gaza consistently faces higher rates, and youth unemployment in both territories is a persistent concern. As it stands, women often more affected than men. Recently, efforts have been made to address youth unemployment in Gaza and the West Bank. These efforts are centered around either providing training to improve individuals’ abilities to obtain employment or improving the region’s job market.

The State of Unemployment

Overall, unemployment in Gaza and the West Bank has fluctuated since 2000, remaining high. As low as 14.3 percent in some years and as high as 31.6 percent in others, unemployment was 26.9 percent in 2016. This was barely an improvement from the year before. In the West Bank, the unemployment rate is 18.2 percent, while in Gaza it is 41.7 percent.

Unemployment rates are even higher among youth (those between the ages of 15 and 24). The overall youth unemployment rate for both territories at 41.7 percent. In the West Bank, youth unemployment is 29.8 percent. But, in Gaza, it stands at a concerning 61.4 percent.

Youth Unemployment

Additionally, youth unemployment in Gaza and the West Bank affects women more than men. The general female unemployment rate is 44.7 percent. This is twice that of the male unemployment rate, 22.2 percent.

Youth unemployment for women is 65.9 percent, but only 36.2 percent for men. This gap persists even for those aged 25 to 34. In this group, female unemployment is 55 percent and male unemployment is 23.4 percent. As a result, women are more likely to be chronically unemployed. Over time, this only makes them less and less employable.

Moreover, educational attainment has not been found to have a significant impact on reducing unemployment rates. In 2016, the number of unemployed post-secondary school graduates was 33.1 percent. By profession, teachers have the highest unemployment rate, 45.8 percent. This primarily impacts women as they make up the majority of trained educators.

In other fields, unemployment for female graduates is often double that of male graduates. This is most notable in STEM fields. However, even in traditionally “female” fields, male graduates have more success in getting employed. For example, 21.5 percent of male educators are unemployed, compared to 55.9 percent of female educators.

Many factors impact the ability of young women to join the labor force, including travel restrictions and social norms. The World Bank has noted that the probability of a man with a secondary degree in the occupied territories joining the labor market is 65 percent. However, that probability is only 8 percent for women. This indicates that though some women are getting degrees, they are not always able to use them.

Efforts to Improve Youth Unemployment

There are efforts being made with the goal of decreasing youth unemployment in Gaza and the West Bank. Within the past five years, several initiatives have been created to improve opportunities for youth.

In 2014, the Bank of Palestine formed a diaspora program which seeks to use the resources of diaspora Palestinians to help decrease youth unemployment. Approximately 7.2 million Palestinians live outside of Israel and the occupied territories, and have an aggregate wealth of $70 billion. The Bank of Palestine seeks to draw on the resources of these successful Palestinians to improve economic conditions in Gaza and the West Bank.

Additionally, through this network some diaspora Palestinians have become engaged with the issue of youth unemployment, working with the Bank of Palestine to help Palestinian youth. For example, Marcelo Diaz Qumseyeh, a Palestinian who resides in Chile, has worked directly with some Palestinian youth. He gives them advice on how to become successful entrepreneurs. He is also helping to develop a program that will invest in start-ups by Palestinian youth and provide training, mentorship and opportunities for networking to young Palestinians.

International Trade Center Training Efforts

The International Trade Center (ITC) has also been training young entrepreneurs in an effort to improve youth unemployment in Gaza and the West Bank. After a four-month training course that taught 83 youth and refugees in Gaza skills such as web development, digital marketing and graphic design, these individuals collectively secured more than $40,000 in sales. The government of Japan funded the program. In fact, the program helped the trainees gain knowledge about how to find jobs, enter new markets and connect with their clients.

More generally, improving the economy of the occupied territories is also essential to decreasing youth unemployment. According to the World Bank, the Palestinian economy needs a stronger domestic private sector in order to grow. As a result, they have been supporting private investments and job creation, with a focus on supporting youth and female entrepreneurs.

For youth unemployment to significantly decrease, efforts such as these need to continue. Additionally, there is a need for the development of more initiatives and programs. Many young people continue to struggle to find work, particularly in Gaza, where youth unemployment is particularly high. Hopefully, this problem will be substantially addressed in the near future, resulting in the lessening of youth unemployment in Gaza and the West Bank.

– Sara Olk
Photo: Flickr

The West Bank and Gaza
The West Bank and Gaza are considered Palestinian territories that have struggled with political power since the Six-Day War in 1967. This dispute has been between Israel and Palestine and the end result of the war has left the country in political turmoil. This devastated economic opportunities, local livelihood, sanitation conditions and household food consumption. In 2017, the 50th anniversary of Israeli occupation and the 10th anniversary of the Gaza blockade were marked. This has been affecting all job opportunities and proper food aid from entering the region. All of these factors have only made it more difficult to live in already precarious conditions and more risk for the already struggling population.

Work of USAID

The U.S. government works closely with the authorities in Palestine to address the economic and humanitarian needs of the country. To improve economic growth, USAID has donated roughly $400 billion to improve in-house situations for companies and impoverished families in West Bank and Gaza. Providing basic needs like clean sanitation systems and safe work environments is essential to maximize productivity within the company and keep the workers healthy. Many companies suffer from a lack of resources and expertise for their products, so the project Compete will help business owners learn more about their product, how to maximize value for those products and increase employment within the surrounding areas. The goal is to increase competitiveness and revitalize the private sector, bringing to the table full-time jobs, part-time jobs, seasonal jobs and paid internships.

Food Sovereignty of West Bank and Gaza

Food insecurity is a huge issue in the West Bank and Gaza territory as over 70 percent of people in this area suffer from lack of food and proper nourishment. Some of the causes for this are also a global phenomenon, environmental degradation, rising food prices and Palestinian food sovereignty. With food sovereignty, a state can control its own food resources, though that state has to have a self-sufficient food source with the help of government-controlled policies.

Since the occupation in 1967, Israel has confiscated thousands of acres of farming land and then separated it with the West Bank wall. With the separation of land, farmers are struggling to keep up the health with crops due to vandalism and destruction from settlers and the military. In Gaza, 25 percent of fertile land has been destroyed by the buffer zone, a zone that borders Israel. Patrol boats in the area only allow fishermen 15 percent of their territorial waters, further reducing the areas self-sufficient food sources. With the limitations on trade, environmental issues, confiscation of land and destruction of land, food sovereignty is unachievable. This has hindered economic growth and social conditions to reduce the levels of food insecurity.

Clean Water Access

Access to clean, potable water is limited by the wall between the West Bank and Gaza. Beaches, rivers and lakes are polluted and overcrowded refugee camps create health hazards for the sanitation systems. About 26 percent of diseases in West Bank and Gaza are related to filthy water. During the winter months, household septic tanks overflow and mix with rainwater, flooding homes and streets in the area. During the summer, the heat dries the streets from the flood and the smell coming off the streets is so bad that families keep their windows shut. Mothers refuse to let their children out to play because of the rancid smell and infected water.

Diseases continue to spread as garbage continues to pile up in refugee camps. The Anera organization is working on building proper waste management systems across Palestine, improving sanitation systems in the process. In 2014, Anera reconstructed sewage lines damaged by bombs. In refugee camps, they are taking an approach where the youth take the lead. Through campaigns designed to clean and recycle, they have developed a staff to train on proper waste management and a new sorting facility. They are creating a cleaner environment for 13,000 members of their community so far and will continue to reach out and help their people.

Health System in West Bank and Gaza

The health system in West Bank and Gaza has been shaped by years of occupation, political stalemate, violence and human rights violations. The barrier placed between the two territories limits access to East Jerusalem, the closest area that has specialized hospitals. The placement of these hospitals is scattered due to the many health care providers in the country. With the blockade in place, Gaza’s health care locations are experiencing unstable power supply and recurring power cuts.

The medical equipment has been deteriorating because of inadequate maintenance and spare parts cannot reach them. The barrier has also made it difficult to transport proper medicines to treat patients. All of these factors are crushing the health care system in West Bank and Gaza, making people seek treatment elsewhere though traveling in and out of Gaza is heavily restricted. Even with these limitations, health care in these areas still thrives. With the help of the World Health Organization, technical support will be provided to health technicians and fund projects created for diseases affecting the population.

Even with all of these issues, West Bank and Gaza still work out solutions to everyday and past problems. If these areas can continue to receive the funding from developed countries and nongovernmental organizations, they can grow back into the self-sufficient economy they once had.
– Kayla Cammarota
Photo: Flickr

how the media misrepresents West Bank and GazaAn online search for “Gaza and the West Bank” will return stories of conflict, poverty and despair. For years, the media, because of continued Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the strip, have amplified a one-sided, highly critical rhetoric of Gaza. This rhetoric is true — it is hard to find positives in the war-stricken region.

But there is another part left out of the story — hope. Gaza may be politically complicated and messy, but its people and their will to improve life are not.

Voices of Gaza

The narratives found in Gaza and the strip’s economic progress show how the media misrepresents West Bank and Gaza. For example, let’s look at The Guardian’s interview with school children in the region.

While acknowledging the political tension in the area, they continue to remain cheerful and hopeful for a better future. One child says, “I would like to be a doctor so that I can treat kids from my country.” Another wants to address infrastructure, while a third wants to improve education. These children’s dreams are representative of hope for a better and more improved home not shown in media outlets.

Hope for Stability

This hopefulness may be indicative of future change. Currently, the age structure of the Gaza strip’s population has roughly 94 percent of the population under 54 years of age. As this younger generation ages, their dreams and aspirations will be shaped by the adverse conditions they live in. A willingness to change the status quo and improve life demonstrates hope, which may go a long way in restoring stability to the region.

Hope is not limited to just children. During Eid, the Muslim holiday, fireworks and joyful celebrations continue to take place. In the midst of the cities’ rubble stands the resilient spirit of Gaza’s residents. The people continue to go on with life, waiting out internal conflicts between Hamas and Fatah and external political conflicts with Israel.

Gaza’s Economic Improvements

Aside from U.N.-based aid, Gaza has also emphasized improving its economic conditions, showing yet another way how the media misrepresents West Bank and Gaza. Recent conflict has eroded much of decade-long progress, however, and since 2000, the strip had shown signs of promise with GDP growth rates surging towards 26 percent near 2004.

Fast growing sectors such as information and communications technology had seen increases of 20 to 30 percent. The economic outlook of Gaza seemed positive to say the least. Years later, the economy has been hit hard by conflict, but the strip remains vigilant in its effort to rebuild and modernize.

Efforts to Revive the Strip

Investors, despite adverse economic climates from war, have increased consumer projects in the past decade with goals of reviving the strip. It is easy to see how the media misrepresents West Bank and Gaza with its constant display of war-torn buildings and destroyed streets. Malls, coffee shops, and up-scale restaurants all exist in the conflict-stricken area.

As Peter Hitchens, a journalist in Gaza wrote in 2010, “Can anyone think of a siege in history, from Syracuse to Leningrad, where the shops of the besieged city have been full of Snickers bars and Chinese motorbikes, and where European Union and other foreign aid projects streams of cash (often yours) into the pockets of thousands?”

Today, the world has changed from Hitchens’ experience in 2010, but the Snickers bars and Chinese motorbikes exist. The media have ensured we are well aware of recent developments between Israel and Palestinian militant groups. But in order to move forward, belief that good can come about from a harrowing scenario is necessary.

– Mrinal Singh
Photo: Flickr

How the US Benefits From Foreign Aid to West Bank and GazaThe hardships that the West Bank and the Gaza Strip has suffered throughout its history are no surprising news to the rest of the world. However, through strong relations, the U.S. benefits from foreign aid to West Bank and Gaza, as well as provides help to communities in need. This foreign aid allows this region to regain its footing and provide for the wellbeing of its people.

U.S. Aid

Since 2009, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has provided over $400 million towards promoting economic growth and basic humanitarian needs for the Palestinian people.

The conflict and strife in Syria and the Middle East has impacted more than 500,000 Palestinian refugees and caused them to relocate and search for help through other means besides their own government, who could not provide for them.

Humanitarian Assistance

In fact, there was a 57 percent increase of humanitarian assistance to provide enough medicine and food for the refugees. This raise can be attributed to funds supplied through another more condensed program — the United Nations Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA). This program is designed specifically for providing aid for Palestine refugees and people located in the near East.

However, the USAID and the UNRWA have begun to evolve into much more than simply welfare relief for this region. The long-term goal of relations with the West Bank and Gaza is primarily to achieve a lasting solution for the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Through foreign aid provided to the West Bank and Gaza, three major U.S. policy priorities of concern to Congress are being addressed:

  1. Protect Israel from terrorist groups of the Sunni Islamist group
  2. Foster peaceful coexistence between Israel and the Palestinians
  3. Meeting humanitarian needs

This positive relationship increases opportunities between the regions, and ensures that the U.S. benefits from foreign aid to West Bank and Gaza. Allocating funds to countries in distress also encourages positive relationships with the United States that benefit both countries in the present, and safeguards the United States and its allies abroad.

The President of International Rescue Committee, David Miliband, stated:

“Global threats like Ebola and ISIS grow out of poverty, instability and bad governance. Working to counteract these with a forward-leaning foreign aid policy doesn’t just mean saving lives today, but sparing the U.S. and its allies around the world the much more difficult, expensive work of combatting them tomorrow.”

The Future of the Funds

Due to concerns raised by Congress, the funds go through an extensive vetting process and yearly audits to ensure the money goes towards causes to benefit the country and avoid Palestinian terrorist groups such as Hamas.

The U.S. benefits from foreign aid to West Bank and Gaza in a multitude of ways; however, USAID and UNRWA continue to explore more methods of aid in order to continue their positive relationship with this region of the world.

– Adrienne Tauscheck

Photo: Flickr

sustainable agriculture in West Bank and Gaza
The West Bank is a landlocked territory near the Mediterranean coast of Western Asia, the majority of which is under Israeli control; Gaza, on the other hand, is on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Palestinians consider the West Bank and Gaza Palestinian territories that together constitute the State of Palestine.



Agriculture is one of the most crucial sectors for Palestine as it “contributes significantly to income, exports, food security and job creation.” However, due to the ongoing violence, political instability and land loss in these regions, Palestinian farmers have been unable to meet even their basic necessities, let alone earn a higher income. Consequently, developing sustainable agriculture in West Bank and Gaza is crucial right now.



Limited access to water and land loss prevents Palestinian farmers from making a living. High costs of livelihood inputs such as fertilizers reduce farmers’ profits, locking people in these regions in poverty. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations recognizes the challenges Palestine faces in this sector and has set out to work towards building sustainable agriculture in both the West Bank and Gaza.

For instance, in order to address water scarcity that prevents efforts to grow crops and raise livestock in these regions, the FAO is collaborating with partners “to build and repair cisterns to collect rainwater.” Additionally, the FAO is building grey wastewater treatment units that recycle water daily, thereby “providing supplementary irrigation for rangeland and home gardens.”

In order to help communities improve farming, FAO introduces innovative techniques of producing food such as “establishing vegetable gardens on the tops of buildings and fishponds that recycle nutrients and moisture to sustain crops – maximize the use of limited space and resources.” Additionally, the FAO also provides high-quality seeds and other inputs in order to ensure that people can obtain more food and gain higher income from their plots.



The FAO also invests in people, by supporting junior farmer field and life schools (JFFLSs) that teach “agricultural, life and entrepreneurial skills” to school girls and boys. These schools cover essential topics such as food production and preservation, nutrition, and business management. The goal of these schools is to instill confidence in the young population and develop their potential in this sector.


FAO-Led Change

There is hope for sustainable agriculture in West Bank and Gaza since past projects led by the FAO in these regions have made significant contributions to this sector. For instance, the FAO-led project called Market-Oriented and Sustainable High-Value Crops Development in the West Bank and Gaza Strip was implemented from 2013 to 2016 and managed to:

  • Improve the capacity of high-value crops (HVC) farmers to apply “cost-efficient and product quality-based improved agricultural practices throughout the entire HVC production chain”.
  • Support 1,489 farmers to “efficiently and sustainably adopt GAPs through the cultivation of HVCs in 4,063 dunums.
  • Produce 2,490 tonnes of GLOBAL G.A.P. certified high-value crops (HVC) for local and external markets.
  • Reduce water consumption for high-value crop (HVC) production by 15 percent from 2015-2016 and energy consumption by 20 percent.

This project’s success indicates that sustainable agriculture in West Bank and Gaza can be achieved with continued investment in this sector. Hopefully, projects like these will help more Palestinian people attain food security and rise out of poverty.

– Mehruba Chowdhury

Photo: Flickr

The Basics: What are Gaza and the West Bank?

Throughout the twentieth century, the establishment of the State of Israel in Palestine has been a huge point of contention between Arabs and Palestinians and serves to fuel much of the tension that persists in the Middle East to this day.

The result of Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory in the early 20th Century has been an unprecedented 100-year-long struggle for Palestinians. Their struggle is mostly characterized by an egregious lack of functioning infrastructure in Gaza and the West Bank.

Defining Features of Infrastructure in the West Bank and Gaza 

The quality of infrastructure in each of these regions is extremely different from the other. In Gaza, the lack of access to clean water, electricity and proper sewage management are indicative of the region’s current humanitarian crisis. The causes of that situation are many, but the most impactful have been the three wars that have ensued in a period of just 10 years, the rise of Hamas, and the Israeli blockade. Each of these events compounds the other.

For years, the region has had to cope with 12-16 hour blackouts, due in part to the destruction of electricity plants during the wars, but mainly to a political struggle between Hamas (the group that runs the West Bank) and the Palestinian Authority (main Palestinian actor in the West Bank). This strain on the energy infrastructure effects Gaza’s access to clean water, and its ability to treat sewage as well.

The extraction of water from the coastal aquifer, Gaza’s main source of freshwater, requires huge amounts of energy to which Gaza does not have access. Israel is currently providing 10 mcm of water to Gaza every year – an increase from the 5 mcm required by the Oslo Accords of 1995.

Waste management is another of Gaza’s infrastructural problems. Currently, 3.5 million cubic feet of untreated sewage run from Gaza into the Mediterranean every year, threatening not only the health of Palestinians but that of Israelis and the Mediterranean as a whole. Lack of proper infrastructure for schools and hospitals is yet another strain on the livelihoods of Gaza’s 1.8 million inhabitants.

In the West Bank, the picture, though less time sensitive, is still far from acceptable. Governed partially by the Palestinian Authority and partially by Israel, troubles of infrastructure are intensified by the political battle between the two governments.

The most concerning aspect of infrastructure in the West Bank is the access Palestinians have to freshwater. In fact, there is a great discrepancy between the amount of water utilized by the Israeli territories versus that utilized by the Palestinians. In addition to a general strain on water resources, the West Bank is unable to oversee the proper processing of sewage water which leads to groundwater contamination and a lost opportunity – use of recycled sewage water for irrigation.

The difference between infrastructure in the West Bank and Gaza is amplified greatly by the presence, or lack, of Israeli funding. Despite both of the regions experiencing of similar problems related to water and waste management (both impacted by access to electricity), Gaza’s exposure to these troubles is often far worse than those of the West Bank, due to years of isolation from Israel and other wealthy nations.

Is there a solution?

The question of improving Palestinian infrastructure comes down to a finding a solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Except unfortunately, this has proven to be one of the most elusive problems of international diplomacy for nearly seven decades.

Though many proposals have been made, the abuses perpetrated by each side continue to bar sustained, positive progression towards peace. Since the end of the Six-Day-War in 1967 in which Israel annexed the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, the Sinai Peninsula, and the Golan Heights, a solution has hinged on the idea that Israel will only give up land if they are ensured an end of Palestinian attacks.

Today, the two-state solution, heralded by the United States and the majority of the international community, has reached a standstill as a result of continued conflict and mistrust between Israelis and Palestinians. Yet, some political analysts maintain that peace is still attainable. What it will take to bring about that end, however, remains uncertain.

– Katarina Schrag

Photo: Flickr

women's empowerment in Gaza and West BankAn increasing number of women in Gaza and West Bank are now the head of their households. Due to the restrictive Israeli occupation, some women lost their husbands to prison, while other men are struggling to find employment. As a result, many Palestinian women are taking it upon themselves to find formal or informal employment for stability.

Despite this reality, women’s empowerment in Gaza and West Bank is very limited. Due to discrimination in formal workforces and society’s assumption that women should not be responsible for household finances, the vast majority of women in Gaza and the West Bank are unemployed.

Of the women that are technically unemployed, almost all of them are working in some way. Most women are responsible for unpaid work within the home, and 85 percent of unpaid women in Gaza and West Bank work in agriculture. Therefore, while many women contribute to the economy through the agriculture value chain, they are still unpaid or underpaid for their work.

These are two of the ways that women in Gaza and West Bank band together, with the help of outside organizations, to generate fair incomes within the agriculture value chain.

Food Co-ops
What better way to generate income through cooking than through a food cooperative? Across Gaza and West Bank, women are coming together to run food cooperatives that sell a variety of goods from freshly made pastries to jams and pickled vegetables.

While most women cook the menu items, other women are responsible for marketing and communications, demonstrating that food co-ops create diverse opportunities for employment. Additionally, for the women who take pride in baking and selling traditional foods, food co-operatives are a celebration and preservation of Palestinian culture.

Successful food co-ops sell bulk and catering orders to schools and local businesses; however, the equipment needed to mass-produce certain foods is expensive and difficult to obtain. As a result, many female-run co-ops sacrifice quality and production potential to stay afloat. This is where organizations like American Near East Refugee Aid (ANERA), which hosts programs dedicated to women’s empowerment in Gaza and West Bank, are most useful.

ANERA’s agricultural program works with eight female food co-ops in Gaza by filling wish lists and providing them with expensive but essential equipment such as refrigerators and ovens. So far, women from co-ops assisted by ANERA noticed an increase in income from $57 to $72 per month and greater employment among local women.

Beekeeping and the Honey Value Chain
Due to the restrictive nature of Israeli occupation, there is an incredible demand for honey in the West Bank and Gaza. In the West Bank specifically, the amount of honey that is locally produced only covers 30 percent of the local demand for the product.

Honey production is a major source of income and women’s empowerment in Gaza and West Bank. Groups of women are working together to keep beehives on the outskirts of their villages. The women of one beekeeping business report $1500 in earnings per year through honey production. However, with assistance from organizations like the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and local women’s associations, this number can be higher.

With assistance from local women’s associations, FAO trains female beekeepers in production and marketing strategies to increase profitability and promote the local sale of honey products in Gaza. Beekeepers are also taught to create processed honey products, therefore multiplying the number of products available for sale. After the product is created, FAO connects the women beekeepers to buyers in their local markets, allowing them to create new networking opportunities within their local villages.

Aside from honey being the most successful value chain in West Bank and Gaza, many women like beekeeping because it also serves as a hobby that gives them a mental break from their typical housework. Overall, female beekeepers trained by FAO’s program experienced an increase in product quality and sales, as well as network growth.

Women’s empowerment in Gaza and West Bank is being bolstered by the agriculture industry in a restricted and failing economy. Through proper funding and adequate training, these women can finally see a portion of the salary and benefits they have earned.

– Danielle Poindexter

Photo: Flickr