When we reminisce about our childhood afternoons spent in school, they usually include fond memories immersed in boundless creativity and new learning experiences.

Although we likely did not realize it at the time, these crucial hours of education contributed to our empowerment to become smart and driven citizens within our communities.

Imagine what missing just a year of schooling would mean for a child.

This year, 500,000 Palestinian refugee children will start school on time due to last-minute donations which secured funding for the upcoming school year.

“There had been warnings that the school year in 685 UN-run schools would be delayed for months because the agency was short of $101 million to fund the 2015-16 academic year. Protests against the potential move were held by Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip and by staff at the agency’s headquarters in Amman,” states an article by A World at School.

The Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl of the United Nations Work and Relief Agency (UNRWA) an agency for Palestinian refugees, announced that $80 million had come in allowing students to return to school within the countries of Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

According to A World at School, for students, this means schools will reopen in Palestine on August 24, in Jordan on September 1, in Lebanon on September 7 and in Syria on September 13.

The UNRWA recognizes the importance of education and was disheartened by the potential risk of schools not opening due to a funding shortfall. With the danger of millions of children being robbed of their education in a time of great conflict caused by war zones and migration, the ability of so many children to stay in school is a tremendous achievement.

Currently, the UNRWA describes themselves as a human development and humanitarian service, which “encompass primary and vocational education, primary health care, relief and social services, infrastructure and camp improvement, microfinance and emergency response, including in situations of armed conflict.”

Today, the UNRWA has contributed to 479, 519 student’s educations, awarded 344,493 loans to those in financial need and supported 301,015 refugees through the Social Safety Net.

It is only through the support and patronage of others that schools have the hope of thriving and remaining open for students.

Nikki Schaffer

Sources: UNRWA, A World at School
Photo: Pixabay

Child's Cup Full

One in every two Palestinians is classified as poor. The loss of significant economic resources during the Israeli occupation, including 82% of the nation’s groundwater, has lead to significant damages to the Palestinian economy. The real gross domestic product in Gaza is 10% below its 2005 level, and 66% of the population in the West Bank struggles with food insecurity. In Palestine, and particularly in the West Bank and Gaza, conflict has caused great suffering.

Yet, in the face of suffering, there is hope.

Founded by the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa in 2008, Child’s Cup Full promotes the development of local enterprises in Palestine through the sale and manufacture of children’s toys. These toys are built by refugee women, who are trained and paid through the program. The training and payment of these women promotes the development of marketable skills, along with the creation of networks to further develop local markets.

In addition, proceeds from these sales go toward developing childhood development and education programs in communities reached out to by Child’s Cup Full.

The toys sold by this social enterprise are educational and eco-friendly. In price, they range from a $5 set of building blocks to a $225 Darzeh heal. Each toy, crafted by Palestinian women and supporting both the training of adults and the education of children, holds infinite potential to change lives in Palestine. By promoting education, it works with great potential to break the cycle of refugee poverty in the West Bank.

Behind it all, Child’s Cup Full has one message: global poverty need not be an endless cycle. By fighting refugee poverty through economic development and education, it ends this cycle by empowering victims of global poverty.

Toys from can be ordered at

– Andrew Michaels

Sources: Reuters, Child’s Cup Full, Read Little Muslims, Tulsa World
Photo: Child’s Cup Full

Palestinian Israel Tax Freeze
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has agreed to end a tax transfer freeze on the Palestinian Authority (PA). The Israeli government collects and transfers about $125 million each month to the PA, but cut them off last December after the PA was accepted into the International Criminal Court. Israel now plans to release the several months’ worth of revenue that it had previously withheld.

The freeze in tax transfers hit the Palestinian Territories hard. The economy was already in a recession, with unemployment at 25 percent and a budget deficit of 15 percent of GDP. The PA was then forced to cut public sector wages by 40 percent. Tax transfers account for 70 percent of the Palestinian Authority’s revenue and the freeze pushed the region to the brink of collapse.

Palestine’s stock market has contracted by 10 percent since this time last year. The Palestinian Central Bank had warned there was an imminent risk of a major financial crash. Hospitals reported a shortage of medicine and equipment.

The Israeli government cited the humanitarian crisis and the threat of increased instability in the West Bank as its primary reasons for resuming tax transfers. The Palestinian Authority had warned it was unlikely to survive for much longer without tax revenue. Israeli military officials had also warned that the Palestinian Authority was at risk of collapsing and disbanding.

The Israeli military also warned that the freeze was fueling instability and extremism and was a threat to Israel’s national security. Officials had previously recommended that the government end the freeze to prevent the spread of instability in the already unstable region.

This is good news for the West Bank, which has long struggled with high rates of poverty. The resumption of tax revenue will help to alleviate this and lesson the effects of the ongoing economic crisis. But since the Palestinian Authority is set to officially join the ICC on April 1, relations with Israel will remain strained and the threat of a future transfer freeze still remains.

– Matt Lesso

Sources: BBC, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal
Photo: Wall Street Journal

poverty in palestine
For years, the conversation on Palestine and its territories has almost exclusively focused on the relationship between Palestine, Israel and Egypt. For the 1.1 million Palestinians that live in poverty as a result of high unemployment, lagging wages and harmful inflation rates, Israel’s recent military actions in the Gaza strip have hardly encapsulated the extent of Israel’s effect on Palestinians.

Official statistics from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics reveal the poverty rates to be 25.8 percent in the Palestinian
Territory, 17.8 percent in the West Bank and a staggering 38.8 percent in the Gaza Strip for 2011, the last year for which statistics are available.

While these rates sound high, there’s more to the story than the statistics suggest.

In a sobering July 2013 report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, it was reported that “the Palestinian Authority suffered its most serious fiscal crisis since 2006” because of less foreign aid and “Israel’s withholding of Palestinian revenue.” In 2012, Palestine’s growth was halved from the previous two years to just six percent due to structural barriers imposed by Israel and the international market.

Israeli restrictions on the movement of Palestinian goods, for example, meant less money returned to the pockets of Palestinians, severely reducing growth and worsening already high rates of poverty. Furthermore, the illegal expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank left Palestinians with fewer options to physically export their goods, and many were simply incapable of accessing the same productive resources because of aggressive Israeli settlement expansion.

In the Jordan Valley, Palestinian workers are forced to take longer roads and go through checkpoints. These actions imposed by Israeli officials increase costs and decrease Palestinian competitiveness in the international market, ultimately reducing employment opportunities and deepening levels of extreme poverty.

Of course, not all of Palestine’s economic woes can be ameliorated with less aggressive Israeli policies. Low labor productivity contributes to poor Palestinian economic performance and leaves less money in the coffers of government officials, who spend large portions of the government’s budget on social spending. Illegal smuggling of economic goods is also a major drain to the taxable actions of Palestinian officials.

Overall, those living in poverty in Palestine make up a significant portion of the population, which consists of about nine million citizens.

While no World Bank data exists to detail the number of individuals living on two dollars a day or less in Palestinian-controlled territories, the research conducted by the United Nations and the statistics compiled by the Palestinian government provide a distressing picture of the state of the poor in Palestine. These poor are large in number, and if international donors do not pledge aid to assist Palestinians or if Israel adopts less-aggressive economic policies in the West Bank, the number of impoverished living in Palestine will surely increase.

Joseph McAdams

Sources: UNCTAD, PCBS, Reuters
Photo: GIJN

medical aid
The World Health Organization warns of the critical medical situation within Palestine and the Gaza Strip. The four days of rocket attacks from both Palestine and Israel has left those in Gaza in a critical state.

The recent violence has increased medical emergencies, and the Palestinian healthcare system is struggling to cope with the new burden. WHO reported that large amounts healthcare debt, in addition to medical and fuel shortages, have severely crippled health services in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Unless the international community takes immediate action, Palestinians will not be able to have their basic medical needs met.

With the most recent strikes by Israel on Gaza on June 11, 2014, the death toll in Palestine has reached nearly 100. Over 570 people have been injured since the conflict started on July 6, 2014. Those in Gaza continue to fight back, and it appears that the conflict will only continue to escalate.

The fighting has weakened the already inadequate medical system in Palestine, and especially in Gaza. WHO is now making an international plea for funding and medical aid to help Palestinians receive urgent medical care.

To make matters worse, the hospitals in Gaza only have 10 days worth of fuel left to run the buildings. The lack of fuel is alarming, as the fighting continues to interrupt electricity. In an effort to conserve money, the hospitals are only performing operations on those in life-threatening conditions. Those with less threatening, but still serious, medical problems cannot receive treatment.

The Israeli airstrikes damaged a hospital, three clinics and a water sanitation facility in a refugee camp in Gaza, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. The organization reports that hospitals in East Jerusalem are struggling financially because of unpaid referral services, and there is a shortage of medications in both the West Bank and Gaza.

While the attacks on Israel have left multiple civilians injured, the poorer and militarily inferior Palestine is grappling to provide essential services for those injured and affected by the conflict.

The Palestinian Ministry of Health, with backing from WHO, is making a pressing appeal for $40 million in aid, enough to provide critical medical supplies for six months. The United Nations has also stepped in to help organize the relief effort.

The hope is that with numerous aid agencies involved in bringing the severity of the situation in Palestine into the international spotlight, hospitals will receive the supplies they need, and victims of the fighting will receive the care they desperately require.

– Kathleen Egan
Sources: The New York Times, WHO, Ma’an News Agency
Photo: The New York Times

Israeli Aggression Representatives of Islamic countries declared they would ask the Security Council to condemn Israeli aggression in the West Bank. Palestinian ambassador Riyad Mansour, as well as the ambassadors from the League of Arab States, Senegal, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Iran, requested the Security Council to take action against Israel. Since three Israeli teenagers, 16-year-olds Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaar and 19-year-old Eyal Yifrach, were abducted on June 12 while hitchhiking at night from Gush Etzion, Israel has assembled hundreds of Palestinians trying to find the teenagers. When Frenkel’s mother heard the news, she was praying that he simply did something irresponsible or stupid and he would be home soon. “But I know my boy isn’t stupid, and he isn’t irresponsible.” Unfortunately, on June 20, the bodies of the missing Israeli teens were found near Hebron, and Israel has taken violent action to retaliate against the teens’ deaths. Jeffrey Feltman, U.N. Secretary for Political Affairs, stated the United Nations is alarmed by the increasing death toll that is a result of Israeli aggression in the West Bank. Feltman calls for “restraint in carrying out the security operations in strict compliance with international law” and for Israel to not punish Palestinians for crimes they have not individually committed. Sheikha Alya Bint Ahmed Bin Saif al Thani said Qatar was “joining in solidarity with Palestine in also deploring the acts of aggression committed by Israel, the occupying power, against the Palestinian people.” She continued to say, “They are grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.” She claims that Israeli aggression in the West Bank and the air strikes in Gaza are justifications for the Security Council to take action. She said her representatives would work with the representative of Jordan to “see what could be done.” “Instead of denouncing the boys’ abduction, the Arab states have the gall to stand before the international community and criticize Israel,” said Israel ambassador to the United Nations, Ron Prosor. He argued that the Arab nations are oppressive and aggressive, and they have no business in accusing Israel of human rights violations. They kill innocent people around the world and they are committing human rights violations in Syria. He asked global leaders to imagine being in Israel’s position. “Imagine if it were your cities were under fire and your citizens under harms way. No nation should live under these conditions, and no nation should be asked to submit to terrorist groups. The only responsible course of action is to denounce terror groups and their supporters. And this is exactly what we should all be doing,” Prosor concluded. This situation has demonstrated how complicated the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is. Most Israelis see the missing teenagers as harmless civilians abducted on a hitchhike home from school, and the Palestinians who were killed as having done something to deserve it. On the other hand, Palestinians claim that the suppression is unjust collective punishment against people living under illegal occupation. – Colleen Moore Sources: The New York Times, International Business Times, The Jerusalem Post, Israel Hayom, Worthy News, NDTV Photo: Israel Hayom

unity government
After only a week of peace, Israel attacked the Gaza Strip via aircraft, injuring three and killing one. This is the first act of aggressive violence between the two nations since the Palestinian government developed the unity government plan. The aircraft attack was a response to the rocket fired into southern Israel earlier that day by Palestinian extremists.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas pledged to create peace with Israel and said this attack was nothing but a simple rebuttal. Israel blames the terrorist group Hamas for these actions.

Hamas senior leader, Moussa Abu Marzouk, when interviewed by the Associated Press, claimed that “The reconciliation is ahead of us and the split is behind us. We are heading this way because reconciliation is the choice of our people. We have taken real steps and will continue.” The flare ups, such as this interaction, will continue but will not impede the direction of progress they are heading in.

Since 2007, Hamas has controlled the Gaza Strip since taking it from President Abbas, creating high levels of tension on top of previous issues. Hamas is the de facto leader of Gaza, but Abbas is still considered the international representative.

One of the victims in Israel was identified as a militant, an active member of Hamas police, who was linked to a group inspired by al-Qaida. In response to this report, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that “our policy is clear. Kill those who rise up to kill us.” It is evident that both countries wish to get rid of groups such as Hamas and other known terrorist groups.

Israel is tentative to respond to peace offers from Palestine, citing to Reuters that the unity government merely serves as a protective shield, allowing the voices of Hamas to have their way, and suspending peace talks with Palestinians.

The unity government appeared to many as a sign of change, but it’s becoming evident the new government will have little impact on relations between Palestine and Israel. Even with the support of western countries and the United Nations, the unity government is receiving little positive feedback in terms of internal opinions.

Gaza is a hot bed for conflict between the two and it’s clear that this will not be the end of their violent interactions.

— Elena Lopez

Sources: Reuters, Chron
Photo: Epoch Times

child laborHamas_Children
A report filed by the Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR) documented nearly 500 “allegations of torture and ill treatment” in 2013, a steep jump when compared to the 294 cases in 2012.

The report also reveals that 10 Palestinians died in January in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The deaths were allegedly caused by “anarchy, lawlessness and misuse of weapons.”

A majority of the cases reported have occurred in the Gaza Strip, which is governed by Hamas, a political party and terrorist group that controls the legislative and executive branch of government in the territories. In addition, attacks on journalists and arbitrary detentions rose sharply in the West Bank and Gaza.

On April 2, the Palestinian Authority submitted its paperwork to become a signatory of 15 international treaties necessary for statehood. The signing of the treaties complicated negotiations with Israel—a part of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ alleged strategy to internalize the conflict between Palestine and Israel.

Hamas’ territories, which make up the ‘State of Palestine,’ violate 11 of the 15 treaties. “Acts or threats of violence, the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population” is prohibited by the Geneva Convention.

A U.S. Department of Labor report filed in 2012 noted that the Palestinian Authority made “minimal advancement in efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor,” a failure that violates the Convention on the Rights of the Child treaty. The treaty establishes civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights for any citizen under the age of 18, including freedom from economic exploitation (listed in Article 32) and the right to education (as noted in Article 28).

The Optional Protocol to the Convention, another treaty the Palestinian Authority violated, mandates that states will not recruit children under 18 for positions in the armed forces.

Last year, reports indicated that Hamas trained about 37,000 children ages 15 to 17 in the acts of urban warfare.

Other treaties that the Palestinian Authority is in violation of include: The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, The International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid, The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

The Palestinians’ major complaint is the lack of attention by Western media on these violations. According to Khaled Abu Toameh, a writer for the Gatestone Institute, most Western journalists, governments and human rights groups have “chosen to endorse the Palestinian Authority’s stance that the only evil-doers are the Israelis” and due to this stance, the ICHR report will be ignored.

-Monica Newell

Sources: Gatestone Institute, The Tower 1, The Tower 2, The Tower 3

Photo: Skeptikai

Although the Oslo Accord was designed to facilitate the peace negotiations in the Middle East between Israel and Palestine under the supervision of the UN, some are starting to believe that the whole process will ultimately result in failure due to two decades of no deals being reached.

In an Al Jazeera article, Mairav Zonszein said that despite U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s goal to help both sides reach an agreement, Israel appears to be controlling the region anyway.

“Prospects for negotiating a two-state solution to conclude the Oslo peace process, launched in 1993, appear more remote than they were 21 years ago,” said Zonszein. “The difference, perhaps, may be in the balance of pressure operating on both sides then compared with now.”

According to Zonszein, Israel considers itself a sovereign nation and dominates the lives of all Palestinians who live under its occupation. In fact, Israel is so powerful that even Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of Palestine, is required to seek permission to leave the West Bank.

While the Palestinians (and the international community, including the U.S.) demand that the boundaries drafted in 1967 should be considered by Israel to grant statehood to Palestine, Israel continues to expand settlements beyond those boundaries.

“The original premise of the Oslo Accord was that a decades-old conflict could be resolved through bilateral negotiations in a framework based on relevant UN resolutions, out of the understanding that is must be a win-win situation for both sides,” Zonszein argued.

However, the only winner in the region turned out to be Israel. After realizing that the talks between Israel and Palestine are going nowhere, Kerry proposed a new idea to resolve yet another of the many problems the two sides have with each other.

“In a last-ditch effort to stop Israel reneging on a promise to release a final batch of Palestinian prisoners, the U.S. briefly threw in possibly the biggest bargaining chip in its hand: the release of Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard,” said Jonathan Cook in a Counterpunch article.

Cook argues that both Israel and the U.S. have been involved in negotiations that did nothing but distract the true developments within the region.

Cook also references Richard Falk, professor emeritus in international law at Princeton University, who claims that the Israeli policies were created to ethnically cleanse the Palestinians from their own homeland.

This is the reason the Palestinians refuse to recognize Israel as an official Jewish state in the first place.

Thus, “if negotiations collapse, it should be clear that, while both sides were supposed to be talking, one side – Israel – was vigorously and unilaterally acting to further its goals,” Cook said.

At this point, only time will tell whether or not the Israelis and Palestinians will one day reach a deal that has already been delayed by two decades.

– Juan Campos

Sources: Al Jazeera, CounterPunch
Photo: Al Jazeera

An Israeli heavy metal band by the name of Orphaned Land has generated a loyal fan base with their catchy lyrics and head-banging beats. Besides this accomplishment, however, this band has also transformed their artistic abilities into a political movement, as they convey the message of peace to their listeners. 

Orphaned Land has been on their ‘All Is One’ tour since the summer of 2013. The band toured in Europe, playing 18 shows in six countries, during the fall of 2013. For that leg of the tour, Orphaned Land invited the Palestinian heavy metal band, Khalas, to perform with them and share in the small confinements of their tour bus.

Other bands to join the tour were Klone, The Mars Chronicle and Bilocate. The latter two are bands from France, and the third is from Jordan. This added to the diversity of the tour, and consequently portrayed to the world that people can collaborate harmoniously despite their differences.

The decision for Orphaned Land and Khalas to play together specifically gained attention, as it is an unlikely occurrence for Palestinians and Israelis to work together. The two bands respected the cultural disparities between them, however, and even embraced these differences. This union exemplified the importance of focusing on what brings people together, rather than what drives them apart.

Orphaned Land’s lead singer, Kobi Farhi, highlighted the purpose of the tour, besides the obvious reason of expressing themselves through music, as he explained, “We can’t change the world, but we can give an example of how coexistence is possible… Sharing a stage and sharing a bus is stronger than a thousand words. We’ll show how two people from different backgrounds who live in a conflict zone can perform together.”

The conflict that Farhi mentioned refers to the fight over territory and disputes over ambiguous borders between Israel and Palestine, which arguably began in the late 19th century. Conversely, the war in 1947 was when the extreme violence amplified, which completely changed the map of the Middle East and the temperament of the neighboring states. The conflict and turmoil has persisted ever since, with constant cases of illegal settlements on each other’s land, and violent attacks occurring daily.

Despite this perpetual turmoil, these bands left the conflict behind them for the sake of their love for music. This is a political statement in and of itself, since they are epitomizing tolerance, which is a necessary virtue for the resolution of such a pressing issue.

“We’re living together, we’re playing together, and we’re pissing on all those politicians. It takes them ages to even come to the table or talk about something,” Farhi stated about the politics imbedded in the tour.

The lyrics in the songs composed by Orphaned Land are also focused on politics, as opposed to typical songs written about heartbreak. One of their most popular songs, Disciples of the Sacred Oath, contains the line, “Shall we see the end of war, blood brothers? Or shall we fill another grave, for ourselves we couldn’t save,” which is a direct reference to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Khala’s lead guitarist, Abed Hathut, claimed, “We are metal brothers before everything.” Khala as a group also holds the message of peace close to their hearts, as Hathut added, “There is no bigger message for peace than through this tour.”

The ‘All Is One’ tour certainly speaks volumes on the possibilities for the future of both Israel and Palestine. With younger generations creatively projecting peace through the arts, perhaps a wave of sensibility can overcome these two warring states.

The devastation and poverty caused by the constant conflict between Israel and Palestine cannot be resolved until both sides can shake hands across the table at peace talks. Until then, Orphaned Land and Khalas have left a positive example of cultural harmony, both through their music and their ability to focus on their similarities rather than their differences.

– Danielle Warren

Sources: The Guardian, Orphaned LandSBS
Photo:  StockFreeImages