Israeli encroachment on Palestinian territory began in 1967 and has since established frameworks for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s statement on the expansion of settlements in the West Bank. Since the Trump administration has transitioned to the White House, Israel has announced the expansion of 4,000 new illegal Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory.

Legislation to build the new settlements would violate international law, especially considering that Palestinians possess title deeds to prove ownership of occupied land. U.N. Security Council resolution 2334 (2016) defines that Palestinian territory settled upon by Israelis would constitute “flagrant violation” of international law.

The bill to facilitate illegal settlements in the West Bank is highly controversial. Israel’s attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, is in opposition to its passage and promised to fight against it in the Supreme Court.

Netanyahu also perceives that the Trump administration will facilitate “significant opportunities” succeeding Obama’s policies in the Middle East that he cites as “huge pressures.” The creation of new illegal Israeli settlements in the region would be the first in 25 years.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) cites that there are almost 775,000 registered Palestinian refugees in the West Bank. A quarter of these refugees live across 19 camps and the rest in towns and villages. At least 270 Palestinians have been displaced and forced from their homes since the beginning of 2017.

U.S. foreign aid to Palestine began in the mid-1990s following the onset of “limited Palestinian self-rule” in Gaza and the West Bank. The U.S. is the largest single-state donor to the UNRWA and has committed more than $5 billion in bilateral aid to assist in decreasing terrorism against Israel, promote efficient governing infrastructures that could lead to regional peace and to provide humanitarian aid.

Amber Bailey

Photo: Flickr

Where are the Palestinian Refugees Camps?
The 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict marked the beginning of a long journey for Palestinians. During the war, approximately 700,000 Palestinians fled their homes in what is now Israel and the Occupied Palestinian territories and became refugees. Following the 1948 war, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) was established by the U.N. General Assembly to provide relief and works programs for Palestinian refugees.

The UNRWA defines Palestinian refugees as “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.” The definition was later expanded to include all descendants of male Palestinian refugees, including adopted children. Consequently, 68 years after the 1948 war and subsequent conflicts and uprisings, the number of Palestinian refugees has ballooned from 700,000 to roughly 5 million.

Most of the refugees sought asylum in neighboring Arab countries, where temporary camps were established and have since become permanent settlements. Nearly one-third, or 1.6 million, of Palestinian refugees live in 58 camps in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. The remaining two-thirds primarily live in or near the cities of host countries and territories, including those internally displaced in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian territories.

Gaza Strip

The Gaza Strip is a tiny enclave on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea bordering Israel and Egypt. The territory has a population of 1.7 million, of which 1.3 million are registered Palestinian refugees. Subject to a blockade on all sides, residents of Gaza have severely restricted freedom of movement, and Gaza is one of the most densely populated places on earth.

Continuous conflict between Hamas and Israel has also worsened the conditions within the Gaza Strip and has internally displaced thousands since the original 1948 conflict. As a result, 80% of the population is dependent on international assistance, and the eight refugee camps regularly face shortages of food, clean drinking water, medicine and opportunities to lift themselves out of the camps.

West Bank

The West Bank is an Israeli occupied territory located between Israel and Jordan with a population of 2.7 million. There are nearly 775,000 registered refugees living in the territory, mostly living in major towns and rural areas. However, around a quarter of the registered refugees live in 19 camps scattered throughout the territory. Although conditions are generally better than Gaza, refugees living in camps in the West Bank also face squalid living conditions and major freedom of movement restrictions.


Following the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict, thousands of Palestinians fled to Syria where they were generally welcomed and treated well. They were granted the same duties and responsibilities as Syrian citizens, other than political rights and nationality. As a result, by 2003 there were over 400,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria living in nine camps and in Syrian cities.

Syria’s ongoing civil war has severely exacerbated the plight of Palestinian refugees in the country, leaving many in besieged or hard to reach areas. Before the conflict began in 2011, UNRWA estimated there were 526,000 registered Palestinian refugees in the country. Today, many of the camps have been deserted or destroyed, and the refugees that remain in Syria continually experience a deterioration of humanitarian conditions. For instance, the Yarmouk Camp, located just outside Damascus and home to roughly 160,000 Palestinian refugees prior to the war, recently experienced fierce clashes between rebel groups, ISIS and the Syrian Army. The fighting left nearly 18,000 refugees without food, water and medical supplies, and resulted in a severe Typhoid outbreak.


Situated on the Mediterranean Sea between Israel and Syria, Lebanon has a population of 6.2 million, of which 450,000 are registered Palestinian refugees. The country is also home to thousands of undocumented and unregistered Palestinians, with estimates ranging from 10,000 to 40,000. Overall, Palestinians are thought to make up 10% of the total Lebanese population.

Around half of all Palestinian refugees in Lebanon reside in 12 refugee camps. Although many of these camps have existed for decades, they routinely suffer from high rates of poverty, unemployment and other issues such as overcrowding and lack of sufficient infrastructure. Those living outside the registered Palestinian refugee camps suffer continued discrimination, are denied basic rights and are even barred from working in certain professions. Consequently, Lebanon has the highest percentage of Palestinian refugees living in abject poverty among all other countries and territories UNRWA operates in.


Jordan shares a border with Iraq, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Syria and the West Bank, and has a population of 8.2 million. Jordan is home to the highest number of Palestinian refugees, with 2.1 million registered and thousands more that have fled Palestinian refugee camps in Syria. Palestinians account for approximately a quarter of the total Jordanian population.

Most, but not all, Palestinian refugees have been granted full Jordanian citizenship and have been well integrated into society for decades. However, nearly 370,000 are settled in ten camps throughout the country. An additional 10,000 that have crossed the border from Syria live in camps along the border that have increasingly dire conditions and residents are prohibited from leaving.

Originally forced to flee fighting in the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict, Palestinian refugees have long endured turbulent and unstable conditions since leaving home. Many have fled war only to be met with more violence and conflict in places such as Gaza, Lebanon and Syria. Many are faced with severe human rights violations and are denied freedom of movement, leaving many to be born, live and die in the same place. In addition to these issues, the right of refugees to ultimately return to their homeland remains a major obstacle to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

For now, Palestinians remain part of the harrowing refugee crisis of the 21st century.

-Brendan Hennessey

Photo: Flickr

GazaEarlier this month, football clubs from Gaza and the West Bank traveled to face one another in the Palestine Cup for the first time in more than 15 years. Shijaiyah United of Gaza faced West Bank’s Al-Ahly squad, and more than 2,000 fans of both teams alike were in full attendance at Gaza’s al-Yarmouk stadium.

League winners from Gaza and the West Bank were previously allowed to travel and meet for the Palestine Cup; however, this has been restricted by Israel since 2000 due to security risks and concerns. The Israeli Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the governing body in charge of Palestinian travel, granted the clubs’ requests.

Prior to the contest, COGAT announced in June that it would be easing travel restrictions to and from Gaza and the West Bank. The change was made to accommodate Palestinians traveling to celebrate during the month of Ramadan. Residents were allowed to apply for travel visas, which allowed them to visit immediate family members. For the first time, bus services and airports were open to transport residents between Gaza and the West Bank.

Upon the team’s arrival at al-Yarmouk stadium, Al-Ahly’s Khaldon al-Halman said, “I am full of honour and pride, this is the first time I have ever visited Gaza and I can’t find the words to describe my feelings.”

Geographically, the two regions are only separated by a few dozen miles, but the match was momentous due to Israel’s strict travel restrictions for Palestinians. The meeting was even more noteworthy considering the recent history and events of just this past year.

Hostilities erupted between Israel and Palestine this past Summer. Throughout the course of the conflict, the United Nations estimated that approximately 18,000 homes and structures of Gaza were destroyed by airstrikes and shelling. The structural destruction has left an estimated 108,000 Gazans homeless.

“We are all coming from underneath the rubble. Every player knows someone who was killed or injured, every player has had their house destroyed,” says Ibrahim Muajib Wadi of Shijaiyah.

For an area that has endured decades of turmoil and violence, the local football clubs have inspired a common pride, and Palestinian unity has blossomed as a result. This has provided hope in a form unavailable anywhere else.

“I support both teams! It’s one country, and both will represent Palestine if they win, It’s a celebration for Palestine, for all of us,” says Mohammed Yahya, a young spectator at the second game of the two-part series final.

The ruling powers, Hamas and Fatah, govern Gaza and the West Bank respectively and are, in theory, striving towards a unified Palestine. Relations, however, have not always been smooth between the governing bodies as they share a history of political gridlock.

This divide has left Palestine separated physically, as well as politically. However, despite the geographic and diplomatic split that currently exists, the politicians’ unification has manifested itself among the people in an unconventional way.

Palestinians are hopeful that the match symbolizes a continued sign of freer movement through Israel. For now, Palestinians are reveling with pride from the ability to support their football teams in person.

While Shijaiyah won the second and deciding match 2-1 over Al-Ahly, the experience provides the people with an invaluable boost to morale and generates a hopeful optimism. In regards to the final score, Wadi understood the contest’s importance, “In the end, the only winner is Palestine.”

Frasier Petersen

Sources: Washington Times, The Guardian, Yahoo, New York Times
Photo: The Guardian

In 2009, during three weeks of bombing from Israel, the Gaza Music School was destroyed just weeks after its inaugural performance. After the 2014 attacks between Hamas and Israel, the school has become even more important to the young musicians.

The Gaza Music School was launched in 2008 and helps give young people in Gaza the chance to explore their creativity and show off their talents. Most of the students have never lived in a Palestine that wasn’t at war.

Outlets are necessary to help kids forget about the horrors they see during war.

There is a staff of 15 that take care of 195 musicians ranging from age seven to 16 and the school is competitive to get into. In order to help deprived by poverty, there is a scholarship program to ensure everyone has a fair chance. While there is no experience necessary, every student must pass a test of ear and rhythm.

In Gaza and the West Bank, 25.8 percent of the population live below the poverty line. The GNI per capita is $3,060 and economic growth fluctuates due constant instability of peace.

When you walk into the school you hear drums, cellos, pianos, flutes and a qanoun. These sounds help calm the students and their families by relieving stress and expressing themselves. Abu Amsha, the school’s academic coordinator, wishes to expand music education in Gaza to include more students.

“Music restores hope and joy for a nation not accustomed to happiness,” says Ibrahim Al Najaar, the Gaza Music School coordinator.

Learning music helps students with all types of learning. Music requires the use of multiple skill sets. Students use their ears, eyes, and muscles while playing with sheet music or singing while playing an instrument. Therefore, neurological activity increases and you’re using more of your brain.

For music education in Gaza, students receive one-on-one attention from a teacher and practice at that school twice a week and 40 minutes a session. Since power goes out often in Gaza, teachers will even conduct their sessions in the dark. The school refers to music as “candle in the darkness.”

This type of education in Gaza is important to the community and the students. They have the opportunity to receive certificates for their time spent learning music and it gives them the opportunity to study at universities internationally. It is joyful, promotes expression, creativity, and hard work.

“Music is very important, especially in times of war, or when you’re under siege as we live now,” states Al Najaar.

Donald Gering

Sources: ANERA 1, ANERA 2, EI, The Independent, PBS, RT, World Bank
Photo: RT

gaza and west bank
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has stated that Palestinians in Gaza currently face an “enormous reconstruction task.” While rebuilding will probably be left up to humanitarian aid organizations, these organizations will depend on donations from the international community. International organizations play an important role in the economy of the Palestinian territories.

1. United States ($440 million)

Despite being in a difficult position in the Middle East, the United States is the largest donor to the Palestinian territories. On top of military aid to Israel, the U.S. has contributed humanitarian and economic recovery aid to the Gaza and West Bank in an attempt to alleviate poverty and suffering in those areas.

2. European Union ($370 million)

The European Union provides aid to the Palestinian territories in order to improve areas that are important in forming a thriving and peaceful state and relieving poverty. The European Union’s aid assists the Palestinian Authority in providing social assistance, supporting public service delivery, paying the salaries of public workers and supporting the private sector strengthens the rule of law and improves sanitation and water. Its total humanitarian assistance for Gaza and West Bank this year is at around $42.3 million. Two-thirds of this is allocated for emergency response and food assistance in Gaza.

3. UNRWA ($310 million)

UNRWA is seen mostly as a stabilizing agency in Gaza and West Bank, providing education, health care and food in those areas. Although Israel has accused the organization of being one-sided and members of U.S. Congress are concerned that U.S. aid to UNRWA could be funding Hamas, UNRWA has continued to provide services to Palestinian refugees in the Middle East.

4. United Kingdom ($136 million)

Although the United Kingdom believes that Israel has a right to self-defense, it is currently debating if they should still sell arms to Israel. Support from the United Kingdom for Gaza and West Bank is also large. In 2014, the United Kingdom will give $19 million in aid to the Palestinian Authority, which will be used to provide education needs as well as alleviate hunger and poverty in the Palestinian territories.

5. Japan ($76 million)

Japan is very outspoken in its support for the Palestinian territories. In July, Japan promised $5.5 million in humanitarian aid to Gaza to assist in distributing medicine, food and improving water and sanitation. Some of Japan’s 2014 bilateral aid spending will go to West Bank, improving public services in Jordan Valley and strengthening water infrastructure in Jericho City.

6. Germany ($55 million)

Germany’s aid programs in Gaza and West Bank highlight economic development, security, governance, environment and water infrastructure as important areas to work on. On top of strengthening institutions to provide and regulate water services, Germany works with the Palestinian Ministry of Women’s Affairs to empower women to take on management positions in the water sector. Germany also works with refugee communities in the West Bank and provides psychosocial support in Gaza’s schools.

7. France ($40 million)

Through the French Development Agency’s investments in water and energy, France has been supporting Gaza and West Bank humanitarian rebuilding efforts. Last year, France gave $25.7 million in aid to the Palestinian Authority. In July, President François Hollande stated that France would give almost $15 million to Gaza. Almost $11 million of that will go to the Palestinian Authority, and the rest will go to Gaza-based NGOs.

Christopher Gunness, a spokesman for UNRWA, said that the work ahead of them in reconstruction efforts is enormous. “Some estimates say as many as 10,000 homes have been damaged or destroyed, affecting tens of thousands of people. So the catastrophic human displacement crisis is morphing into a homelessness crisis on a massive scale.”

– Colleen Moore

Sources: Devex, International Business Times
Photo: The Guardian

What is International Relief and Development?
While some humanitarian organizations will avoid areas of conflict, members of International Relief and Development (IRD) seek it. IRD, a non-profit relief organization founded in 1998, believes that proper governance is necessary for all other sectors’ infrastructure to develop. Since 2001, it has initiated and managed over $1 billion dollars of infrastructure projects. The numbers, however, are less important when we want to see results.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has been a partner and donor of IRD since its beginning. It is the largest donor to IRD and therefore, we can expect USAID’s vision of good governance and universal human rights to filter through in its work. IRD also partners with the US State Department, United Nations and World Bank.

International Relief and Development has over 2,900 staff worldwide. IRD prides itself on the fact that over 90 percent of these staff members are hired locally. There are currently 122 projects worldwide, the majority taking place in the Middle East.

Infrastructure in West Bank

In the West Bank, IRD was awarded the 2008 INP IQC ―Infrastructure Needs Program Indefinite Quantity Contract. This USAID-led 5 year-long contract was awarded to only four organizations; IRD was the only non-profit to receive the contract. The infrastructure building of roads, schools, and water development systems were the main focus of this 300 million dollar project. West Bank, located in the Palestinian territory near the state of Israel, is one the most desperate regions in the world that seeks independence and peace with its neighbors.

Iraqi Water Supply

The challenge of obtaining potable water is found all over the world. In Iraq, IRD addressed the needs of 15,000 residents of a neighborhood in Baghdad. The Iraqi Community Action Program was granted the funds it requested. The funds, which came from USAID, helped a water production unit run at its full capacity, fully supplying the neighborhood with ample water. Instead of functioning on its previous level of 13,000 gallons per hour, it ran at 50,000 gallons per hour.

Vocational Training in Pakistan

To understand what the solutions to poverty are, we have to understand that they are many. This includes vocational training to give people the skills they need in order to support their families. Some families lose a breadwinner in the family due to war or war-related violence. In Charsadda, Pakistan, IRD, in conjunction with USAID, implemented a vocational training program in tailoring, electrical work, auto mechanics, computing, and others. In addition to receiving the training, the 116 Pakistanis that participated in the program also received small grants to start their own business.

These projects and many more are just prime examples of the work USAID funds through reputable organizations such as IRD. With its professionalism, good ethics, and ability to work in all regions in the world, International Relief and Development live up to its name.

– Aysha Rasool
Feature Writer

Source: IRD Success Stories, USAID, IRD
Photo: International Relief and Development