The Impact of the Conflict on Children
The Education of Children at Risk
The Current Situation and Closures
Before the Oslo accords of 1993, the Palestinian territories were under total Israeli military occupation. Since 1994, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has been granted partial control over segments of the territories, and now controls 18 percent of the West Bank and 60 percent of the Gaza Strip. These pockets of Palestinian-controlled land, which are home to 93 percent of the Palestinian population, are surrounded by Israeli settlements and Israel-controlled bypass roads that connect the settlements to each other, to military installations, and to Israel proper. Control over these roads allows the Israeli military to impose either “total” or “partial” closures. These closures can be “external” – totally or partially banning the movement of people and goods from the West Bank and Gaza Strip to Israel and East Jerusalem – or “internal” – banning movement between the pockets of land controlled by the PA. The Israeli army has installed 120 checkpoints throughout the West Bank and Gaza (refer to map on the inside front cover), effectively dividing the area into 220 separate clusters.
Disrupted school life
More than 860,000 children are enrolled in primary or secondary schools in the West Bank and Gaza, nearly all run by the PA or the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). Since 1994 the PA’s Ministry of Education successfully increased the number of students attending school by 43%.
Currently, efforts of teachers and administrators to keep schools open has ensured that most students remain in school, although the numbers vary significantly and quickly depending on changes in the political climate. School attendance drops when there is a high level of violence in a particular area, as parents prefer to keep their children at home. In areas of chronic violence, or where there is a total or nighttime curfew, attendance remains low since parents are concerned about the possibility of violence. Some schools have been closed because they are adjacent or close to settlements that are prone to high levels of violence or conflict.
School teachers and staff are frequently unable to get from home to work because of destroyed roads, checkpoints, or road closures. Mid-way through the 2001-2002 academic year, nearly 70 percent of UNRWA’s Gaza education staff and some 40 percent of UNRWA’s Gaza employees report that they have often been unable to get from home to work because of the frequent closures of the road from South to North Gaza. UNRWA schools in Gaza reported that they lost 1,800 school days in the last academic year.
In the Hebron region, one of Save the Children’s prime impact areas, schools reported that during the last academic year over 600 teachers and nearly 15,000 students were often unable to access their schools. Repeated curfews in the area paralysed operations in at least 22 schools, with a total of 45 school days lost. During that same period, 41 schools were closed throughout the West Bank and Gaza, affecting 20,000 students, and the operations of 275 schools were seriously disrupted as a result of tension and conflict.
In the last academic year, more than 15% of schools in the Palestinian territories fell within 500 meters of an Israeli military base, and these 275 schools serve 14% 118,662 pupils out of a school-going population of 865,540. As of November 2001, three schools in Hebron have been closed and 30 others throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip have been shelled or come under fire. (box)
Nonetheless, many students demonstrate an eagerness for education. One 11-year old boy in Save the Children’s project areas lives next to his school. He sleeps in a room with his five brothers and sisters, and his parents. For him, the violence has meant that he could not visit his grandmother and he was not able to go outside for Ramadan games at night. But still, he missed only one day of school since the attacks on his area began. Demonstrating his resilience and desire to improve his life he said: “School is better, you get an education.”
Increased family poverty
Child poverty levels are directly affected by household employment, and closures directly affect work opportunities. The closures have resulted in a quadrupling in unemployment, to over 40%, as of March 2001, contributing to an overall drop in the GNP of 51%. As family income has declined, families are increasingly unable to pay the associated costs for their children’s education, such as transport, supplies and appropriate clothing.
According to the latest surveys conducted in the West Bank and Gaza in March 2001, poverty rates (earning less than $2/day) have reached 64.2% (2,107,400 individuals) – 55.7% in the West Bank and 81.4% of the Gaza Strip. Children under the age of 18 make up roughly 53% of this population.
Limited access to urgent medical care
The road closures have also affected the ability of children and their families to travel to clinics and hospitals. A poll conducted in March 2001 found that 52.3% of households encountered serious obstacles trying to obtain health services. As of 27 November 2001, medical personnel reported 221 incidents of ambulances denied access at checkpoints. Untreated illnesses are an additional factor contributing to lower school attendance.
The ongoing violence has a psychological effect as well. A study of 217 calls to a hotline for parents and caregivers of children aged 5-16 reported 41 cases of bedwetting, 19 cases of loss of appetite and vomiting, 43 cases of sleeplessness, nightmares and fear of the dark, 14 cases of continuous crying, stubbornness, and extreme nervousness, and 70 cases of children insisting on sleeping in their parents’ room. Teachers have noted exhaustion and diminished attention spans in classrooms.
Teachers have tried hard to de-emphasize the external events and to focus on the educational process, and children make an effort to continue to learn. According to a teacher in Khan Younis in Gaza: “When I ask the students if they are afraid or worried, they say no … In the last three weeks, we have worked hard to focus the students on their education, and not over emphasize the events. Now the children want to learn, although it is still difficult for them to concentrate in this situation because they, like the teachers, are upset, distracted and tired.”
The ongoing closures restrict access to medical care, increase family poverty, and limit Palestinian children’s ability to attend school and to learn. These are key rights accorded to children through the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is Save the Children’s greatest hope that all parties will earnestly heed the call of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell for joint and negotiated action to end the conflict and the implementation of the related United Nations Security Council Resolutions.
Save the Children will concurrently continue its efforts to enhance future opportunities for Palestinian children and to alleviate the impact of the conflict through our ongoing education, health, economic opportunities and emergency response programs that are undertaken with the support of a variety of governments, foundations and individual donors.
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