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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Plus de 200.000 enfants privés de rentrée à Gaza

by L’Humanité.fr avec AFP

More than 200,000 children denied the start of the school year in Gaza

Translated Saturday 5 September 2015, by Carly Coulter

More than 200,000 Palestinian children were denied the start of the school year Monday in Gaza due to a massive strike by teachers linked to the UN agency’s financial difficulties in the enclave suffering from the war and the Israeli blockade.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which employs a large number of professors and educational staff in the Gaze strip and is financially dependent upon foreign donors, is faced with a chronic lack of resources. This year, the crisis reached unrivalled proportions, and the UNRWA threatened to push back the start of the school year for lack of sufficient donations and to lay off a portion of their staff, without salary, for one year.

This decision was eventually frozen. But UNRWA employees are calling for a total cancellation. The union of the agency staff has therefore decided to increase pressure on the first day of school and has called for a walkout. Thousands of professors, assistants or administrators gathered before the seat of the UNRWA, their employer, with placards reading “Don’t touch refugee rights, whether they be students or employees”.

This protest, of a rare scale in a region nevertheless suffering from wars, blockades and economic stagnation blocked an entire street in the city of Gaza. Classes will start Tuesday, stated the strikers; while the UNRWA maintains that it has yet to eliminate the deficit, having collected only 80 of the 100 million dollars (69 of 86 million euros) missing.

In a population around 1.8 million people living in a territory confined and isolated, 1.26 million people are Palestinian refugees, according to UNRWA figures. The agency insures the education of the large majority of children, 225,000 distributed in 245 schools. These schools are a chance for children accustomed to wars with Israel (3 in 6 years), violence, and shortages, boasts the UNRWA, also working in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. In occupied West Bank, the other Palestinian territory, the first day of school took place, but was marked by arson on 31 July, attributed to Jewish extremists and as a result of which an 18-month-old baby and his father were killed. The Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah symbolically opened the school year in Duma, the village where the tragedy occurred. The school there was renamed Ali Dawabcheh, in the name of the baby infant burned alive. Ali’s mother, Riham, teaches in a school in Jericho, the neighbouring village in the hills of the West Bank occupied by Israel. She, and her other son, 4, remain hospitalised in critical conditions. In the all-girls school where she teaches, the director Ahlam al-Masri stated that this school year’s start was “very hard” in the teacher’s lounge, where “Riham’s seat remains empty”.

“The students ask for all the updates on their teacher, this morning we all prayed for her healing and for the souls of her son and her husband”, she added. More than a million students were meant to return to school in the Palestinian territories, but only a fifth of them will sit behind their desks Tuesday due to the strike in Gaza.

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