Despite Israel's promise to ease the closure of the Gaza Strip, 40,000 Palestinian children eligible to enrol in United Nations schools this year had to be turned away this week because building materials for school construction have not been approved to enter the area since 2007.
While for the first time in three years Israel has allowed the import of school supplies for Government schools in Gaza, the almost absolute ban on the import of construction materials has left students with lots of pens and notebooks but without classrooms, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) reported.
“UNRWA needs 100 new schools to meet the enrolment demands of the children of Gaza,” the agency said in a news release. “Students being turned away from UNRWA schools is only one consequence of the classroom shortage in the Gaza Strip.
“To deal with the shortage of classroom space, students in most of Gaza's schools study in two shifts, in classrooms with up to 50 students, and sometimes oversized metal containers are used as classrooms, with three children seated at desks designed for two.”
Construction of a standard school requires an estimated 220 truckloads of building materials, or 22,000 truckloads for 100 schools. The only crossing Israel allows to open, Kerem Shalom, can accommodate just 250 truckloads per day, mostly for food and basic humanitarian supplies.
Despite promises, Israel has yet to approve a single truckload of construction materials for UNRWA's schools and has agreed to “negotiate” coordinating materials for just eight out of the 100 needed schools. Since the easing of the closure, Israel has allowed just 240 truckloads of construction materials monthly for all uses, compared with more than 5,000 trucks monthly before the closure (4 per cent of pre-closure levels).
“The right to education is a basic right of children everywhere,” UNRWA’s Gaza Director John Ging said. “For the children of Gaza, realization of that right depends on the continued construction of schools, because all of the temporary measures and substitutes have already been exhausted.”
Students at UNRWA schools study a specialized curriculum in human rights and critical thinking, not available in government schools. Furthermore, according to UNRWA records, students in its schools score 20 per cent higher than government school students on international aptitude tests.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other top UN officials have repeatedly called for ending the blockade, which Israel imposed on Gaza for what it called security reasons after Hamas, which does not recognize Israel’s right to exist, ousted the Fatah movement in the Strip in 2007.
In June, Israel eased the blockade to allow more civilian goods to enter the territory.