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Dr Naim Abu Hommous, Ministry of Education and Higher Education, 28 August 2002
In few days, more than one million Palestinian students are supposed to attend their schools announcing the beginning of the new school year (2002/2003), a day that has occupied our thinking for the few months to pass. During the last two years of the Intifada, we and all the Palestinian people have been living and working under extra-ordinary circumstances, yet we were determined to keep the education process running and we have exerted huge efforts to achieve that goal. However, it is worth stressing that we are very much concerned by the escalation in the aggressive Israeli measures towards the Palestinian people, which threatens to disturb and even to completely disrupt the education process.
Besides threatening the lives of students and teachers and the destruction of schools and educational institutions, the main cause to our concern remains, with no doubt, the policy of continuous curfew and tight closures and the restrictions it implies on the movement of people and goods within the Palestinian areas.
Our experience from the last school year is not encouraging at all. Based on July 28 figures, 216 students were killed, 2514 injured and 164 arrested. Teachers and employees were also targeted with 17 killed and 71 arrested. During the Israeli incursion to all Palestinian areas starting late March and continuing to the moment, 1289 schools were closed for three consecutive weeks, around 50% of the Palestinian students and 35,000 employees in the educational sector in addition to 87000 university students were prevented to reach their schools and universities. The Final Secondary Examination (Tawjihi) was nothing but an unpleasant adventure, which lasted for more than one month due to the Israeli military procedures in the Palestinian territories, but fortunately, came to a satisfactory end. The physical damage to the Ministry of Education and Higher Education and to schools was unprecedented in shape and in magnitude. Most of you are probably fully aware of the details of this damage and some have even participated in the assessment following the Israeli attack to PA institutions.
Despite all those difficulties, we have saved a little of hope in our hearts to keep us going. We have worked hard, with the generous support from the donor community, to provide the basic physical requirements for the new school year. We have managed to raise the funds required for textbooks printing, though the timely delivery of those textbooks to schools in all regions is never guaranteed, and the same situation holds for school supplies, furniture and other equipment, of which considerable amounts have been purchased to replace the damaged.
Our school building projects are not by any way in a better condition, the continuous closures that hinder the movement of labor and building materials and the shortages in goods in the Palestinian market, as a result of economic recession, are always causing much delays. Moreover, the destruction of schools by the Israeli occupation force since are always dragging back our attempts towards increasing the number of schools since a considerable proportion of the funds allocated to build new schools will have to be put in repairing those damaged during the attack, thus dragging back our attempts towards increasing the number of schools which is aimed at increasing the student enrollment rate and decreasing the use of double-shifting.
More importantly, Our teachers’ mobility as well as other employees of the education system shall always be encountered by many obstacles imposed by the situation of siege and blockades posed among Palestinian cities and inhabited areas.
I do not need to remind you of the disastrous life conditions of Palestinian people, and the serious recession in the Palestinian economy. The enormous increase in unemployment and the subsequent increase in the proportion of people living in poverty, estimated at about half of the Palestinian people, are both placing a question mark on the ability of families to afford sending their children to schools and universities once again.
Within all this, I think that it is crucial for all international institutions and partners in the development of the education system, to stress on the following priorities for sustaining the education process:
1- providing protection to Palestinian civilians especially children.
2- Urging the Israeli’s to lift the curfews and the closures imposed in the Palestinian areas to permit students, teachers, and employees to have access to their schools and universities.
3- Stopping the destruction of the educational infrastructure, including schools, universities, and district offices.
4- Providing cash assistance to poor and needy families to provide for food, medical care and to secure their children’s schooling.
5- Providing continuous budget support to the Palestinian Ministry of Education and Higher Education.
6- Supporting the repair of infrastructure assets damaged by the Israeli’s. Finally, I would like to reiterate the Ministry of Education and Higher Education commitment towards sustaining the education process by all means and up to the last moment. We believe that Palestinian children like all other children of the world have the right for education. It is now time for all of us to save the success stories that we have mutually achieved since 1993.
Dr. Naim Abu Hommous
Minister of Education & Higher Education