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Palestinian education remains compromised by UNRWA

September 11, 2015 at 11:51 am

UNRWA has long propagated the slogan that education is the only hope for Palestinians in Gaza. Undergoing various forms of paraphrasing, the emphasis placed by the agency upon education, however, remains hampered by the fact that compromise is still an integral component of what’s on offer.

Prior to the commencement of this new academic year, UNRWA’s discourse centred upon financial difficulties which threatened to disrupt education for hundreds of thousands of Palestinian children. In August, parents protested against the overcrowding in UNRWA schools. Recently in Gaza, classes in the UN-run schools were suspended following a strike by the staff protesting against “compulsory unpaid vacation for employees and other negative school arrangements.” Maan news agency reported that around 250,000 Palestinian students in Gaza were sent home.

According to UNRWA’s website, a funding shortfall of $101 million risked jeopardising education in 685 schools in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, where UNRWA has its operations. A timely pledge of $15 million from the United Arab Emirates ended that possibility, leading UNRWA Commissioner General Pierre Krähenbühl to say, “Education is a fundamental right for children everywhere in the world, and it should never have come to the point where the UNRWA school year risked being delayed because of a funding shortfall for the core UNRWA budget.”

The US has also since contributed $15 million to UNRWA. “We are deeply grateful to the United States for this remarkable contribution,” Krähenbühl declared, “which will help ensure that the 500,000 Palestinian refugees who attend UNRWA schools across the region will continue to have access to quality basic education that is so crucial for their development and future prospects.”

An UNRWA press release also hailed the US as giving “exemplary and long standing support” that is “highly recognised and valued” by the agency. For its part, the US stressed that it is “committed to helping provide education to this generation of refugee children in the Middle East.”

The website is littered with similar statements that emphasise, above everything else, the concept of dependency which is asserting itself automatically within the education paradigm for Palestinians in Gaza and elsewhere. Priorities for the US do not, in fact, include education. Rather, it is concerned with creating refugees and maintaining their displaced status. US contributions to UNRWA are paltry and signify nothing but the deepening discrepancy between the billions given to Israel to colonise Palestine and the meagre financial aid allocated for Palestinians to allegedly enhance their “prospects” within a society and economy devastated by Israel’s colonial occupation.

It is indeed hypocritical that the international community and the organisations supported by imperialism have chosen to sabotage education for Palestinians, a sector which, historically, was a core aspect of Palestinian resistance. As things stand, UNRWA is changing the Palestinian narrative by devaluing education into a form of transient hope, rather than as the foundations for a fortified, resistant population. Palestinian refugees are limited to two options: they can face a vacuum with regards to education, or they can obtain an education that, despite the fine rhetoric, seeks to maintain their permanent displacement and exile.

If UNRWA can wax lyrical about US financial support for its projects, logic suggests that it must also support — albeit by maintaining a crucial silence — the US-sponsored violence in the form of military assistance to Israel. The diplomatic alternative would be helpless acquiescence due to the agency’s financial dependency upon Washington. However, both scenarios elicit the same conclusion, one whereby Palestinian tenacity for knowledge and learning is being modified within a system that caters for vague definitions of education within the generally accepted fables of universal human rights, rather than seeking to provide Palestinians with the education that is necessary for their resistance to and liberation from Israel’s brutal military occupation.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.