This week and next, over 1.3 million Palestinian children will return to school in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and in the Gaza Strip. Schools should be a sanctuary where children learn, thrive and are protected. It is where young minds are encouraged to inquire, explore, and develop to their fullest potential. But for children in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, 2023 has been a very bad year.
Children lost weeks of learning this year as a result of prolonged strikes by UNRWA and public-school teachers in the West Bank, the May escalation in Gaza, and operations by Israeli Forces in Palestine refugee camps in the West Bank. The longer children lose out on education, the more difficult it will be to compensate and make up for that loss; all communities will feel the impact.
But it gets worse. Since the beginning of the year, 42 Palestinian children have been killed, 35 in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and another seven in the Gaza Strip. In the West Bank, the total number of Palestinian children killed this year is almost as high as the number of children killed throughout 2022. And six Israeli children have been killed since the beginning of the year.
In the first six months of 2023, the United Nations recorded more than 423 incidents impacting Palestinian children and their education, including Israeli Forces firing at schools and/or students, conducting operations and demolishing schools, harassment by settlers and delays at checkpoints affecting approximately 50,000 children. Three schools were demolished by the Israeli authorities in the last 12 months, the most recent of which on 17 August, in the village of Ein Samiya, just a few days before the start of the new school year. Fifty-eight other schools are currently under partial, full demolition or stop-work orders.
Physical barriers placed by Palestinians in refugee camps, some rigged with explosive materials, are threatening the safety of children and making it harder for them to reach their classrooms. And reports continue of children being enrolled in “summer camps” by armed groups, increasing their risk of being exposed to violence or military content.
All actors must comply with their obligations to protect children and prevent their exposure to all forms of violence. Safe access to education is a fundamental right of all children which must be protected and safeguarded at all times by all parties.
And we, as the international community must do more to ensure there are sufficient resources for the Palestinian Authority, UNRWA, and support for the Humanitarian Response Plan to provide consistent, safe and high-quality education to all Palestinian children.