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Source: United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)
16 January 2007

Palestinian students return to school despite intense challenges and violence

By Val Wang

NEW YORK, USA, 16 January 2007 – Students in the Occupied Palestinian Territory are finally beginning a new semester after violence and teachers' strikes kept many away from their studies last year.

In the West Bank, a strike initiated by unpaid teachers cancelled classes in the fall for more than 750,000 children. Students like Hala, 9, who attends a girls' school in the village of Marda, did not have classes for many months.

"I am happy I came back to school because I learn so many important things," said Hala.

Effects of violence

In 2006, more than 120 Palestinian children under the age of 18 were killed during armed conflict, mostly in Gaza. Many others were hindered from coming to school by closures, roadblocks and random checkpoints.

Two-thirds of the population in Gaza and the West Bank live below the poverty line and many families struggle to send their children to school, even without looming conflict.

The principal of the girls' school in Marda, Mariam Al Ar'aj, says she has seen the effects of this violence on her students.

"When students came back to school, we faced enormous challenges – one of the most important being the amount of work for everyone," said Ms. Al Ar'aj. "We also noticed a change in their behavior. There appears to be more violence in it."

Uninterrupted education

With the help of the Saudi Committee for the Relief of Palestinian People as well as other donors, UNICEF has provided more than 300,000 school bags and 75,000 school uniforms – as well as other teaching and recreational materials – to schools across the region. Training for teachers has also been provided.

UNICEF Special Representative in the Occupied Palestinian Territory Dan Rohrmann visited Al Tuffah School in Gaza City, which enrolls 870 female students, most of them poor. He praised the commitment of Palestinian children to education, and expressed admiration for their achievements in the face of enormous challenges.

"Given the environment in which the children live in both the West Bank and Gaza, we have to do one thing – protect education for children," said Mr. Rohrmann. "It is of utmost important that we guarantee the children will have the right to quality education."

With their salaries paid and the ceasefire holding, teachers are now back in the classroom, where their students need them to be.

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