GAZA CITY, 28 May 2004— In her first visit to the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) and Israel, UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy will spend most of her time interacting with children who have been impacted by the long-running conflict.
Ms. Bellamy, the head of the world's largest children's right organization will have the chance to listen, to observe, and to express solidarity with children for whom living in conflict has become part of their daily lives. The children in Gaza City and those living in Israel have all lost relatives either during military operations or terror attacks.
The two-and-a-half day visit – which starts 29 May 2004, Saturday - will also be a chance to boost UNICEF's advocacy efforts on both Palestinian and Israeli sides. In meetings with Israeli officials, Ms. Bellamy is expected to bring up access problems - whether its children and teachers not able to get to class on time because of checkpoints or curfews, or whether its UNICEF staff not being able to access the worst affected areas. Palestinian officials will be reminded of the importance of mainstream resources towards such things as education and child protection.
All children suffer in the conflict
The visit takes place at a tumultuous stage in a conflict that has touched the lives of all children in this region and amid an environment where children are being killed, injured, and deprived of their rights. Their emotional health is being adversely affected. According to consolidated figures provided by UNICEF, as of the end of March 2004, more than 600 children were killed during the current conflict - including 573 Palestinian and 104 Israeli.
The position articulated by UNICEF is that the organization is very concerned about the impact of the fighting on children, and since the start of the Intifada in September 2000 it has repeatedly called on all parties to ensure the protection of children. “Every day, it seems, more and more children on both sides are being killed or being traumatized in this conflict,” said Special Representative David Bassiouni.
UNICEF’s work in OPT touches close to a million school children
Of course Ms. Bellamy will have a chance to see UNICEF programmatic interventions in OPT. This includes a girl's school in Gaza City (UNICEF's work in education touches almost a million Palestinian school children), the Gaza City Children's Municipal Council (CMC) and members of UNICEF-supported Palestinian group that conducts peer-to-peer counseling activities for adolescents.
As a former city legislator, Ms. Bellamy shows a keen interest in the municipal council – especially the opportunity it provides to keep children participating and making a difference in their immediate surroundings.
On her second day, Ms. Bellamy will meet with members of the Israeli National Committee for UNICEF, as well as attend an evening event that will promote the work of Israeli National Committee and UNICEF to key players in the corporate world and politics.
For staff of UNICEF OPT, the arrival of Ms. Bellamy will bring a huge sigh of relief. She has tried to come here several times, but security conditions on the ground prevented her from doing so. She will be joined by the Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Thomas Mcdermott.