BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- The new school year saw 40,000 children turned away from classrooms in Gaza and more than 10,000 children in the West Bank return to school in tents, caravans and tin shacks, UN agencies say.
UNRWA, the UN body set up to assist Palestinian refugees, said Wednesday that it has been unable to build new schools in Gaza since 2007 due to Israel’s siege. The "almost absolute ban on the import of construction materials has left students with lots of pens and notebooks but without classrooms," an UNRWA statement said.
Turning away students is only one consequence of the classroom shortage, the agency says, adding that students already learn in two shifts with up to 50 students in each class, while oversized metal containers are used as classrooms.
Israel announced that it would ease its four-year siege of the coastal enclave in June after Israeli forces killed nine passengers on a ship bringing supplies to the Strip, sparking international outcry. However, UNRWA says Israel has not yet approved any construction materials needed for UNRWA schools and has only agreed to "negotiate" coordinating materials for eight of the 100 schools needed.
"All of the temporary measures and substitutes have already been exhausted," UNRWA’s Gaza director John Ging said, explaining that realizing the right to education for Gazan children relied on the continued construction of schools.
Many of Gaza's schools were damaged by Israel's December 2008 assault on the Strip, and 82 percent of this damage has still not been repaired, UNICEF and UNRWA reported.No repairs for West Bank schools
UNICEF said that in the West Bank, Israel's restrictive permit regime in Area C meant that over 10,000 children began their school year in tents, caravans, or tin shacks.
Area C encompasses 60 percent of the West Bank under zoning regulations established in the Oslo Accords. It is under full Israeli civil and military control, and the UN has said it is "nearly impossible" for Palestinians to obtain permits from Israel to maintain, repair or build in Area C.
At least one-third of the schools in Area C have "totally inadequate" sanitary facilities, lack water and fall "far short" of basic safety and hygiene standards, UNICEF reported.
Further, UNICEF warned that constant harassment by settlers and Israeli soldiers, as well as forced displacements and home demolition, caused children psychological distress.