On the Lebanese leg of the trip, I joined up with ANERA Board Member and Vice Chair, Fawzi Kawash. In Jordan, ANERA Middle East Representative, Tom Neu, joined us with Hanan Shasha, head of ANERA's Amman office. In Palestine and Israel, ANERA Board Member, Philip Wilcox, joined us for about half of the trip. Dr. Eid Mustafa, member of the ANERA Medical Committee, joined Fawzi Kawash, Philip Wilcox, and me for a couple of meetings.
As usual, in this report, I will first present project developments after which I will discuss some general social and economic developments in the West Bank/Gaza and Israel.
Milk for Preschoolers Program
September 2004 saw the MfP program enter into the first term of its second full academic year. Following preparations to expand the program and assessment visits carried out by MfP field coordinators to preschools throughout the Gaza Strip, a revised distribution plan was established to incorporate a total of 94 preschools in the five areas of the Gaza Strip. This expansion of the program enabled the MfP to reach almost 10,000 children.
Children Reached by MfP
Due to increased interest from donors, we were able to expand the program in the new year. From February 2005, the MfP expanded to reach more than 13,000 children in 120 preschools.
Distribution of Milk and Wafers
Prior to the start of the 2004-2005 school year in September, representatives of Sinokrot (a Ramallah based bakery) and a local dairy met with coordinators of the MfP program to develop a distribution plan to allocate sufficient milk and fortified wafers to the five areas of the Gaza Strip. The distribution plan was developed through an assessment of the required monthly quantities of both milk and wafers needed for each new and existing preschool in the program. At the time of the initial delivery, the distributors from Sinokrot were accompanied by MfP coordinators who were familiar with the area and location of each preschool. This initial joint distribution has facilitated easy and accurate delivery on subsequent occasions.
During the first three months of the program, Sinokrot distributors made visits to each preschool to provide a monthly allowance of milk and wafers based on each preschool's individual need. The distribution, however, was often hindered; the distributors encountered many obstacles and constraints such as closures and repeated Israeli incursions. The transportation of the milk and wafers to Southern Gaza was also delayed for long periods of time during the month of October when the Netsarim check point was closed, dividing the Gaza Strip into two separate areas and preventing shipments from reaching the South for 17 days. This closure led to a shortage of milk and wafers in many preschools. In an effort to prevent this problem from recurring with future monthly shipments, Sinokrot rented a temporary warehouse in Deir Al Balah to store reserve quantities of milk and wafers to ensure the preschools in the South would not face further shortages.
During October, Israeli military incursions into the Northern Gaza Strip affected several of the MfP preschools. Shelling and missile attacks caused severe damage to the northern communities of Beit Lahiya, Beith Hanoun and Jabalia. The Sheikh Zaid Preschool in Beit Lahia was badly damaged with all of its windows broken and bullets lodged in the doors and walls. One preschooler, Dina Salem lost her father during these incursions when their house was demolished. Dina has had to leave Sheikh Zaid to live with family members in another area of the Gaza Strip. Dina is not the only child who no longer attends the Sheikh Zaid preschool. Due to its northern position, often on the front line during incursions, the preschool has lost a number of its children whose parents opt to keep them at home in fear of the children being harmed during an attack. The number of children attending the preschool has dropped from 100 children in September to just 54.
Preschools in Beit Hanoun and Beit Lahia were also affected by the incursions. Children from Atfal Beit Lahia Preschool (Dar Al Huda Society) were unable to attend classes for 17 days. In Beit Hanoun, incursions also prevented some children from attending their preschools and hindered milk distribution to schools still functioning.
As I mentioned in my previous report, MfP decided to pursue the idea of fortifying the milk used in the program in order to increase the nutritional value for children. Following the recommendations of a leading world expert on child nutrition, the optimum recipe for fortification was determined according to the needs of Palestinian children and the carrying capacity of the milk. With technical assistance from Tetra Pak engineers (see below), the dairy determined the appropriate process for fortifying the milk. The cost of fortification turned out to be so minimal that it had no effect on the unit cost for the MfP.
Tetra Pak hired the services of a marketing firm to develop characters and packaging for "Haleeb Ar-Ruwwad," or "milk of Pioneers" in English, the new name for the children's milk. In accordance with the design brief for the new product line, the firm created four Ruwwad characters, one for each flavor of milk. The four characters are pioneers that excel in their favorite pursuits and role models that children in Palestine can identify with. One thing that each character has in common is that he or she is hopeful about the future.
ANERA's MfP program purchases about 25% of the local dairy's production. The dairy provides employment for about 150 men and women and it purchases milk from about 50 local farmers. I toured the dairy for a second time on this trip. It truly uses 21st century technology. The Swedish firm that supplied the dairy with equipment, Tetra Pak, had sent two technicians for routine maintenance. They told me the operation was certainly up to standard.
The Kanz Wafer
The MfP wafers, previously imported from Turkey, have been replaced with the fortified Kanz Wafer, supplied by the Sinokrot Food Company in Ramallah. The Kanz wafer is the first fortified food product to be produced in Palestine and is well-liked by children.
Nutritional Assessment of Children in the Program
The nutritional assessment carried out at the end of the 2003/2004 school year in Gaza provided substantial evidence that the MfP program was improving the nutritional status of the preschool children participating in the program.
The assessment confirmed that chronic malnutrition (stunting) and anemia are serious public health problems for preschoolers in the Gaza Strip and clearly portrayed how the MfP had contributed to lowering the prevalence of stunting from 8.8% to 6.4% and the prevalence of anemia from 27.3% to 18.6%.
Monitoring the progress of the beneficiaries of the MfP is part of the program. The MfP coordinators make certain that both teachers and parents track the tangible results of the program, by regularly recording the height and weight of the children on growth charts.
It costs approximately $100 to give a box of fortified milk and a fortified wafer to one child every school day during the nine month school year. Thus, this program will cost about $1.3 million for 13,000 children during the 2004-2005 school year. We have secured the funds from ANERA's donors, friends of ANERA Board Member Fawzi Kawash, and Islamic Relief.
Many additional preschools would like to be included in the program. Naturally, we are looking for funds for 2005-2006, hopefully sufficient to reach a larger number of children.
During the trip, Fawzi Kawash and I visited two preschools that participate in the program: Al-Fayer al-Sheikh Nursery School in Gaza City and Nursery School "B" in the Beach Refugee Camp. The classrooms were colorful, but rudimentary. There were many pictures on the walls; figures of ducks, donkeys, fish, flowers, and birds hang from the ceiling. Inter alia, the children were enjoying the milk and wafers. At 12:30 at the Beach Camp Nursery, the children started dancing the debke, a popular Arab dance. Fawzi, some ANERA staff, and I joined the 4-5 year old children. They were better than the older folks, but not necessarily better than the younger staff.
In previous reports, I described a variety of projects supported under CSP (Community Services Projects), VSP (Village Services Projects), JOBS (Job Opportunities for Basic Services), and PINE (Palestinian Infrastructure for Needed Employment). On this trip, we visited a few projects implemented with funding from these various USAID funded programs.
Wadi Salga, Gaza
Ten years ago, this rural village in the middle area of the Gaza Strip, population 5,000, had no running water, paved roads, or electricity. Today, while certainly not rich, its citizens enjoy many of these services. ANERA improved and paved four roads, provided a computer laboratory and home economic equipment for a girls school, and hopes to build a bridge over a small wadi in the next few months. Our biggest project, though, was drilling a well which produces 50 cubic meters of water per hour and a storage tank to feed the village's water system. While the project certainly helps the villagers, the well water does have 800 ppm of chloride, well over what is acceptable. The mayor told me that well water in the village used to be only 400 ppm of chloride. The decline in quality reflects over pumping the underground aquifer in the Gaza Strip and in nearby Israel.
Deir al-Balah Rehabilition Center, Gaza
Deir al-Balah, a town of 70,000 people, is fortunate to have this fine center. Its high quality services include:
- Physical therapy services (about ten different kinds). ANERA provided the equipment for this unit. About 30 people in about 1,000 sessions per month utilize the physical therapy services.
- A school for the deaf, grades 1-5. 86 children were actively participating in the classes.
- A computer center for the students. University students and people from the community may utilize it in the afternoon and evening.
- Educational enhancement center.
- ANERA also provided the initial office equipment for the center as it was establishing its services.
- The center has 43 employees. Half are paid through a European funded program to help the unemployed.
Fatima Zahra Girls School, Jericho
This school needed major attention. Half of the school was structurally unsound and the other half needed to be refurbished. In our project, we demolished half of the school (one floor), and replaced it with a two floor wing, thus increasing the number of classrooms. Currently, we are significantly upgrading the other wing. The school will reopen in the fall of 2005.
Jericho Municipal Library
Not far from the Fatima Zahra school, ANERA has built a handsome new library. The project is virtually finished. Jericho's sister city in Italy is providing the furniture for the library. The library will need books and computers, most of which have been promised by various donors.
ANERA's provision of medicines and medical supplies to charity clinics and hospitals, government clinics and hospitals, and UNRWA clinics continues at a substantial pace. This fiscal year, the dollar value of this material will be about $10 million. The bulk of these donations goes to the West Bank/Gaza. We are growing the program in Lebanon where the material is used by Lebanese government clinics as well as the Palestinian community through UNRWA, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, and the Health Care Society.
Dar al-Ajaza Hospital
I have described this project in previous reports. I am pleased to report that the renewal of the hospital's electrical and mechanical, bathrooms and laundry is about half completed - and the work is at a very high standard.
Al-Quds University Medical School
In the mid 1990s, Al-Quds University established its medical school, a bold move at the time. In 2001 its first medical doctors graduated. To date, about 120 have earned their M.Ds. In order to reach out to the entire Palestinian community, the medical school cooperates with other universities for teaching the basic medical sciences: al-Najah and al-Azhar Universities in Nablus and Gaza City respectively. Medical students and interns are sent to a variety of hospitals as part of their required learning experience: Ahli Hospital in Hebron, Ramallah Hospital, Maqassed Hospital in Jerusalem, and the so-called European Hospital in Khan Younis, Gaza.
A couple of years ago, we were able to help the medical school buy some teaching equipment. Now ANERA is engaged in a series of defined projects:
- We are helping the medical school purchase a $170,000 telemedicine videoconferencing system. This will allow the medical school to teleconference with the institutions noted above and with British and American teaching hospitals and medical schools.
- Providing funds for specialized training for seven al-Quds University medical graduates in Britain.
- Providing funds to renovate two conferences halls so they can be linked with the teleconferencing system.
- Providing funds for scholarships for needy medical school students.
I have reported extensively on ANERA's IT Initiative. Thus, I will provide just an update at this time.
Said Khoury IT Center of Excellence at al-Quds University
The Center is a beehive of activity. On our visit, local IT commercial representatives were demonstrating their equipment, always an attractive scene. We also saw some complex projects senior IT students had prepared. In addition, we stuck our head in 3-4 classrooms, teaching Cisco and HP IT Essentials.
For more technical details, below please find a summary given to me by the IT Center's Director, Isam Ishaq:
- Cisco Networking Academy
- CCNA: 280 hours hands on training
- Newly Cmpleted Training: the 5th group of students
- Ongoing Training:
1. 10 trainees in one group, finished 80% of training.
2. Academy for Educational Development is funding 75% of the cost of training 16 more trainees. Started January 2005, anticipated end: July 2005.
- HP IT Essentials: 140 hours hands on training
- Newly Cmpleted Training: 12 Trainers from 4 local Academies trained to teaach the second part of IT Essentials
- Ongoing Training: ANERA and MOSAIC are funding 80% of the cost of training 16 female trainees. Started January 2005, anticipated end: July 2005
- Oracle University through partnership with ATS (a Palestinian IT firm)
- First training progam completed March 2005
- Prometeric Testing Center
- 5 new cetification exams were held
- Microsoft IT Academy
- Approved on March 29, 2005
- It will offer a wide range of training activities starting with office applications and ending with software development tracks.
- Comp TIA E2C Member
- Member since January 2005
- Preparations for New Training Activities
- JAVA: Training of trainers in progress. No additional labs required. Anticipated training start: May 2005
- UNIX: Training of trainers in progress. No additional labs required
- Security: Training of trainers in progress. Cisco approved 80% discount on lab bundle. Lab Ordered. Anticipated training start: May 2005.
- Wireless: Cisco approved lab donation ($2,000). Lab is being shipped. Instructors to be trained July 2005. Anticipate training start: August 2005.
- CCNP: Advanced Program. Cisco approved donating a lab ($40,000) to be shared by the Israeli College of Management: Instructor training starts June 2005. Anticipated training start: August 2005.
We also visited the two IT Centers still under construction: the Hasib Sabbagh IT Center of Excellence at the Arab American University of Jenin and the Friends of Fawzi Kawash IT Center of Excellence at the Palestinian Polytechnic University in Hebron. Both buildings, similar in architecture to al-Quds University IT Center, will be completed by the end of May. Furniture and computers et al will be ordered shortly. Both are setting up administrations and securing trainers. They should open with the start of the new academic year that begins mid September 2005. We hope to have an official opening and ribbon cutting ceremony in mid November.
We also visited the Islamic University of Gaza where we wish to help establish another IT Center of Excellence. At this time, we have $100,000 in the bank for the project. We need an additional $900,000 to complete the funding.
Women's Empowerment in Jordan
In my last report, I presented the general program thrust of this MEPI (Middle East Partnership Initiative) program. Here, I will record some of the results of the activities.
In combination with GUVS (General Union of Voluntary Societies), ten workshops were conducted for over 200 women from over 30 societies in locations from Ma'an in the South to Ajloun in the North, thus reaching grassroots organizations throughout the country. Topics discussed were:
- Women and Education
- Women and Health
- Violence against Women
- Women and the Environment
- Women in Management and Leadership Skills
- Rights of Women in Legislation
- The constitution
- Personal status law
- Labor law
- Social security law
- Nationality law
- - Pension law
- Women and Employment
- Women and Political Participation
- Women's Role in Democracy, Human Rights and Civil Society
- Women in Politics and Decision Making
In each of these workshops, the women drew up lists of suggested actions that they think will help advance the empowerment of women. Listing all of these would be quite lengthy. Thus, I will only present two examples, using the report language, to give the flavor of what these women are thinking.
Suggested actions that could be taken to empower women in the field of education:
- More active role for NGOs in this field to open more kindergartens encourage women to enroll in vocational and professional training, and engage in programs to combat illiteracy;
- The law should include articles that require parents to send their children (grades 1- 10) to school and should take action against parents who do not;
- Extend the services of kindergartens, kindergartens should be widely spread in the country. The government should be more active in opening more kindergartens;
- Cultural awareness program on the advantages of eradicating illiteracy;
- Elimination of subject illiteracy in the fields of legislation, economy, information technology, computer, environment, politics which are required for the empowerment of women - not just focusing on alphabetical illiteracy;
- Making the image of productive working women who take an active part in the development of the country more prominent;
- Widening the provision of training and retraining of women (including vocational training) to match market demands;
- Establishing classes for dropouts to give them a chance to return to school. This should include enabling young women to return to school and establish special afternoon classes for adult women;
- Paying more attention to students who face difficulties in learning;
- Raising the school environmental standard without physical punishment by teachers and school administrators.
Suggested action to empower women in order to access employment
- Practical training programs are necessary for graduates and others to become an integral part of development;
- Unemployed women should engage in small businesses and start working independently;
- Increasing the participation of women in the labor force and guaranteeing they do not face any discrimination in employment;
- Providing women with training and providing women graduates with retraining in non-traditional work which coincides with the demand of the market;
- Raising the awareness of the employers is a must to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women in training and promotion;
- Making counseling services available for women especially in regard to small businesses;
- Encouraging women to benefit from loans to finance small businesses and microcredit.
While in Jordan, we took the opportunity to visit the Anqera Women's Community Organization, led by a dynamic lady named Samia al-Jabowi. Anqera is located 25 miles east of Amman in a desert area inhabited by bedouin. It has about 200 members. She and her colleagues had attended many of the workshops. She said they benefited greatly and were encouraged to be more active and assertive. The organization's activities are:
- A small dairy, utilizing milk produced by 50 members who are farmers
- A preschool
- A shop to sell milk products and other products
- Loans to university students
- Educational programs for women
From conversations with a number of people, I would summarize the current situation in Palestine as calmer, a lack of socio-economic improvement, and uncertainty. But I also found a surprising and encouraging community effort at dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian mayors.
I did not find any updated statistics for March and April 2005, but it was quite obvious from conversations with observers and from newspapers that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has calmed down to a significant degree. While still punctuated by individual violent incidents, people say the overall environment is definitely calmer. The rate of people killed and injured per month on both sides of the conflict has declined. One result is that more workers from Gaza and the West Bank are traveling to Israel on a daily basis: about 10,000 from Gaza and probably more from the West Bank, according to observers.
While the calmer environment is welcomed, it has not yet been translated into socio- economic improvement. Also, many of the impediments described in previous reports, remain. [The data cited below comes from U.N., World Bank, World Food Program, and U.N. Office of Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (especially the latter's January 2005 report)].
Closures and the Barrier
There are still 700 checkpoints and other physical obstacles blocking travel on roads. The Barrier (also known as the Wall and the Fence) is still being built in the West Bank. 205 kilometers exist of which 24 kilometers are nine meter high concrete slabs and 181 kilometers are formidable fences. Another 72 kilometers are under construction. The total projected barrier will be 620 kilometers long
According to the World Bank, the primary cause of the Palestinian economic depression, "the worst in modern history," is the closure policy. GNP has declined by one third. Severe unemployment is dramatically shown in the table below.
|The Gaza Strip||
58.1% of the population lives below the poverty level of $2 per day. About 1.3 million people are food insecure according to the World Food Program. 25-30% of the population has cut back food consumption and/or lowered the quality of their food consumption.
About 7,000 containers of supplies are imported from Israel into Gaza per month in ordinary times. During tumultuous periods, these were reduced to 4-5,000, and even 1,500 in one month. This high dependency on supplies from Israel concerns Gaza leadership. In the uncertainty of the potential Israeli pullout from Gaza, these business and government leaders are not certain that the flow of essential supplies will continue.
From September 2000 through late December 2004, these were:
- Deaths: 3,497 of whom 600 were children
- Injured: 28,321
- Deaths: 869 of whom 100 were children
- Injured: 6,964
Twelve thousand Palestinian homes were destroyed or damaged by the Israel Defense Forces since September 2000.
On April 13, 2005, a number of Israeli and Palestinian mayors met to discuss their mutual desires for peace and how they can contribute to the process. Depending on the source, 20 or 16 Israeli mayors, including some from the Likud Party, and 20 or 12 Palestinian mayors, both elected and appointed (more elections are slated for May 5, 2005), accepted the invitation of Hassan Saleh, Mayor of Jericho, to discuss their desire for peace. In their joint statement, they called for a one year cease-fire, or hudna, and called upon their respective "central governments to be committed to take the path of negotiations and peaceful approaches to resolving international disputes, this path will be the only way to bring an end to the conflict and occupation and lead to a two states solution, An independent Palestinian and Israeli states." [Text kept as written.]
In addition, the Israeli mayors "… expressed their sorrow for the daily suffering of the Palestinian people." In the Arabic text, a word meaning "apologized" was used rather than "expressed their sorrow."
That elected officials from many different Israeli and Palestinian communities came together to publicly and jointly call for peace is indeed encouraging and hopeful.
Eyal Erlich, an Israeli writer, initiated the idea of the meeting and helped make it happen.
In conversation after conversation, people expressed great uncertainty about the future. This uncertainty on the part of numerous individuals is naturally troubling. But also, it makes it difficult to plan a few weeks or months ahead, much less years ahead.
One of the greatest uncertainties is what will happen in Gaza in the summer of 2005 when Israel disengages from Gaza, when it moves the settlers out of the territory and withdraws its troops. The Palestinians will welcome the withdrawal. But what will withdrawal really mean? And will it truly happen?
Will the IDF remain in the narrow strip along the southern border of the Gaza Strip (next to Egypt), called the Philadelphia Corrider? If the Israelis remain, Gaza will still be one big prison, according to most observers. In turn, the violence will flare up again and poverty as described above will remain. On the other hand, if the IDF withdraws from the Philadelphia Corrider and hands it over to the Palestinians and Egyptians, a major new reality will be created. The Palestinians may access the world through a border controlled by Egyptians, not Israelis. Potentially, labor can flow to labor markets in The Gulf and Saudi Arabia or elsewhere in the world. This would be new. In this optimistic scenario, the Palestinians will have to decide how they will govern Gaza. Also, will it be a "territory" of the Palestinian National Authority, or will it be the first sovereign territory of the PNA which would presumably be known as Palestine or perhaps "Palestine South" or "Partial Palestine"? As is evident, these are great unknowns, creating great uncertainty.
After disengagement, will basic provisions still be imported from Israel? To date, according to businessmen and government officials, there are no negotiations or discussions on this very essential Palestinian need. And as the above noted statistics on containers moving from Israel to Gaza indicate, Gaza is highly dependent on Israel for most of its basic supplies.
The lack of discussions about disengagement, whether about borders, supplies, or the movement of people, was remarked upon by numerous people. Apparently the southern border and the Philadelphia Corrider are being discussed by Egypt and Israel. But Israel has not yet brought the Palestinians into the discussions. It is said that Muhammad Dahlan, a senior PNA official, is discussing some other security issues with the Israeli security officials. How far these discussions have gone, is not generally known.
- Palestine in General
On the Palestinian side, many were asking if the PNA could sufficiently reorganize and re-equip the Palestinian police so that they can maintain order. This is a relevant concern for all of Palestine, but especially acute for Gaza. Related to this was a political question: Can the PNA President Mahmoud Abbas reform and reorganize Fatah, his political group, so as to help bring order and satisfy people that corruption is being contained and eliminated? Some observers in Gaza were worried that the answer is: No. No, the police and Fatah will not be put in order and the result may be some level of chaos and disorder. On the other hand, others think President Abbas, recently elected in a widely recognized fair election, will be able to bring sufficient order to keep the environment calm.
Hamas has gained strength in Gaza. It has also gained support in the West Bank, but to a lesser extent. Some people respect its social services, honesty (as compared to other groups' corruption), and its role in pushing the Israelis out of Gaza. Now people ask what role it will play, given the many different scenarios listed above. Will it continue to use violence? In the municipalities it controls, will it govern well? Will international donors cooperate with municipalities where Hamas has control? Will it become an ordinary political party? Will it join a Palestinian government that wants to negotiate with Israel? Will it do well, perhaps win, in the parliamentary elections now slated for July 16, 2005? If it wins a majority, or even a plurality, how will it relate to President Abbas who comes from senior Fatah leadership? Again unknowns and uncertainty.
There is uncertainty about legislative elections. Will they be held on July 16, 2005, or will they be delayed so Fatah will have more time to reorganize? The shape of the elections is also not yet certain. Will the majority of seats (60-70%) be chosen in electoral districts, presumably corresponding to governorates, the balance being chosen proportionately from national tickets? Or, will the balance be 50% from districts and 50% proportional? Interestingly, I heard a couple of observers say that Hamas is seeking a few Christians to run on its proportional ticket.
I naturally heard many assessments of President Abbas' performance. While some are critical, generally people were positive - to varying degrees - about what he has done so far. Certainly, the majority wishes him well, because what he does in the next few months will impact their welfare and futures. The biggest question, and thus uncertainty, was: Will Israeli Prime Minister Sharon help him? During my trip, many people observed that President Abbas is seriously attempting to quell the Palestinian side of the violence. But they quickly observe that this major effort - for which President Abbas pays a price - is not reciprocated in a significant way by Prime Minister Sharon. They say the number of prisoners released - a major issue - is minimal and the closure regime - the severe limits on Palestinian moment - has not been lifted or even reduced in its severity. These observers would always add: President Abbas needs some substantive Israeli actions or gestures on these issues. Otherwise, he may not survive politically or otherwise.
- American Near East Refugee Aid
- To learn more about ANERA, please visit http://www.anera.org/.