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A day in the life of a Palestine refugee student in the West Bank

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Fatima Katash is 13 years old. She is an 8th grade student at the UNRWA Jalazone Basic Girls' School in the West Bank. Almost every day, Fatima and her fellow students encounter problems when they go to school.

Fatima's school lies between the refugee camp and the Israeli settlement of Beit El, in the Israeli controlled 'Area C'. Because the settlement and camp are so close, Israeli security patrols and a military presence often lead to clashes with Palestine refugees.

With EU humanitarian support, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) ensures protection for the pupils of this school.

During incidents, the UNRWA protection team directly interacts with the Israeli military to advocate for the protection of the children and to de-escalate the situation. The team also helps coordinate the evacuation of students and staff.

Documenting potential violations, the team raises its concerns with the Israeli authorities. Whenever certain risks or trends become obvious, UNRWA tries to address them.

For instance, the protection team has been instrumental in rolling out tear gas response trainings for students and staff.

*"I have 3 sisters and 2 brothers. I'm the third oldest," *saysFatima. She is also a member of the UNRWA student parliament. "*What I* like about school is seeing my friends, teachers and being active in the student parliament. However, the school is too small compared to the number of students, and it's too close to Beit El , which makes it dangerous for us."

The ongoing expansion of the Israeli settlement leads to intense confrontations between camp residents and the Israeli military, who frequently use tear gas, plastic-covered metal bullets and live ammunition during operations.

The school’s location poses a real protection concern. In 2020, Israeli Security Forces conducted at least 93 operations in the camp, leading to four injuries and 69 detentions, including 5 children.

"*Going to school is not safe as it is very close to Beit El settlement and also far from my house. If there are incidents near the settlement, I need to run a long distance ,"* Fatima says.

"*I don't know, but I think students in Europe or America live their life normally without these problems.* As a Palestinian child, I hope that I will one day live in freedom and peace and that I can move freely without checkpoints or searches," she explains.

Protecting Fatima and her classmates

With EU humanitarian support, UNRWA provides protection services to UNRWA students such as Fatima and protects their right to education.

The use of tear gas by the Israeli security forces during operations in Jalazone is a recurring feature of life for camp residents, with 13 tear gas incidents in 2020 alone. The long-term consequences of tear gas raises medical concerns.

In September 2020, Israeli military fired tear gas canisters close to the UNRWA Jalazone School, with one canister landing inside the schoolyard. In coordination with the UNRWA protection team, school staff kept the children inside until the clashes ended.

Our partner UNRWA liaised with the Israeli security forces to de-escalate the situation and ensure the safety of the children.

“When there are incidents happing in and around the school such as break-ins, use of tear gas or military operations, we call the UNRWA protection team who try to ensure it doesn’t happen again,” says Mr. Mustafa, UNRWA school principal in Jalazone Palestine refugee camp.

Thanks to our funding, UNRWA is able to provide this protection assistance to Palestine refugee children. Their schools and students are frequently exposed to tear gas, sound bombs and other forms of weaponry, including already on 2 occasions this year.

Such incidents can lead to fatalities and injuries as they have in the past. They are very stressful and disruptive to the education and development of the children and can have long-term impacts on the physical and mental well-being.

Ali Khatib (left), Associate Protection and Neutrality Officer at UNRWA emphasises that “providing protection for UNRWA school children and ensuring their right to education is one of our most important tasks. We want the children to feel safe inside the schools and have no fear on their way to school. By contributing to creating a positive learning environment for the children we are contributing directly to a brighter future for the next generation.”

Fatima says: “I want to help make the dream of Palestinian children come true which is to live in peace and freedom. This is the thing I want most. I imagine that if the occupation ends, we can live in freedom and peace.”

Last updated 28/10/2021