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EiE Crisis Spotlight: occupied Palestinian territories

Location of Crisis

Occupied Palestinian territories: West Bank and Gaza.

Timing of Crisis

After the creation of Israel by the United Nations under the 1948 partition plan, fighting broke out between Jewish and Palestinian militant groups causing the Palestinian exodus, or Nakba, whereby approximately 700,000 Palestinians were expelled in by 1949, creating what is currently the largest population of refugees in the world.

After the outbreak of the Six Day War in 1967 between Israel and Egypt, Syria and Jordan, the Palestinian territories, including the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem were occupied by Israel, placing the territories under its control.

In August 2005, Israel disengaged from the Gaza Strip though they still maintain control of its borders, airspace and coastline. Many human rights groups and organisations still consider Gaza to be occupied by Israel. Egypt controls its borders with Gaza. Hostilities between Israel and Palestine flare up from time to time; for notable incidents, see the brief description of the situation.

Affected Populations

As of January 2013, UNRWA records 5,271,893 people living in its refugee camps 4,919,917 of which are registered refugees. Camps are located in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. UNRWA defines Palestinian refugees as “people whose normal place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, who lost both their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict.”

Al Jazeera 2009 ©
Children taking refuge from air strikes in a UN school.
According to the CIA's World Factbook, there are approximately 2,700,000 Palestinians living in the West Bank and 1,800,000 in the Gaza Strip. The population in the West Bank and Gaza are a majority Arab, but the West Bank is also home to around 350,000 (not included in the pop. Count) Israeli settlers living in Jewish colonies. 

43.8% of the population of Gaza are between the ages of 0 and 14 and 21.1% are between the ages of 15 and 24, meaning roughly half of the population is at the age of full-time education.

Under the Oslo Accords, the West Bank was divided into three areas: A,B and C. Area A, which comprises 18% of the West Bank is under full security and administrative control of the Palestinian Authority. Area B is under Palestinian Authority Administrative control but the Israel army is responsible for security control. Area C is under full administrative and military control of Israel.

Brief Description of the Situation

After the UN partition plan of 1948 separated what was previously Palestine under the British mandate, a war broke out between Arab states, including Palestinians, and Israel. The defeat of the Arab nations resulted in 700,000 Palestinians being expelled and becoming refugees (See Affected Populations). Israel captured roughly 50% of the territory allocated by the partition to the Palestinians and the war ended as a result of the 1949 Armistice agreement, the borders of which, known as the pre-1967 borders or the green line, are accepted by most international bodies, including the UN, as the borders for a Palestinian state. These borders divide Jerusalem into two parts, East and West.

Animosity between Israel and its neighbouring Arab states continued and in 1967, Israel launched a series of bombing raids on military targets in Egypt, an act which it claims was a pre-emptive strike against a nation which would soon attack. Whether it was indeed a pre-emptive attack is still debated to this day.  As a result of the war between Israel and Egypt, Syria and Jordan, Israel occupied all the Palestinian territories and annexed East Jerusalem. The occupation also brought about the start of Israel’s settlement programme, the construction of Jewish only settlements in land considered by the international community as belonging to Palestine.

Since the start of the occupation, there have been attacks by Palestinian militant groups, notably Hamas, Fatah and the PLO. Attacks have been both on civilian and military targets within both Israel and Palestine.

Paolo Cuttitta 2009 ©
The separation barrier around Aida refugee camp, near Bethlehem.
Between 1987 and 1993 was the First Intifada, or uprising, a mixture of peaceful resistance, civil disobedience and violence. From 2000 and 2005 the Second Intifada broke out, a period of violent attacks with massive loss of civilian and military life on both sides. According to Israeli human rights group B’tselem, roughly 3,200 Palestinians were killied by Israelis in this period (proportion of civilian casualties is disputed) and 650 Israeli civilians and 300 security personnel were killed by Palestinians. 

There has been an on-going cycle of violence between the Gaza strip, which is ruled by Hamas, and Israel. In 2001, rockets started to be launched from Gaza which, to date, have killed 64. Israel also launches air strikes into the Gaza strip, often aimed at militants but there has been a massive civilian loss of life and damage to infrastructure as a result.
The most recent flaring up of violence was November 14 2012 after the targeted killing of Ahmed Jabari, a Hamas leader, by Israel. This triggered 8 days of hostilities and the deaths of 158 Palestinians and 6 Israelis.

Impact on Education

The UNRWA runs and maintains schools for all the Palestinians living in its refugee camps inside and outside of the Palestinian territories.

Whilst both the West Bank and Gaza are considered to be under Israeli occupation, the situations in both territories are very different.
2008’s Operation Cast Lead caused massive damage to the infrastructure in Gaza. According to OCHA, 18 schools and kindergartens were destroyed and 250+ damaged

OCHA’s mid-year 2013 report stated that of the 159 school buildings rehabilitated this year, most were damaged due to the hostilities in November 2013.

UNRWA states that the blockade restricts the flow of construction materials into Gaza and limits the rehabilitation of damaged or destroyed schools.

Many schools in Area C also face threat of demolition. Parts of Area C have been designated as ‘firing zones’, areas used by the Israeli army for military training. In these areas, Israel controls all building permits and many structures are claimed to be illegally built and face demolition orders.

According to the PCHR, the closure of the Gaza Strip border has "obstructed the development of the infrastructure of its educational facilities, including elementary, preparatory and high schools."

Education Actors Responding to the Crisis

UNRWA is active in the refugee camps both inside and outside of the Palestinian territories. In the West Bank they currently manage:

  • 19 camps
  • 99 schools with approximately 51,700 pupils
  • 3 vocational and technical training centres
  • 42 primary health centres
  • 15 distribution centres
  • And in Gaza:
  • 8 camps
  • 247 schools with approximately 226,000 pupils
  • 2 vocational and technical training centres
  • 21 primary health centres
  • 12 distribution centre

Needs and CHallenges

As part of its 2013 Emergency Appeal, UNRWA has called “To mitigate the impact of poverty, conflict and pervasive domestic violence on learning” and stated that it requires US $ 7,825,000 to complete its goal.

OCHA’s 2013 mid-year report states that “One major outstanding need however, remains the rehabilitation and support of kindergartens affected by the November 2012 escalation in Gaza (registered and unregistered)”


Tools and Resources

The following key INEE resources in English and Arabic can be used to support EiE efforts in the occupied Palestinian territories.

  • INEE Minimum Standards Handbook (English, Arabic)
  • Guidance Note on Conflict Sensitive Education (English)
  • Guidance Notes on Teaching and Learning (English, Arabic)
  • Guidance Notes on Teacher Compensation (English, Arabic)
  • Guidance Notes on Safe School Construction (English, Arabic)
  • Pocket Guide to Gender (English, Arabic)
  • Pocket Guide to Inclusive Education (English, Arabic)
  • Pocket Guide to Supporting Learners with Disabilities (English)
  • Guidance on HIV in Education in Emergencies (English)
  • Reference Guide on External Education Financing (English, Arabic)
  • To access other EiE tools and resources in over 20 languages, please visit the INEE Toolkit.


Key Information Sources


Key Words

Occupation, blockade, armed conflict, territorial dispute.


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