UNITED NATIONS - Palestinian children are being denied their right to education
because of Israeli-imposed restrictions in occupied territories, said the United
Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) Wednesday.
These restrictions include military curfews, closures of schools, and home confinement, said Pierre Poupard, UNICEF special representative in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
''Right now the Israeli military is preventing thousands of Palestinian children and teachers from attending school,'' he told reporters.
As a result, ''a generation of Palestinian children is being denied its right to an education'' in violation of international law, Poupard added.
According to UNICEF estimates, more than 226,000 children and over 9,300 teachers are unable to reach their regular classrooms nearly a month into the Palestinian school year.
The Israeli military restrictions - preventive measures against suicide bombings and other forms of terrorism - have also triggered the closure of some 580 Palestinian schools.
To cope with the problem, Palestinians have created a substitute schooling system. Many Palestinian school children are now being home-schooled by their parents, or are gathering in makeshift classrooms such as mosques, basements and alleys, Poupard said.
''Alternative schooling initiatives are an indication of the extent to which the regular lives of Palestinian children are being devastated by this conflict,'' he added. But the quality of home education cannot be assessed or assured, he warned.
According to UNICEF, Israel is obliged to ensure that education is accessible to every Palestinian child, in accordance with the Fourth Geneva Convention governing the rules of war and the landmark U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Israel has signed both international conventions.
''As an absolute minimum, mobility restrictions on Palestinian civilians must be lifted through the occupied territories during school hours,'' UNICEF said Wednesday.
The United Nations has appealed to the international donor community to provide about 600,000 dollars for emergency education for children unable to reach their schools.
According to UNICEF, some 317,000 Palestinian children are now ''in desperate need of assistance due to financial hardship''.
In a report released in July, the United Nations said the Israeli closure policy ''has become the single most important factor negatively affecting the Palestinian economy and living conditions''.
''Checkpoints, closures and curfews severely impede access to medical care, education and employment,'' it added.
Since the Palestinian uprising began in Sep. 2000, Israeli authorities have also arrested more than 600 Palestinian children; about 160 remain in Israeli jails.
While in prison, the study said, children are also denied the right to education and visits from family and lawyers.
The Israelis have argued that since its government is under siege, it must impose restrictions in order to provide security to its military forces.
The U.N. study concluded that Israel Defense Forces (IDF) ''have resorted to excessive use of force, house demolitions, increasingly severe mobility restrictions and closure policies, negatively affecting the Palestinian economy and living conditions''.
Terje Roed Larsen, U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, says the Palestinian economy has ''moved from a relentless economic depression to economic paralysis''.
According to an assessment by international donors, Israel's last military offensive in May caused physical damage estimated at more than 361 million dollars. The Nablus area suffered most, with repair costs estimated at over 114 million dollars.
The United Nations has also complained that closure measures have become ''a significant hindrance'' for all U.N. agencies and the donor community at large.
Logistics of U.N. agencies have been heavily affected, it says, because of: the multitude of checkpoints, the imposition of curfews and internal closures, and the introduction of a cumbersome permit and magnetic card system for the travel of national staff.
These restrictions have seriously disrupted humanitarian services provided both by U.N. agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the occupied territories, it says.
Copyright 2002 IPS