Ban on truckloads of paper set to hit Gaza schools

Because of an Israeli ban on deliveries of paper to Gaza, some 200,000 children will begin the new school year on 1 September without the books they need, UNRWA said. (Naela Khalil/IRIN)

JERUSALEM, 26 August 2007 (IRIN) - The Israeli ban on deliveries of paper to Gaza is not only threatening to create a shortage of textbooks in the Strip but also shining a spotlight on what constitutes legitimate humanitarian aid.

Israel is allowing in food, medicines and fuel, which it sees as essential aid, but not paper, even though many would see education as a vital sector in need of all the support it can get.

“Some 200,000 children will go into our classrooms on 1 September, and won’t have the books they need,” John Ging, the Gaza director of UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, told IRIN.

The shortage has emanated from Israel’s refusal, so far, to allow five trucks of paper into the impoverished territory, needed to print the textbooks. Since the Hamas takeover of Gaza in June, Israel has clamped down on the borders, bringing imports and exports almost to a halt with the exception of basic humanitarian goods.

The latest development serves as an indicator of the difference of opinion between many aid organizations and Israel on what is considered “humanitarian aid.”

Shadi Yassin, from the Israeli military’s coordination unit, recently confirmed that the state remained committed to allowing in such assistance.

Indeed, food and medicine continue to make it into the Gaza Strip and even fuel. However, many goods are locked out.

Public health projects threatened

“We are trying to get raw materials into Gaza,” but without success, said Sebastien Kuster of CARE France, adding that the materials, including pipes, asphalt and cement for water and sanitation projects were humanitarian goods. “These are needed to complete work to guarantee continuous access to water for the people in Gaza.”

However, Israel maintains that these materials would block up the limited routes for basic supplies.

“The priority right now is getting food in,” an Israeli security official stated, noting that Israel would not coordinate with Hamas on the other side of the border, as it sees the Islamic group as a terrorist organization. With no solution to the impasse, the borders stay closed.

UNWRA’s Ging, too, is feeling the clampdown: “We cannot get in vital supplies like construction materials for homes and schools. There is already overcrowding,” he said, noting that health clinics were also scheduled to be built.

Many of UNRWA’s water and sanitation projects have also been halted. “These are public health issues,” Ging said, adding that over time a people could not be sustained on just the most basic aid.

Paper and radicalism

Even if the paper arrived immediately, the school year would still begin without the textbooks. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, to print the over 350,000 books needed by UNRWA, factories would require between 20 and 25 days, “assuming the electricity is functioning normally.”

Officials in Israel, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the state is concerned the paper might be used to print books with Hamas ideology imbedded within them, or for other propagandist endeavors.

However, Gershon Baskin, the Israeli director of the Israel-Palestine Centre for Research and Information, who is campaigning to get the paper in, said so far there is no indication Hamas will change the curriculum.

“It remains a concern,” he admitted. “But by not allowing them to print books, will the thoughts and ideas go away? If they want to teach [radicalism], someone can teach without a book,” said Baskin.

Not letting in the paper is “denying children their right to education,” he concluded.

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