This article seeks to highlight work being done on the ground to promote peace and sustainable growth of Palestine. It seeks to start a discussion about the importance of grassroots and community-based approaches to peace and highlight the resilience of Palestinian society despite ongoing political turmoil.
300 Palestinian educational facilities were reportedly destroyed in 2012’s “Operation Pillar of Defence.” A UN Fact-Finding mission in Gaza found that 280 schools deteriorated and were left unusable due to lack of necessary repairs due to the blockade. This is in comparison to the negligible amount of new schools built in Palestine in recent years.
Ongoing political turmoil has upended the education system in Palestine.
On one end, the blockade has interrupted students’ and educators’ access to educational resources. Students are unable to travel far to attend universities and pursue higher education. Conflict and tensions often result in power outages. Numerous checkpoints stop students on their way to school.
The other side of the issue is the psychological and emotional toll that has burdened Palestinian children and young adults. Over 300,000 children in the West Bank are at-risk for developing mental health problems. A recent report found that just under 70% of those in their sample population experienced PTSD.
While large-scale political reform is needed to address the root causes of such barriers to education, several organizations are working on the ground to connect students with the resources they need to succeed in life. Discussed below are just a few of very many.
- MEET@ MIT – An educational initiative by MIT to “empower the most promising Israeli and Palestinian future leaders.” By creating networks and educational opportunities for students in the region, this initiative aims to build STEM capabilities and space for common ground between Israeli and Palestinian youth. In doing so, this initiative aims to foster opportunities for economic mobilization and peace-building.
- Palestinian Association for Empowerment and Local Development – This association’s ‘Youth Are the Change’ program aims to equip youth with the tools and knowledge necessary to partake in civic engagement and the political process. Program participants are exposed to methods of advocacy and lobbying work as well as methods to engage in productive political dialogue about key issues.
- Al Nayzak – Through the creation of “innovation laboratories” and programs administered through partner organizations, this NGO seeks to foster innovation and entrepreneurship. Specifically, Al Nayzak works to enhance learning and education opportunities within the STEM field. They seek to create brighter futures for Palestinian youth through their programming and vision.
Business, Entrepreneurship, and Economy
The unemployment rate stands at 44.1% in Gaza and 13.8% in the West Bank. While entrepreneurship presents an opportunity for individuals to seek economic and creative opportunities, structural barriers stand in the way. Lack of investors, opportunities to tap into regional and international markets, and complex legal regulations are just some of the many barriers to access entrepreneurship in Palestine. Many of these struggles are not unique to Palestine; in fact, they are common throughout many nations in the Middle East. However, physical blockades and ongoing political instability have increased barriers and risk, thereby supercharging the mitigatory effect of such issues in Palestine’s startup ecosystem.
Recognizing the potential of Palestinians and the value of innovation for building resilient economies, many organizations have been established in recent years with the goal of supporting rising entrepreneurs. Below, we highlight a few.
- Gaza Sky Geeks – Committed to “connecting world-class technical, professional, financial, and community resources to any Palestinian who wants to work online or in tech.” They seek to support founders, coders, and aspiring professionals in Palestine in order to build an “internationally admired and competitive tech sector in Palestine that creates high-salary jobs and future leaders.” As a part of of their operations, they host an eight-month program to help Palestinian entrepreneurs digitize their services and enhance their business models. Currently, they have accelerated 60 startups.
- Ibtikar Fund – Invests in disruptive and innovative tech-based Palestinian startups that address needs within the MENA region. With a strong network of investors and advisors, this venture capital firm seeks to grow the technology and startup scene in Palestine. They manage a fund of 30 million US dollars and have supported just under 30 startups. While the fund strives to remain profitable, they also pride themselves on their strong commitment to ESG principles.
- Business Women Forum – Through capacity-building efforts such as workshops, mentoring, and opportunities for networking, the Business Women Forum serves to support women entrepreneurs and small business owners in Palestine. Through partnerships with institutions with parallel missions and events such as their Business Plan Competition, they seek to enhance women’s economic participation. Ultimately, they seek to “play a central role in supporting women to become leaders in the visible and invisible economy of Palestine.” Find out more about some of the women-owned businesses they have successfully supported here.
Human Rights and Civil Society
Ensuring the recognition of inherent human rights and freedoms is necessary for a thriving society. Armed conflict, restrictions on movement, and forced eviction are some of the human rights violations prevalent in Palestinian society.
Below are a few organizations working towards justice and protection of rights.
1. Defense for Children International-Palestine – Previously registered under the Israeli Ministry of the Interior, it is now registered under the Palestinian Authority. It seeks to advocate for child rights by holding political authorities accountable for their actions, lobbying for protection of human rights, and advocating for children in the region. They administer two distinct programs: The Accountability Program and The Child Protection Program. The Accountability Program works to understand how child rights can be protected under Israeli legal systems and within the Palestinian juvenile justice system. The Child Protection Program aims to enhance children’s capabilities to speak up for their rights and position them to be positive leaders in the future.
Their work is divided into two broad programs: Accountability and Child Protection. Both include direct services and advocacy components. The Accountability Program focuses on child rights as they intersect with Israeli military and legal systems as well as the Palestinian juvenile justice system. The Child Protection Program promotes child participation and empowerment so Palestinian children can defend and advocate for their own rights and become agents for positive change.
2. Palestinian Working Women for Development – Works towards a vision for a “ free democratic society that is based on justice, dignity, respect for citizenship, human rights, difference and diversity, where women can enjoy full equality.” Specifically, they are seeking to empower women’s political visibility and enhance their voices in the fight for justice. They do so through efforts to end gender-based violence, build capacity for women in rural and agricultural communities, and lobby for anti-discrimination laws. These events seek to promote women in decision-making spaces at all levels.