Agence France PResse
23 August 2006
KHAN YUNIS, Gaza Strip, Aug 23 2006
"I don't have the money to send my children to school," broods father-of-four Mohammed Abu Mur in depressed south Gaza. A Palestinian civil servant, he has not been paid for six months.
Like many other Palestinian parents facing the grim reality of worsening financial crisis in the Gaza Strip, he cannot afford books or uniforms to send his children back to the classroom after the long summer holidays.
"I don't know what to do. This year I can't buy anything for my children, not uniforms, books or school equipment" for the new term due to begin on September 2, says Abu Mur in the Khan Yunis refugee camp.
"I haven't been paid since March and I don't have any money to send my four children to school. Uniform and shoe-wise they could still use those from last year, but the books," he trails off.
It is not just Abu Mur who has gone unpaid. His children's teachers have also been without their salaries. Staff in state-run schools make up around a quarter of the 160,000 civil servants on the Palestinian Authority payroll who have received pratically no money since late February.
In protest, the teachers' union has announced that its members will not return to their classes in the Palestinian territories on September 2.
The European Union and United States suspended direct aid to the Palestinian Authority when Islamist party Hamas took office following an upset election win, citing its refusal to recognise Israel and renounce violence.
"I fear for my children as well as the others," said Abu Mur. "I'm frightened that they'll end up in the street."
Palestinians are currently among the most educated in the Middle East with literacy estimated at around 92.3 percent and an education drop-out rate of only 0.9 percent.
At the Abdullah Abu Sitta school in the depressed south Gaza town of Khan Yunis, teacher Hamam al-Faqawi is braced for a difficult start to the new academic year.
"Parents have to spend around 100 shekels (23 dollars) for their children's uniforms and shoes, and 100 shekels for books and school supplies. No one can do that," admits Faqawi, who teaches English.
"We are going to have to organise collections for those who cannot afford the uniforms, and for the books students can share."
In order to ease the parental burden, prime minister Ismail Haniya has reduced fees in state schools from the previous 60 shekels (14 dollars) to 20 shekels (4.5 dollars), although for many that is still too expensive.
Ziad Salman is the father of seven. "The school fees, plus expenses comes to more than 1,500 shekels (340 dollars) this year," he calculates.
"Therefore I've had to make do with last year's uniforms and then I borrowed money." A civil servant himself, he has only received one and a half month's salary since March -- around 680 dollars.
"There's cause for alarm. The situation has deteriorated seriously since last year," said Ali al-Farra, headmaster of Khan Yunis's Kamel Nasser Bey school and a member of the main teacher's union.
"People come and see me and complain about not being able to meet the costs of going back to school this year," he said.
"One pupil in two will experience difficulties in buying books, supplies and uniforms this year."
Israeli troops arrested education minister Nasseredine al-Shaer, who is also deputy premier, at the weekend, as part of a crackdown on the Hamas-led government after a deadly militant raid from Gaza on June 25.
Two Israeli soldiers were killed and a third captured by the gunmen, who included members of Hamas's armed wing, triggering a massive two-month offensive against the Palestinian territory.
"The worst thing," says Faqawi, is the effect on children's education and the risk that many parents will keep their children at home.
"Last year, pupils without uniforms were ordered out of class. This year I can't do that," he said.