One of ACP’s Palestinian volunteers recently suggested that our blog should highlight the issue of unemployment. Indeed, this may be the most significant crisis that Palestine faces today, and is undoubtedly the biggest barrier to accessing high-quality education and health services.
According to a United Nations (U.N.) report released on August 27, 2012, Palestine’s overall unemployment rate is approximately 29 percent–but this figure changes when you look more closely at subsets of the population, including women, youth and refugees. In Gaza, women face an unemployment rate of 47 percent, while a staggering 57 percent of Gaza’s youth are unemployed. In the absence of high quality schooling, vocational training and economic opportunity, the U.N. warns that Gaza’s youth will face a future marked by “social tension, violence and extremism as possible outlets for lack of meaningful prospects.” Given these facts, it is hardly surprising that Gaza faces high rates of poverty and food insecurity. In 2011, UNICEF reported that some children in Gaza often have to choose between going to school and scavenging for rubble in order provide a meager income and food for their families.
Although unemployment is lower in the West Bank at approximately 22 percent, West Bank refugees face unemployment rates up to 27 percent. Earlier this year, the U.N. reported that refugee households “spend an average of half their income on food, leaving very little to spend on other essentials such as shelter and education. This encourages a cycle of debt, further entrenching poverty.”
Khalel, an ACP volunteer in the West Bank, argues that Palestine’s dire economic situation mainly stems from the physical barriers and restrictions on Palestinians’ movement that are imposed through the Israeli occupation. World Bank reports support this claim. In April 2012, the World Bank reported that the Israeli government had eased movement restrictions that contributed to the West Bank’s economic growth in 2010, but that “there have been few significant additional measures recently.” The World Bank noted that Palestine’s economic crisis is exacerbated by the Israeli government’s “ban on almost all exports from Gaza, and significant restrictions on the passage of people and imports.” While the World Bank has praised the Palestinian Authority’s efforts to “strengthen its fiscal position,” the Bank’s March 2012 economic monitoring report argues that “these efforts will not be successful unless they are supported by concrete and known actions of the Government of Israel, such as the sharing of relevant tax information on Palestinian revenues.”
Although Khalel has applied for jobs at various companies, he’s been told that there are no jobs available. “To be unemployed,” Khalel explains, “makes your psychological condition bad” and leads to great frustration. This is not uncommon–as this blog recently reported, Palestinians throughout the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip face a “silent epidemic” of mental health disorders, including depression and anxiety. Mental health disorders not only undermine Palestinians’ ability to seek and maintain employment, but also fuel high rates of gender based violence. The U.N. estimates that up to 73,000 Palestinians who suffer from mental health disorders cannot access appropriate services because they simply cannot afford it.
So what can be done? For our part, ACP has channeled support to the Mediterranean Youth Technology Club (MYTecC) in East Jerusalem, which builds participants’ English skills and teaches them how to use technology and social media (see video, above). The program works with teenagers from both public and private schools and aims to build future leaders and “catalysts of change.” The organization Education for Employment also works in Palestine. Founded in 2008, EFE aims to “provide jobs, incomes, and futures for Palestinian youth.”
Share your thoughts on what should be done to address Palestine’s unemployment crisis–especially what you would like to see ACP doing to help!