x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

UAE rebuilds what Israel destroyed

Thanks to money from the Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan Foundation, two Gaza schools hit by Israeli missiles have a new lease of life.

From early April, the Beit Lahia elementary schools' running costs will be covered by the Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan Foundation. Above, children enjoy playtime.
From early April, the Beit Lahia elementary schools' running costs will be covered by the Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan Foundation. Above, children enjoy playtime.

More than a year after they were attacked in an Israeli missile strike, two schools in the Gaza Strip are to be relaunched and renovated, thanks to a donation from the UAE. The Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan Foundation is the first organisation to contribute to the "Adopt a School in Gaza Initiative" - a pilot project being launched by the UN's Palestine refugee organisation, the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). From early April, the Beit Lahia Elementary School for Boys and the Beit Lahia Elementary Co-Ed School in the northern Gaza Strip will have their running costs covered by the foundation. The schools share the same building, which was damaged in an Israeli missile strike during the 2009 Israeli offensive. According to Peter Ford, the representative of Filippo Grandi, the UNRWA's commissioner-general, the idea for the initiative came in the aftermath of the 22-day military operation, which left almost 1,400 Palestinians dead, 5,000 wounded and 3,500 homes destroyed. "There was a groundswell of concern and interest, especially from the Gulf, and we thought we should take advantage of that," Mr Ford said in a telephone interview. The UAE responded to the disaster, raising millions of dirhams for the resulting humanitarian crisis and pledging to take part in rebuilding efforts. But more than a year after the attacks ended, the Israeli blockade, which prevents most building materials from entering the Gaza Strip, continues to hamper humanitarian and rebuilding efforts, including the Khalifa Foundation's plans to build housing. In the meantime, Emirati organisations have provided direct support to UN projects such as the Adopt a School Initiative. According to the Khalifa Foundation, formally established in 2007, the project is currently its sole activity in Gaza, although they are involved with various other programmes in the West Bank. The foundation has provided an undisclosed amount of money to sponsor the school, which will soon be known as the Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan Beit Lahia School when it is renamed early next month. The funds will be used to help in the repair and running of the school, and to supply everything from uniforms to stationery to sport supplies and school equipment. The children will also receive meals at school and the 37 teachers will receive their salaries through the programme. "It's everything to keep the schools going," Mr Ford said. "To us it represents a very welcome shot in the arm and it will hopefully encourage others to follow suit." The funding will cover the project for the first year, although UNRWA hopes to develop longer-term partnerships. The Beit Lahia school operates two shifts every day for students in grades one to four; 1,288 boys attend in the morning and another 1,288 boys and girls are enrolled for the afternoon shift. The classes have an average of 40 students each. According to UNRWA, the school was forced to transfer children in grades five and six to other schools because of overcrowding. The school was running just a week after the end of the 2009 conflict, as were all of UNRWA's 221 schools in the Gaza Strip. Repairs were carried out at the time to temporarily mend damage such as holes in the walls and broken doors and windows. "We got it operational quickly, but it has been limping along," Mr Ford said. "The extra funds will allow us to do things properly." The agency is in what Mr Ford described as "very severe financial difficulties" and is facing a US$60 million (Dh220m) shortfall in funding for its annual budget in all five areas where it operates: the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. Still, the agency hopes to be able to secure about US$10m for a half-dozen "school adoptions" this year in the first phase of the project. "Hopefully other kind donors will follow the pioneering example set by the foundation," Mr Ford said. "Now we'll be able to do the necessary repairs and get the [Beit Lahia] school back on its feet." zconstantine@thenational.ae