UNRWA schools in Lebanon open for month before ‘entering the unknown’

Palestinian students are seen at UNRWA school in Beirut, Lebanon September 3, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 03 September 2018
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UNRWA schools in Lebanon open for month before ‘entering the unknown’

  • 'We look forward to support from Arab states after US aid has stopped,' says UNRWA’s Claudio Cordone
  • UNRWA has resorted to merging some classes and schools — a measure that did not affect students but is not sufficient to continue to fund their education

BEIRUT: Amira Maarouf, a 13-year-old student, hugged the books distributed to Palestinian students by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) at the start of the new school year.
Amira, a student at Haifa School in Bir Hassan in the suburbs of southern Beirut, said: “We want to study. No one can deny us our right to education. This is a child’s right that we learned about at school.”
Amira knows that the US has ended its funding for UNRWA, and that the UN agency for Palestinian refugees will be unable to continue providing Palestinian children with education next October due to budget deficits.
“The US decision may cancel our education but it cannot cancel Palestine. Palestine is my home, and if these schools stop operating, I will go to Lebanese schools,” she said.
The number of Palestinian students in Lebanon receiving education in UNRWA schools is 37,000, including 5,500 Palestinian students who have fled the war in Syria.
Salem Dib, UNRWA’s chief education program officer in Lebanon, told Arab News during a ceremony held by UNRWA to launch the school year: “UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl insisted on starting the school year on time to stress the students’ right to education, which is also one of the Rights of the Child, adopted by the UN and it is a concern for the international community.
“There are 560,000 Palestinian students in Arab countries studying in UNRWA schools, and we know that the money available for operating schools is sufficient until the end of September. We face great concern in October, and we will work tirelessly to protect the rights of those children because their education means their right to dignity.”
Dib said that UNRWA has resorted to merging some classes and schools — a measure that did not affect students but is not sufficient to continue to fund their education.
He added: “There are 66 UNRWA schools in Lebanon, most of which are in the 12 Palestinian refugee camps across Lebanon and also in areas populated by Palestinians outside camps. These schools provide primary to secondary education.”
Dib said that the US supplied nearly 25 percent of the total budget of UNRWA, and the US has only paid $60 million of its $360 million share, leaving UNRWA with a deficit of $217 million.
The director of UNRWA affairs in Lebanon, Claudio Cordone, told Arab News that the agency needed $217 million to cover UNRWA’s needs until the end of this year, in addition to increased efforts to secure funding for 2019.
He said: “We are working with Arab states, specifically with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and traditional donor countries, like the EU and others, to contribute and cover the deficit.
“UNRWA is in direct contact with all countries, and we will attend the Arab League’s meeting next week. Moreover, during the UN General Assembly, which is to be held in New York at the end of this month, we will hold meetings with donor countries.”
Cordone said that UNRWA had no association with political affairs and denied the US “argument” about “irreparable defects,” stressing that UNRWA “is a humanitarian services agency that has been helping Palestinian refugees for decades.”
He played down the importance of fears of naturalizing Palestinians and said: “We aim to continue to assist the Lebanese state until the Palestinian refugee crisis is resolved.”
Former Lebanese minister Hassan Mneimneh, chairman of the Lebanese Palestinian Dialogue Committee, stressed that the only ones who have the right to cancel or keep UNRWA are the Palestinians.
He said: “UNRWA will stay as long as the Palestinian issue remains unresolved.”
He described the US decision as “primarily political” and said: “This decision implements a plan the US administration refers to as a political settlement which we believe to be a political cancelation of the Palestinian issue.”
He added: “Weakening UNRWA to impose a fait accompli is not possible, and we will face this by seeking funding from rich countries.
“In Lebanon, we must engage in political and diplomatic campaigns to encourage other countries to support UNRWA.”
The ceremony, which included releasing blue and white balloons into the sky by the students of Haifa school, was met with appreciation by the Palestinian ambassador to Lebanon, Ashraf Dabbour.
He said: “I am grateful to UNRWA for providing its services to the Palestinian people to ensure they live in dignity, which is as priceless as homelands.”
Meanwhile, Amira knows the books that she hugs are not new but are passed on by students every year. She knows she will find torn pages, but she doesn’t mind. She is one of the students who have been elected to represent their sections in the school’s student parliament, which explores the school’s needs.
She said: “I will not tell you about the many problems at my school, but the most urgent of them is the bathrooms’ problem.”
At the ceremony, 10-year-old Rawan Ismail walked with a wooden leg, accompanied by Ayman Al-Amin, a graduate of the Galilee School, which is adjacent to the Haifa School.
Rawan’s mother said that her daughter was suffering from a disability in her spine that was putting pressure on her heart, as well as a disability in her leg which required her to undergo two surgeries, including the amputation of one of her legs.
Ayman explained that he stayed by her side during her last surgery, which was paid for by UNRWA and a Palestinian NGO.
He declaimed to the school’s audience: “O conscience of the world, hear the cry of my exhausted people … their cry is from the heart and appeals to humans … their natural right is to education, health, and to live as humans.”


Turkish civil society leaders on trial over 2013 protests

Updated 24 June 2019
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Turkish civil society leaders on trial over 2013 protests

  • The 657-page indictment seeks to paint the protests as a foreign-directed conspiracy with links to the Arab Spring
  • There has been a renewed crackdown on dissidents since a coup attempt in 2016

SILIVRI, Turkey: Sixteen leading Turkish civil society leaders went on trial Monday, accused of seeking to overthrow the government during the “Gezi Park” protests of 2013 — charges dubbed an absurd sham by critics.
The group includes renowned businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala, whose detention since November 2017 has made him a symbol of what his supporters say is a crackdown on civil society.
Kavala rejected the “irrational claims which lack evidence” in his opening statement, shortly after the trial began under high security in the prison and court complex of Silivri on the outskirts of Istanbul.
He is accused of orchestrating and financing the protests which began over government plans to build over Gezi Park, one of the few green spaces left in Istanbul.
The rallies snowballed into a nationwide movement that marked the first serious challenge to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s brand of Islamic conservatism and grandiose development projects.
The 657-page indictment seeks to paint the protests as a foreign-directed conspiracy with links to the Arab Spring, which, ironically, the Turkish government supported.
“None of these actions were coincidental... they were supported from the outside as an operation to bring the Turkish Republic to its knees,” the indictment says.
Amnesty International’s Andrew Gardner said the trial “speaks volumes about the deeply flawed judiciary that has allowed this political witch-hunt to take place.
“It is absurdly attempting to portray routine civil society activities as crimes,” he said.
“The idea that Osman Kavala led the conspiracy is utterly outlandish and unsupported by any credible evidence,” Emma Sinclair-Webb, the Turkey director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), told AFP.
One of the allegations is the claim that a map on Kavala’s phone showing bee species actually depicted his plans to redraw Turkey’s borders.
There has been a renewed crackdown on dissidents since a coup attempt in 2016, blamed by the government on US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, with thousands arrested and tens of thousands sacked from public sector, media and military jobs.
A respected figure in intellectual circles, Kavala is chairman of the Anatolian Culture Foundation, which seeks to bridge ethnic and regional divides through art, including with neighboring Armenia, with which Turkey has no diplomatic ties.
“I was involved in projects contributing to peace and reconciliation. There is not a single piece of evidence or proof in the indictment that I prepared the ground for a military coup,” Kavala told the court.
Think tank researcher Yigit Aksakoglu was also in pre-trial detention — since November — while six of the rest are being tried in absentia after fleeing Turkey, including actor Memet Ali Alabora and dissident journalist Can Dundar.
The case against Alabora focuses on his appearance in a play featuring a revolt against the ruler of a fictional country.
Others, including architect Mucella Yapici, have already been tried and acquitted for their role in the Gezi Park protests in 2015.
“I am on trial for the second time on the same charges. Peaceful protests cannot be banned. They are a right,” Yapici told the court on Monday.
Erdogan has linked Kavala to US billionaire George Soros, whose efforts to promote democracy around the world have made him a target for several authoritarian leaders.
Last year, Erdogan said Kavala was the representative in Turkey of the “famous Hungarian Jew Soros” whom he accused of trying to “divide and tear up nations.”
Soros’s Open Society Foundation, which ceased activities in Turkey last year, called Monday’s trial a “political sham.”
“At some earlier stage in Turkey’s descent into authoritarian rule, one might have described this trial as a test of judicial independence... but such exams have already been held, and the failing grades were handed down long ago,” wrote Freedom House, a US-based rights group, this week.
“The point of the coming show trial is quite simply to intimidate Turkish citizens and deter them from exercising their rights,” it added.
The hearing will continue on Tuesday.