Palestinian families count the cost of soaring prices in West Bank ahead of Eid

Palestinian families count the cost of soaring prices in West Bank ahead of Eid
In previous years, shops in Ramallah were much more crowded and bustling during the days leading up to Eid Al-Adha than they are this year. (Photo by Mohammed Najib)
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Updated 06 July 2022

Palestinian families count the cost of soaring prices in West Bank ahead of Eid

Palestinian families count the cost of soaring prices in West Bank ahead of Eid
  • Stores are quiet and purchases are significantly down this year amid public-sector wage cuts and spiraling costs

RAMALLAH: Father-of-eight Mustafa Al-Hadidi, a 48-year-old working man from Ramallah, fears he will not be able to properly participate in Eid Al-Adha celebrations or complete traditional seasonal rituals this year.

His fears seem justified. Prices have soared in recent weeks in the Palestinian Territories, which is now considered one of the most expensive places in the Arab world. The cost of a sheep for sacrifice, for example, has reached $500 in the West Bank. Al-Hadidi said that the spiraling prices are even causing family arguments that sometimes end in families breaking up.

“There is more than one case of divorce that occurred due to family problems caused by high prices, so that the head of the family was unable to provide for the needs of his family members, which fuels problems inside the house until the matter ends in divorce,” he told Arab News.

Al-Hadidi said that the rising prices of Eid Al-Adha supplies mean that families are having to find at least $300 extra to pay for them compared with last year.

“Ramallah has become the most expensive city in the world,” he added, as he accused Palestinian leaders of not doing enough to curb the greed of merchants and control prices.

“The Palestinian government is subordinate to Israel in terms of raising prices and if I were of the new generation, I would have left the country and emigrated.”

According to Al-Hadidi, the Palestinian Authority appears to be indifferent about the rising prices as many of the agencies that import food items have close ties to senior officials within the authority.

After the announcement last month by the PA that public-sector workers would only receive partial wages, Al-Hadidi questioned how they can possibly live on only 70 or 80 percent of already meager salaries.

He pointed out that in previous years, Ramallah was much more crowded and bustling during the days leading up to Eid Al-Adha than it is this year.

Hashem Ibrahim, 58, who owns what he says is the oldest grocery store near Al-Manara roundabout in central Ramallah, told Arab News that Eid purchases are down by about 60 percent compared with last year.

“Citizens’ demand for purchases is deficient and this is limited to purchasing only the necessary items,” he said, adding that rising prices and the delay by the PA in paying salaries to public-sector workers in June have contributed to the fall in trade.

Jihad Abu Eid, the owner of Al-Amin butcher’s shop in Ramallah, told Arab News that demand for meat and sacrifices for Eid Al-Adha is very low this year. He added that he has resisted increasing his prices in the hope that this would attract customers.

He explained that he is absorbing much of the increased cost of meat, with the price of a cow rising by $430.

According to economist Nasr Abdel Karim: “The Palestinian economic crisis is a complex situation that is linked to different circumstances that affect it directly and indirectly, such as the Ukrainian-Russian war which has indirectly affected the economy through the joint trade channel with Ukraine, in addition to the clear and significant impact of the Israeli-occupation policies followed by the Palestinian government.”

Mohammad Shaheen, a spokesperson for the Consumer Protection Association, said that the suggested measures to ease the retail crisis do not fall only on the government alone but also on consumers, who must adjust to a new shopping culture in which they adjust their retail habits to match their incomes and purchasing power.

Ibrahim Al-Qadi, the head of consumer protection at the Palestinian Ministry of National Economy, said efforts are being made to control rising prices, either by sourcing local products as an alternative to import, or through assistance from neighboring countries that can quickly and easily supply the Palestinian market.

Ibrahim Melhem, a spokesperson for the PA, told Arab News: “The government has paid $43 million to support basic commodities such as fuel, electricity and foodstuffs, and has tightened control over merchants and called on them not to raise prices, to mitigate the repercussions of the global food crisis on the local Palestinian market.”


Israeli troops kill another unarmed Palestinian

Israeli troops kill another unarmed Palestinian
Updated 19 August 2022

Israeli troops kill another unarmed Palestinian

Israeli troops kill another unarmed Palestinian
  • Anger in West Bank after man, 58, is shot on his way home from morning prayers

RAMALLAH, West Bank: There was growing outrage in the occupied West Bank on Friday after Israeli troops killed another unarmed Palestinian man.

Saleh Sawafta, 58, was returning from dawn prayers at a mosque near his home in Tubas when he was shot in the head. Doctors fought to save his life, but Sawafta died from “critical wounds.”

The victim, who had been preparing for his daughter’s wedding next week — was not involved in previous clashes with Israeli forces and was not a target for arrest.

His death brought the number of Palestinians killed by the Israeli army since the beginning of the year to 135.

Hundreds of people attended Sawafta’s funeral on Friday afternoon as anger spread in the city.

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Tubas Governor Maj. Gen. Younis Al-Assi accused the Israeli army of using “excessive and unjustified force” against Palestinian citizens, and of shooting to kill.

He told Arab News that the Israeli army’s policy of killing, wounding and arresting Palestinian citizens was the main contributor to the “industry of terrorism,” and influenced young people to seek revenge for the deaths and assaults.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said that the armed forces of the Israeli occupation would continue their “terrorism” unless the international community stopped displaying double standards over international law.

“As long as they can act with impunity, the crime continues in the absence of punishment. Children, women and the elderly are victims of the terror of the occupation in every city, village and camp,” the prime minister said.

The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Sawafta’s killing was “part of a series of daily crimes committed by the Israeli occupation forces against Palestinian citizens,” and said the army was acting on instructions from Israeli politicians.


Bahrain’s ambassador to the UK visits Oxford Center for Islamic Studies

Bahrain’s ambassador to the UK visits Oxford Center for Islamic Studies
Updated 19 August 2022

Bahrain’s ambassador to the UK visits Oxford Center for Islamic Studies

Bahrain’s ambassador to the UK visits Oxford Center for Islamic Studies
  • Sheikh Fawaz bin Mohammed Al-Khalifa saw his country’s pavilion at the center and reviewed research in a number of fields

LONDON: Sheikh Fawaz bin Mohammed Al-Khalifa, the Bahraini ambassador to the UK, visited his country’s pavilion at the Oxford Center for Islamic Studies, the Bahrain News Agency reported.

He also met the founder and director of the center, Farhan Ahmad Nizami, and reviewed its research into history, economics, arts and social science in the Islamic world. The envoy highlighted the role the center plays in bringing together elite scholars and researchers.

Nizami congratulated the ambassador on his recent appointment as the Dean of the Arab Diplomatic Corps.

The center is a registered educational charity that describes itself as being dedicated to the study of all aspects of Islamic culture and civilization, and of contemporary Muslim societies.


An online resource offers Middle East education systems a chance to build back better

An online resource offers Middle East education systems a chance to build back better
Updated 19 August 2022

An online resource offers Middle East education systems a chance to build back better

An online resource offers Middle East education systems a chance to build back better
  • Teachers in international schools in the Gulf have struggled amid fee freezes and school closures during the pandemic
  • Financial planning, online learning tools may help schools evaluate curricula, organize staff structure and create long-term plans

DUBAI: Educators across the Middle East and North Africa region are benefiting from a newly launched tool that aims to help them after three years of school-fee freezes and stagnation of education spending owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

UK-based training provider Skills Network launched the Curriculum Led Financial Planning Tool to offer financial planning assistance to international schools throughout the region, which have been particularly hard hit by the fee freeze.

The last permitted fee increase in some Arab Gulf countries was allowed during the 2019-2020 academic year.

Dubai’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority announced in March that international schools would not be allowed to raise tuition fees for 2022, further adding pressure to schools in the UAE’s commercial capital.

Last year, hundreds of private schools in Saudi Arabia also cut their fees by half during the first semester of the new academic year to help mitigate the economic impact of COVID-19.

Financial planning is essential if schools are to meet the growing demand for education in the Middle East. (AFP)

Regional schools, especially those with smaller accounting teams, will greatly benefit from the new tools available to them, according to Natasha Ridge, executive director of the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al-Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research in the UAE emirate of Ras Al-Khaimah.

“It can help them think about how to save money or streamline costs, opportunities for fundraising and, overall, how to manage the school’s finances more sustainably,” she told Arab News.

The CLFP tool will help MENA schools to cope with a difficult economic environment.

The cloud-based global school resource provides users with 24/7 access from anywhere in the world, eliminating the use of traditional electronic spreadsheets for financial planning.

Developed in partnership with leading school groups in the UK, the tool offers educators a collection of resources, templates and methodologies designed to “support financial planning and manage staffing through efficient and strategic systems,” providing schools with “expert support through challenging financial times.”

The cloud-based global school resource provides users with 24/7 access from anywhere in the world, eliminating the use of traditional electronic spreadsheets for financial planning. (AFP/File Photo)

“There’s a huge demand for financial planning tools in the MENA region, with the quality of education determined by stable finances, so the CLFP is a natural fit,” said Christopher Brown, School and Sixth Forms manager at the Skills Network.

“The international school fee freezes implemented by the KHDA back in March 2022 have pushed budgetary resources to the fore for education leaders in the Middle East, with our CLFP tool holding potential for significant financial improvement for educators in this region.”

The tool offers a range of benefits for educational institutions, including benchmarking finances, detailed workforce planning, which enables institutions to deploy staff efficiently, and curriculum and subject modeling.

Schools will also be able to develop an integrated curriculum planning strategy based on the measurement of current curriculum, staffing structure and finances to create a three-to-five-year plan based on data.

Such a move aims to enable educators to develop the best curriculum for their pupils with the funding they have available.

The pandemic saw schools all over the globe enter a period of financial instability. In the Gulf, between January 2020 and January 2022, more than 40 of the UAE’s international schools opened, but at least another 40 closed. “Equally, enrollment cycles have become less predictable post-pandemic, so this has made financial planning difficult for schools,” Brown told Arab News.

A heavy reliance on private, for-profit education measn that market threats from increasing costs could lead to school closures, according to Natasha Ridge, executive director of Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al-Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research in UAE. (Supplied)

“Although there is optimistic recovery in some MENA countries, there is still much to be done to ensure financial stability and economic growth.

“There are now new pressures to include mandatory teaching hours in Arabic and well-being and sustainability, as well as continued investment in virtual reality and technology. Financial resource and workforce planning will continue to be a top priority for MENA schools in the years to come.”

Established in Yorkshire in 2009, the Skills Network is one of the leading providers of online learning in the UK, having grown into a significant supplier of technology-based learning solutions.

Serving the corporate, public and educational sectors, it claims to create high-quality learning experiences across a wide range of subject areas, with over 1.6 million learners using its learning portal, EQUAL, on a regular basis.

The Skills Network says its online distance-learning courses, staff-training programs and apprenticeship programs have helped businesses such as G4S, Thomson Reuters and the Trades Union Congress reach their training and development goals.

Such tools are vital in today’s world. According to a UN policy brief released in August 2020, the pandemic caused unprecedented disruption to education systems around the world, affecting almost 1.6 billion students in more than 190 countries.

Schools will also be able to develop an integrated curriculum planning strategy based on the measurement of current curriculum, staffing structure and finances. (AFP)

In the MENA region alone, the health crisis was responsible for shutting down learning facilities for almost 100 million students aged between 5 and 17.

As a result, governments in the region, such as those of the UAE, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, have increasingly been promoting a hybrid model of online and in-class education, with the Kingdom opening up its national education portal Ain to more than 6 million users and providing 30,000 devices for students in need at the time.

As far as the Middle East is concerned, the Skills Network says its team of experts is working on developing a more efficient educational system for the region.

Although still in the early stages of rolling its tool out to MENA schools, the team has already taken on board over 100 schools internationally in recent months.

“Over time, we have uncovered a demand from schools looking to identify specific subject and lesson costs across their curriculum,” Brown said.

“We have worked with our existing partners to develop the tool and provide further analytical insight to make targeted change, driven by the quality of teaching with students — providing better learner outcomes.”

Foreign student Amro, a student at the French International Lycée in Riyadh, studied at home on March 23, 2020 as schools in Saudi Arabia closed during COVID-19 pandemic. (AFP/File Photo)

The financial planning tool can be used in countries such as the UAE, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. In the UK, it has provided average savings of £163,000 ($193,228) per secondary school annually.

“So, it’s a proven and robust asset to any international school across the globe,” Brown said. “Ultimately, students will benefit from an optimized teacher workforce and budget that can support high-quality education delivery.”

According to Ridge, of the Ras Al-Khaimah think tank, the situation is only getting worse for schools as many MENA countries experience high inflation owing to soaring food and fuel prices.

“For schools, this will be difficult, especially in the private sector where parents will also have less money to spend,” she said.

“I believe that the situation requires government support to help schools manage in this difficult time. It could get worse if left to market forces, but some intervention on the part of the government might help.”

Students arrive to school as in-person classes resumed amid the COVID-19 pandemic in Kuwait City in September 2021. (AFP)

She believes lower-income countries will benefit more from the new tools, although all stand to take advantage, and the assistance could not come at a better time.

“Such a heavy reliance on private, for-profit education means that market threats from increasing costs could lead to school closures, especially at the lower end of the market, which would hurt the poorest students,” Ridge said.

The Skills Network’s Brown says international schools in the MENA region are experiencing massive enrollment demand from local students and families. According to him, the international school learner profile has evolved over the years and become more localized than ever before.

Looking to the future, Brown said: “With the ongoing shift in learner profile comes new challenges and pressures on curriculum delivery and financial resources.

“It is of critical importance that schools in the MENA region are equipped with the technology required to meet these evolving needs.”


Aid workers face ‘alarming’ levels of incitement, violence in Yemen: UN humanitarian envoy

Aid workers face ‘alarming’ levels of incitement, violence in Yemen: UN humanitarian envoy
Updated 19 August 2022

Aid workers face ‘alarming’ levels of incitement, violence in Yemen: UN humanitarian envoy

Aid workers face ‘alarming’ levels of incitement, violence in Yemen: UN humanitarian envoy
  • Gressly said that aid workers in Yemen — more than 95 percent of whom are Yemenis – work to ensure that 12.6 million people receive humanitarian assistance
  • In first half of 2022, one aid worker was killed, two injured, seven kidnapped and nine detained.

LONDON: Attacks on aid workers in Yemen have increased at an “alarming” rate, the country’s UN humanitarian coordinator said on Friday.

David Gressly marked World Humanitarian Day on Aug. 19 by highlighting the “extremely challenging” environment that aid workers face in war-torn Yemen, especially amid Houthi attempts to control food aid distribution.

In a statement, Gressly said that aid workers in Yemen — more than 95 percent of whom are Yemenis – work to ensure that 12.6 million people receive humanitarian assistance or protection support every month.

But in the first half of 2022, one aid worker was killed, two injured, seven kidnapped and nine detained.

Gressly also pointed out 27 incidents of threat and intimidation between January and June, compared with 17 such incidents recorded in the whole of 2021.

He added that there were also 28 carjacking incidents recorded in the first six months of the year, 17 more than in 2021, and 27 attacks on aid organizations’ premises and facilities — including the looting of humanitarian supplies and other assets.

Gressly also highlighted how aid workers have been targets of disinformation and incitement in recent months, including “false allegations that they corrupt Yemeni values, including the morals of young women.”

He added: “Such baseless allegations jeopardize the safety and security of humanitarian workers, especially Yemeni female aid workers at a time when women and girls are experiencing increased levels of violence and a rollback of their rights in many parts of the globe.

“Violence and threats against humanitarian workers undermines the delivery of aid, further jeopardizing the lives of those most in need,” he said.

“Aid workers in Yemen deserve to be celebrated for their selfless dedication.”

While the UN-brokered ceasefire between the Houthis and the Arab Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen has provided relief to civilians since going into effect in April and deserves full backing, the humanitarian crisis is as dire as ever.

More than 23 million people need some form of humanitarian assistance or protection, according to Gressly.

The number of people facing food insecurity is projected to increase to 19 million by December. The malnutrition rate among women and children is among the highest in the world and a third of the 4.3 million internally displaced people in Yemen continue to live under extreme conditions, his statement said.

Without the tireless commitment of humanitarians in Yemen, the situation would be far worse, Gressly added.

“Aid workers in Yemen remain unwavering in their mission. These selfless women and men continue to step up to every day, providing millions of people in need with food and cash, health services and clean water, protection and emergency education.

“We should all do everything we can to protect them and support their critical work.”


Sadr supporters step up pressure tactics

Sadr supporters step up pressure tactics
Updated 20 August 2022

Sadr supporters step up pressure tactics

Sadr supporters step up pressure tactics
  • As Iraqi protesters rally, political deadlock leaves families without cash

BAGHDAD: Thousands of supporters of Iraq’s religious leader Moqtada Sadr stepped up their pressure tactics on Friday with a weekly prayer session in the high-security Green Zone they have occupied for three weeks.

Tensions in the war-scarred country have escalated over the inability of political factions to agree on formation of a government, 10 months after parliamentary elections.
Sadr has millions of devoted followers. Some of them stormed Iraq’s parliament late last month and began a sit-in, first inside the building and then on its grounds where thousands remain.
More recently their opponents from a pro-Iran bloc, the Coordination Framework, began their own sit-in on an avenue leading to the Green Zone which houses government institutions and foreign embassies.
“Yes! Yes to Moqtada!” the cleric’s followers chanted as the prayers began under a blazing sun.
Sadr did not attend.
Neither was he present Wednesday when caretaker Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi met party and other leaders to discuss the political deadlock, which ordinary Iraqis see as having nothing to do with their daily struggles.
Nearly two decades after a US-led invasion toppled dictator Saddam Hussein, the country is blighted by endemic corruption, ailing infrastructure, power cuts, and unemployment.
Sadr wants parliament dissolved to pave the way for new elections, and his followers see him as a champion of the anti-corruption fight.
Their opponents in the Framework seek a transitional government before new polls.
The Coordination Framework comprises former paramilitaries of the Tehran-backed Hashd Al-Shaabi network, and the party of former prime minister Nuri Al-Maliki, a longtime Sadr foe.
Al-Maliki was among those who attended the talks on Wednesday, when political leaders agreed to work on a roadmap aimed at ending the impasse which has left the country without a new prime minister or president.
Mohaned Al-Moussaoui, who is close to Sadr, said during his Friday sermon that the “political dialogue is only in the name of your political interests and supporters, and not in the interest of the people.”
The standoff has raised fears of renewed unrest in a country where militias wield significant power and is already taking a toll on the most vulnerable.
Sabreen Khalil lost her husband to COVID-19last year, leaving her to raise seven children alone, but government funding to help her and hundreds of thousands of families in poverty is blocked by political stalemate.
“I am a woman and all of a sudden I had to take the responsibility of seven children alone ... it broke my back,” Khalil said, speaking of the impact of her husband’s death.
Sitting on the floor in her one-bedroom brick house in the village of Saada on the outskirts of Baghdad, she said she cannot afford treatment for her chronic illness and that her children have to skip some meals as food prices soar.
Nine months after applying for a government pension, she has received nothing from the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs.
“Every time we go they tell us ‘We are waiting for a budget’,” she said.
An official at the ministry said Khalil qualifies for support but confirmed there is no funding to provide it.
“Our hands are tied because there is no budget,” the official said.
Her family is one of about 370,000 families who qualify for the pension but are not receiving it because of the political deadlock, the official said.
“There is consensus over dissolving Parliament and holding early elections, the issue is with the mechanism,” a source in the caretaker government said, adding that talks were ongoing.
Hamdi Malik, an associate fellow at the Washington Institute and a specialist on Iraq’s militias, said that despite some efforts to bridge the differences there appeared to be little prospect of swift results.
“The division is so wide that I can’t see any solution and the possibility of clashes is actually increasing,” Malik said.
Parliament did pass an emergency bill in June allocating billions of dollars to buy wheat, rice and gas and to pay salaries, but other government business has stalled.
A prominent Iraqi rights activist said the political factions were all responsible for the deadlock and ordinary Iraqis were paying the price.
“Anger is rising up among the people. Economic conditions have worsened and unemployment is on the rise,” said Hanaa Edwar. Leaders are “holding dialogues to redistribute the spoils amongst politicians,” she said.
Khalil, meanwhile, is still waiting in Saada, which means “happiness” in Arabic, for the government to come to her aid. She said the political process was not working.
“They say it’s wrong if we don’t vote,” she said.
“But elections didn’t change anything.”