1. Home
  2. Middle East and North Africa
  3. Israel

Ban on truckloads of paper set to hit Gaza schools

[occ. Palestinian terr.] Students of Ramallah Secondary School on the first day of the open strike. [Date picture taken: 09/02/2006]
(Naela Khalil/IRIN)

The Israeli ban on deliveries of paper to Gaza is not only threatening to create a shortage of textbooks in the Strip but also shining a spotlight on what constitutes legitimate humanitarian aid.

[Read this story in Arabic or French]

Israel is allowing in food, medicines and fuel, which it sees as essential aid, but not paper, even though many would see education as a vital sector in need of all the support it can get.

"Some 200,000 children will go into our classrooms on 1 September, and won't have the books they need," John Ging, the Gaza director of UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, told IRIN.

The shortage has emanated from Israel's refusal, so far, to allow five trucks of paper into the impoverished territory, needed to print the textbooks. Since the Hamas takeover of Gaza in June, Israel has clamped down on the borders, bringing imports and exports almost to a halt with the exception of basic humanitarian goods.

The latest development serves as an indicator of the difference of opinion between many aid organisations and Israel on what is considered "humanitarian aid".

Shadi Yassin, from the Israeli military's coordination unit, recently confirmed that the state remained committed to allowing in such assistance.

Indeed, food and medicine continue to make it into the Gaza Strip and even fuel. However, many goods are locked out.

Public health projects threatened

"We are trying to get raw materials into Gaza," but without success, said Sebastien Kuster of CARE France, adding that the materials, including pipes, asphalt and cement for water and sanitation projects were humanitarian goods. "These are needed to complete work to guarantee continuous access to water for the people in Gaza."

More on Gaza
 Power shortages threaten sewage treatment
 Gaza 'almost completely' aid-dependent
 UN says Gaza needs $30m in aid
 Basic needs met in Gaza but economy near collapse

However, Israel maintains that these materials would block up the limited routes for basic supplies.

"The priority right now is getting food in," an Israeli security official stated, noting that Israel would not coordinate with Hamas on the other side of the border, as it sees the Islamic group as a terrorist organisation. With no solution to the impasse, the borders stay closed.

UNWRA’s Ging, too, is feeling the clampdown: "We cannot get in vital supplies like construction materials for homes and schools. There is already overcrowding," he said, noting that health clinics were also scheduled to be built.

Many of UNRWA's water and sanitation projects have also been halted. "These are public health issues," Ging said, adding that over time a people could not be sustained on just the most basic aid.

Paper and radicalism

Even if the paper arrived immediately, the school year would still begin without the textbooks. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, to print the over 350,000 books needed by UNRWA, factories would require between 20 and 25 days, "assuming the electricity is functioning normally".

Officials in Israel, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the state is concerned the paper might be used to print books with Hamas ideology imbedded within them, or for other propagandist endeavours.

However, Gershon Baskin, the Israeli director of the Israel-Palestine Centre for Research and Information, who is campaigning to get the paper in, said so far there is no indication Hamas will change the curriculum.

"It remains a concern," he admitted. "But by not allowing them to print books, will the thoughts and ideas go away? If they want to teach [radicalism], someone can teach without a book," said Baskin.

Not letting in the paper is "denying children their right to education", he concluded.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

Share this article
Join the discussion

Hundreds of thousands of readers trust The New Humanitarian each month for quality journalism that contributes to more effective, accountable, and inclusive ways to improve the lives of people affected by crises.

Our award-winning stories inform policymakers and humanitarians, demand accountability and transparency from those meant to help people in need, and provide a platform for conversation and discussion with and among affected and marginalised people.

We’re able to continue doing this thanks to the support of our donors and readers like you who believe in the power of independent journalism. These contributions help keep our journalism free and accessible to all.

Show your support as we build the future of news media by becoming a member of The New Humanitarian. 

Become a member of The New Humanitarian

Support our journalism and become more involved in our community. Help us deliver informative, accessible, independent journalism that you can trust and provides accountability to the millions of people affected by crises worldwide.