Children who have lost parental care have a brighter future thanks to SOS Children's Villages (photo: SOS archives).
Palestine is located in the Middle East on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The precise boundaries are disputed but include parts of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, as well as Jericho, Jenin, Nablus, Tulkarm, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Hebron. Palestine has a population of over four million (2014 est.) - about 1.7 million in the heavily over-populated Gaza Strip and 2.7 in the West Bank. Most of the population consists of Palestinian Arabs but there is an Israeli minority.
Although over one hundred countries now recognise Palestine as a state, it does not have full international recognition; its future remains a source of dispute. The constant conflicts in the area have resulted in a Palestinian diaspora of about six million people, who are dispersed mostly in neighbouring countries; it is estimated that over four million of them are refugees. Most of them live in camps in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.
A society marked by violence
The lives of the people are shaped by the violence in the area. The economic situation is affected by the changing Israeli policies concerning Palestine, especially regarding the free movement of goods and people between the areas. The government of Israel has, at various times, shut off access to Palestine. When there is free access, the living conditions of the Palestinians improve; for example, in the years 2009-2010 when the security conditions improved, the economy grew by around seven per cent.
The situation for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and those in the West Bank is different. In 2007, Israel put in place an economic blockade on the Gaza Strip, which resulted in a rise in unemployment and poverty. The people, who were already living in unfavourable conditions, became dependent on humanitarian aid and on the black market tunnel between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. In 2010, 38 per cent of Gazians lived under the poverty line and around 23 per cent were unemployed. The figures for the West Bank state that about 18 per cent of the population lives under the poverty line and 23 per cent is unemployed. Men in search of work often pay smugglers to transport them into Israel, where they are employed illegally.
The people of Palestine cannot always access adequate health care. In some cases, borders impede free movement, and patients are not able to reach the medical care they need in time. At other times, there is a lack of essential medical supplies. The medical services in Gaza have often been on the verge of complete collapse due to these shortages.
Children in need of protection
Children in our care grow up in families and are cared for by an SOS mother (photo: SOS archives).
Palestine has a very young population: over 53 per cent are under the age of 18. The lives of children have been shaped by years of conflict and instability; as the economic situation has deteriorated, there has been a decline in programmes that could improve the lives of children. Although some international organisations work in Palestine, it is sometimes difficult to reach the population due to the violence.
There is also a lack of investment in housing, education and health care. The number of households living in poverty is increasing, especially those with more than three children. As incomes have fallen, food has become more expensive. These conditions force children to work; they are mostly involved in the running of family enterprises.
The absence of job opportunities for young people is acknowledged as a problem by the authorities, who are aware that unless there is a radical change in the situation, life will become increasingly hard for future generations. Palestinian children and young people are exposed to extremely high levels of public violence due to the internal and external political struggles and street violence. They also experience high levels of domestic violence which includes violence towards children in the home.
SOS Children's Villages in Palestine
SOS Children's Villages works with children and families in Palestine. SOS Kindergartens provide day care for young local children while their parents go to work or attend training, and older children can attend the SOS Hermann Gmeiner Schools.
The SOS Social Centres in Bethlehem and Gaza work closely with the local communities to ensure that children do not lose parental care. When children can no longer stay with their families, they are cared for by their SOS mothers in one of the SOS families. Young adults can live in special flats where they are guided on their path to an independent life with the help of professionals.
We have also provided emergency relief when the situation has been particularly critical. Most recently we support vulnerable families and children. The Interim Care Centre provides short-term care for children, while we work with their families. Once the families have received the support they need, children return to their home.