I recently had the opportunity to visit a construction site in Jalazone, just outside of Ramallah in the West Bank, where the U.S. Government is partnering with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), in cooperation with Palestinian and Israeli officials, to build a school that will provide a safe and vastly improved learning environment for more than 1,100 girls.
Jalazone is located in what is known as “Area C,” an area that comprises approximately 60 percent of the West Bank and is under Israeli administrative and security control, in accordance with the terms of the Oslo Accords. The expansion work on the Jalazone School, which includes building 23 new modern classrooms, science labs, vocational training rooms, and all the facilities of a functioning school, is part of U.S. efforts, underway for some time, working closely with the Palestinian Authority and Israeli officials, to improve access to essential services for Palestinians living in “Area C.”
While visiting the construction site, UNRWA’s West Bank Field Director Felipe Sanchez and I spoke with the Principal at the school, Sana Bayyari. She explained how much she and her students and teachers are looking forward to moving from the current school’s overcrowded and run-down classrooms to what will effectively be a fully renovated school by March 2013. These renovations will significantly improve the educational environment at the school, originally built in the 1950s. Principal Bayyari also noted that they are especially excited that they will no longer have to attend school in double shifts as they have been doing for years to accommodate all of the students.
Looking around what will be the site of the new building, and listening to Ms. Bayyari, I could see the positive impact this construction would have on the lives of 1,113 girls from kindergarten through 10th grade. The setting and her words underscored the importance of the cooperation forged between the Palestinian Authority, the Government of Israel, UNRWA, and the United States at this site, and more broadly, the cooperative efforts between us, Palestinian and Israeli officials, and others, that has meant much more work intended to benefit Palestinians living in “Area C.”
During the past year, the United States has funded the construction and rehabilitation of 10 other schools and health clinics for “Area C” communities. Half of these facilities have already been constructed; the remaining projects are underway. During my visit, I also had the pleasure of announcing that, with funding provided by the American people, the United States would soon begin constructing a pedestrian bridge over a busy road connecting the girls’ school we are renovating at Jalazone with the boys’ school on the opposite side of the street. Students, teachers, and other residents of Jalazone need to cross on a daily basis. Meanwhile, USAID will soon break ground on another major construction project that will expand the Az Zeer Boys’ School in Harmala in the Bethlehem Governorate, a location at which we have nearly completed a vastly expanded health clinic.
Through our partnerships in the West Bank and Gaza, USAID has been working with Palestinian educators at all levels to provide facilities and guidance to give students the opportunity to become future leaders of Palestinian society. Because we want to see those living in “Area C” have access to the same opportunities otherwise available, the United States will continue to work with the Palestinian Authority and Government of Israel to identify and implement projects that address fundamental needs and expand opportunities for people living in “Area C.”