Gaza City, September 30 – The head of the United Nations Relief Works Agency for Palestine Refugees is considering a change in policy that would allow armament storage facilities to be used as educational institutions, to alleviate a shortage of resources facing UNRWA.
UNRWA is tasked with, among other missions, providing basic schooling to the children descended of Palestinians classified as 1948 refugees. However, an organizational oversight has apparently led to buildings originally designated as schools being used instead as rocket storage or launching facilities, a set of operations not strictly within the UNRWA mandate.
The diversion of those assets has deprived the schooling effort of necessary classroom space. Compounding the problem, say UNRWA officials, several of the schools-cum-weapons-depots have suffered damage in Israeli strikes aimed at neutralizing the threat of those rockets, and remain unavailable even after restored to their original use.
“We may have to convert several more facilities into educational institutions,” admits Gaza UNRWA chief Chris Gunness. “We thought that Israeli genocide had killed so many Gaza children that space wouldn’t be such an issue, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case, and we still have to find space for everyone.”
Gunness said the organization is considering several options for which weapons depots to convert into schools, in consultations with the local Hamas government. “Everything we do requires their approval,” he explained.
Among the facilities Gunness is considering using as a school is a school in Rafah. “Ideally, this place serves as cover for two or three rocket-launching squads, and maybe a mortar team to boot,” says Jamil Hussein, a Hamas member who maintains the building. “But in a pinch we can get it to look and feel like an actual school.”
If the conversion program proves successful, Gunness plans to recommend its inverse to help the organization serve Palestinian refugees in Syria, where the civil war has severely disrupted the refugee life that UNRWA is charged with perpetuating. “We have literally hundreds of school buildings in Syria that either side can use militarily,” he said.
“It actually surprises me that the Islamic State hasn’t contacted us with that arrangement for the areas under its control,” he mused.