Reaching the Unreached: The Palestinian experience during the intifada

George Malki shares his personal view

When I was first asked to write an article for EENET I thought as a Palestinian I cannot ignore politics and the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip following the 1967 war. I decided I must write about our unique situation during the popular uprising, widely known as the intifada. If EENET is to reach the unreached and integrate a wider audience, then the unique Palestinian experience must be shared. My main focus of interest is directed towards youths who experienced disability as a result of the intifada, what was done for them, and the need for a rehabilitation policy and legislation in light of the emerging Palestinian state.

A complicated administrative system had been set up during the long years of Israeli occupation which affected all aspects of life. With the advent of the Palestinian uprising on December 9, 1987 the situation became much worse. Educational establishments were exposed to great abuse and were often forced to close, with the result that Palestinian children lost between 35% and 50% of their school days between 1988-1992. In response, a Palestinian popular committee was formed to teach in every town, village and refugee camp. It was common to see classes held in houses, mosques, churches and clubs away from the eyes of the Israelis, who came to regard this practice as illegal.

In the midst of the continuous state of unrest in the country, the disability sector found itself further alienated from the mainstream community and continued to develop a segregated model of education and rehabilitation. Ironically, the intifada brought with it a sudden explosion of interest in disability. Confrontations between young people with stones and soldiers with rifles produced a dramatic increase in permanent impairments such as spinal cord injuries, loss of eyes and amputations. The youth who were injured were regarded as heroes and the whole issue of rehabilitation received a drastic boost. Millions of dollars were poured into creating large and extremely well-equipped rehabilitation centres, but without thinking of the needs of disabled people beyond the medical. In contrast, the needs of the majority of disabled people, not the intifada-injured, were eclipsed.

This explosion of interest in disability brought about many positive changes that went beyond the existing institution-based rehabilitation. Capitalising upon the experience of community education, rehabilitation workers were challenged to respond to disability needs within their communities and community based rehabilitation (CBR) was introduced. Local committees were formed and later joined efforts in establishing the central National Committee of Rehabilitation in 1990.

The administration of the disability sector is complicated by the fact that it is in the hands of many different professional groups and non government organisations (NGOs) who control the whole 'industry of rehabilitation'. This was evident throughout my research over the last two years. The people I met during my field work were calling for the need for legislation, more cooperation between those in control of disability organisations, improved teacher training and further work towards changing e xisting negative attitudes towards disability. I would like to see more cooperation between the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) and the NGOs working in disability.

George Malki is a PhD student in the Centre for Educational Needs at Manchester University. He can be contacted at: EENET . Centre for Educational Needs . The University of Manchester . Oxford Road . Manchester . M13 9PL . Tel: +44 (0)161 275 3510 or +44 (0)161 275 2711 . Fax: +44 (0)161 275 3548 . Email:

 


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