“Incredibly Difficult, Tragically Needed, and Absorbingly Interesting”: Lessons from the AFSC School Program for Palestinian Refugees in Gaza, 1949 to 1950
This article examines a school program operated by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) for Palestinian refugees in Gaza in 1949 and 1950. Drawing on historical records from organizations involved in the broader relief effort, it examines why the school program was set up and how it operated, and considers the lessons it offers for contemporary refugee education efforts. I argue that, while AFSC adopted an atypical approach to humanitarian relief that prioritized education from the outset of the crisis, the school program it developed was invariably constrained by the overarching humanitarian paradigm within which it operated. Funding for education was limited, which left the schools vulnerable to competing political objectives. This article underscores the importance of understanding the history of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East in order to understand its present, and to inform contemporary education efforts for other refugee populations. The article also highlights the need for a critical appraisal of attempts to align refugee education programs with the generally accepted principles of humanitarianism.