On 13 December 2021, Al Mezan Center for Human Rights organized a ceremony to honor the winners of the 11th Annual Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law Child Art Award at the Al-Deira Hotel in Gaza. The competition was organized in cooperation with the Ministry of Education, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) Department of Education, and private schools. Students of all ages coming from all Gaza districts participated in the competition, and the 36 winners were offered prizes in cash and in-kind.
Ms. Shirin al-Shobaki, Al Mezan's Training and Mass Communication Unit Coordinator, opened the ceremony by welcoming the guests and reviewing the mechanism of the competition and the criteria for selecting the winning paintings. She also thanked all those who contributed to the success of this contest, in which 4,750 drawings participated. During her speech, Ms. Al-Shobaki pointed out that this year’s drawings focused on children's rights, particularly their right to live free from violence, exploitation, and abuse. She also remarked on the accomplishments of this activity that, during its 11 years of running, has resulted in the participation of 33,000 students, with a total of 584 winners. In conclusion, Ms. Al-Shobaki addressed the need for special attention to children, by working on developing their talents and enhancing their abilities. She then gave the floor to Mr. Issam Younis to deliver his speech.
In his speech, Mr. Issam Younis, Al Mezan's General Director, welcomed the audience and extended thanks to the Ministry of Education and UNRWA for their continuous and effective collaboration with Al Mezan and their contribution to the success of this event. Mr. Younis also thanked the Minister of Education, Dr. Marwan Awartani, and welcomed Mr. Tharwat Zeid, the Assistant Undersecretary for Educational Affairs in the Ministry of Education, and Mr. Thomas White, the Director of UNRWA Affairs in Gaza, for their attendance. Mr. Younis noted the importance of the competition in providing a platform for children to express themselves artistically to the world. He also affirmed that children's artwork not only conveyed the tragic reality experienced in Gaza but also reflected their hopes, dreams, and determination to live a normal life.
Mr. Younis briefly reviewed the impact of the Israeli closure and blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip, the human rights violations endured by its population, and the devastating psychological and physical impacts resulting from Israel's May 2021 offensive. He also discussed the Palestinian political division and its catastrophic repercussions on the human rights conditions and the national cause. In conclusion, Mr. Younis congratulated the winners and called them to continue dreaming and hoping for a better future in which Palestinians will fully enjoy their rights to live freely and with dignity.
Mr. Tharwat Zeid spoke on behalf of the Ministry of Education and thanked Al Mezan for implementing this event, which contributes to the dissemination and promotion of the concepts of human rights among students. In his speech, Mr. Zeid addressed Israeli violations against Palestinians and pointed out how the Ministry of Education is subjected to Israeli pressures which seek to intervene in the Palestinian school curriculum by changing and amending it. He also emphasized that choosing the type of education is a basic human right guaranteed under the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. In conclusion, Mr. Zeid wished the success of the event and the continuation of such efforts which have a positive impact on children and their educational process.
Mr. Thomas White, Director of UNRWA Affairs in Gaza, thanked Al Mezan for its efforts in implementing the event and reviewed the historical context for the fruitful and constructive cooperation between Al Mezan and UNRWA, especially the Department of Education. Mr. White noted Al Mezan’s role in promoting and disseminating human rights and a culture of tolerance, which are reflected in the participation and performance of the students. He also noted that 21 students out of the 36 winners were from UNRWA schools. Mr. White pointed out that the students’ drawings expressed fundamental human rights which they are neglected in Gaza. He expressed his hope that the drawings would soon reflect a different reality in which human rights are respected, and he commended the efforts of the UNRWA education program.
The ceremony included performances by Watan, Drummer Team, and Champions for kids’ bands. Dr. Kamal El Sharafi, Chairman of Al Mezan's Board of Directors, Mr. Thomas White, Mr. Ibrahim Abu al-Naja, Governor of Gaza, Mr. Yousri Alghoul, Representative of the Ministry of Education, Mr. Farid Abu Athra, Chief of UNRWA’s Education Program, and Mr. Issam Younis all participated in distributing the awards to the winners. An honorary medal was awarded to a child who won in the 2019 competition but lost his medal in an Israeli attack which caused severe damages to his house. After honoring the winners, the ceremony ended with the opening of “Mawtini” photo exhibition. The exhibition featured the best 71 drawings out of 4,750 submitted through the competition. Al Mezan also distributed 1,000 posters of paintings by two students, Nour al-Manshawi and Lulwa al-Rifi, to the attendees.