A year in review - 2023 in Photos

31 December 2023
December, Palestinian families who lost their homes take shelter at an UNRWA school in Deir Al Balah © 2023 UNRWA Photo by Mohamed Hinnawi

Palestine Refugees and UNRWA’s operations – a year in review  

November, search and rescue operations continue after an Israeli attack on Maghazi Refugee Camp © 2023 UNRWA Photo by Ashraf Amra


The past year brought profound devastation and tragedy to Palestine Refugees. They faced war, extreme violence, displacement, poverty, dire conditions of life in overcrowded camps. This year review is a tribute to their unfailing determination, against all odds. UNRWA remained committed to serve them across all its field of operations and in the darkest circumstances. UNRWA staff have shown dedication throughout the year, and still demonstrate heroism especially during the Gaza war. The Agency is committed to support and serve Palestine Refugee until a just solution to their plight is found.


 January – International Day of Education  and UNRWA works in the field of education

January was marked by the International Day of Education. Through education, UNRWA helps Palestine Refugee children to develop their full potential. More than half a million Palestine Refugee children go to our schools in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank including East Jerusalem, in over 700 UNRWA-run schools. We are the only UN Agency that runs a fully- fledged school system. However, this fundamental right to go to school and learn in a safe environment has been challenged too many times throughout the year including now in the Gaza Strip. More than 300,000 boys and girls have been deprived of their education for nearly three months now. Palestine Refugee children, like all children, have a right to childhood and education.


Gaza Students at UNRWA Remal Co-Ed School in Gaza City after the half term holiday, January © 2023 UNRWA Photo

February – Syria earthquake

Syria is home to more than 438,000 Palestine Refugees. The devastating earthquake that struck Syria in February only added to their hardship and despair after 12 years of conflict, displacement, and economic strife. Prior to the earthquake, Palestine Refugees in Syria were already extremely vulnerable, facing deepening poverty following more than a decade of conflict. Nearly 90 per cent of them needed emergency assistance. 62,000 Palestine Refugees living in camps across Syria were affected by the earthquake.  UNRWA provided emergency relief services to them in Aleppo and Lattakia. The earthquake also caused damage to an already weak housing and infrastructure in Palestine refugee camps in Lebanon.

" This was the UN at its best. Our staff in Syria showed exemplary humanitarian values - while many were affected by the earthquake themselves, they spared no efforts to support their community within hours” Philippe Lazzarini


Hundreds of people took shelter at our facilities the morning after the devastating earthquake in Syria in February. Our schools often become shelters for those whose houses are destroyed or unsafe during emergencies © 2023 UNRWA Photo

Scenes of destruction in the Lattakia camp as a result of the Türkiye-Syria earthquake in February © 2023 UNRWA Photo


March and April – greening initiatives and community spaces

With the arrival of spring, UNRWA supported by the European Union opened several school gardens and carried out greening initiatives across its fields of operation. The aim: transforming outdoor spaces into community spaces children and adults can share and gather into. Such initiatives also encourage environmental awareness and increase outdoor activity. Creating safe places is important to allow all Palestine Refugees to engage with their communities.

UNRWA students at Beit Hanoun Co-Ed School in northern Gaza plant trees at their new school garden funded by the EU in March © 2023 UNRWA Photo by Louise Wateridge

Jordan Spring is here, our students are outside enjoying science lessons in their new school garden, April © 2023 UNRWA Photo by Louise Wateridge


May – escalation of conflict in Gaza

The conflict in Gaza escalated killing civilians and exacerbating an already severe humanitarian situation for Palestine Refugees across the Gaza Strip.

UNRWA responds to Palestine Refugees’ needs in the Gaza Strip as conflict intensifies in May © 2023 UNRWA Photo


June – Trio Jourban concert

Raising awareness through music with the Trio Jourban at the Assembly Hall of the American University in Beirut. In June on World Refugee Day, music and culture partnered with UNRWA to shed light on the lives of Palestine Refugees and pay tribute to their determination and courage.

Trio Jourban concert, June© 2023 UNRWA Photo


July – Israeli Security Forces operation in Jenin and summer weeks in Gaza

Allowing children from Gaza some respite, the Summer Fun weeks gave them an opportunity to play and learn together. In the West Bank, children from the Jenin camp faced displacement and violence. The Israeli Security Forces’ operation in early July in Jenin was the most intense in over two decades. The two-day operation left 12 people killed including four children. Nearly 1,000 homes in the camp were damaged. This year (2023) was the deadliest year ever recorded for the West Bank since the UN started counting casualties in 2005. Only since the war began on 7 October, at least 80 Palestinian children were confirmed killed in the West Bank.

Palestine Refugees continue to face extreme violence and displacement, fearing for their lives and those of their children.

Colossal destruction in Jenin Refugee Camp, July 2023 © Photo by UNRWA

Colossal destruction in Jenin, July © 2023 UNRWA Photo by Tareq Shalash


August – Armed clashes in Ein El Hilweh refugee camp (southern Lebanon)

Four days of violence left 13 people killed and over 60 injured in Ein El Hilweh Refugee camp, in southern Lebanon. Thousands were forced to flee their homes, that were damaged or destroyed. All eight UNRWA schools providing education to 5,900 children were used for the fighting and damaged depriving children of education.


The aftermath of armed clashes inside Ein El Hilweh camp, Lebanon, August © 2023 UNRWA Photo


 Shadia is a Palestine Refugee who sought refuge with her children at the UNRWA Askalan School in Mieh Mieh camp. Shadia is continually burdened by preoccupation and fear for the safety of her children given the recurring conflict in Ein El Hilweh camp, August © 2023 UNRWA Photo


September – short–lived back to school / violence resumes in south Lebanon camp

September saw a short-lived back to school for children in the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. In southern Lebanon, breaking a four-week fragile ceasefire, heavy violence resumed in Ein El Hilweh, forcing UNRWA to postpone the start of school year in southern Lebanon for over 11,000 Palestine Refugee children. In its emergency shelters, the Agency provided vital psychosocial care to children. The advancement of education is and will remain a priority for UNRWA, even amid the most challenging circumstances.

Students are back to school in the Ramallah Basic Boys’ school early September © 2023 UNRWA Photo by Mohammad Sharif

Palestine Refugee students go back to school across the Gaza Strip. © 2023 UNRWA Photo by Mohamed Hinnawi


October, November and December - Gaza war

As the year draws to a close, the war in the Gaza Strip is raging. Almost three months of heavy bombardment, intense military operations and tight siege have turned Gaza into hell on earth. More than 85 per cent of the population of the Gaza Strip has been forcibly displaced and, to date, nearly 21,700 people have been reported killed, the vast majority of them women and children. 142 UNRWA colleagues have been killed, most with their families. They were doctors, teachers, engineers and support staff.

More than 60 per cent of Gaza’s housing units are destroyed. UNRWA is sheltering more than 1.4 million people in its facilities across the Gaza Strip, many of which have been hit sustaining damage. The entire population of Gaza (2.2 million people) is now almost exclusively dependent on humanitarian assistance including food, as the risk of famine is looming. People across the Gaza Strip go hungry, desperate, terrified, and hopeless. As the largest humanitarian agency operating in the Gaza Strip, UNRWA is a lifeline for Palestinians in Gaza. Despite the many challenges hindering the delivery of aid, the Agency is committed to stay. A sustained humanitarian ceasefire is long overdue, and this war must not be prolonged into the next year.

October, heavily damaged buildings after attacks at Nuseirat camp © 2023 UNRWA Photo by Ashraf Amra

November, People among the rubble of collapsed buildings caused by Israeli strikes, Gaza City © 2023 UNRWA Photo by Ashraf Amra

November, Palestinians fleeing Gaza City and other parts of northern Gaza, walk along a road © 2023 UNRWA Photo by Ashraf Amra 

December, Palestinian families who lost their homes take shelter at an UNRWA school in Deir Al Balah © 2023 UNRWA Photo by Mohamed Hinnawi


This end of year, our gratitude goes first to our colleagues. Without their unfailing dedication none of this would be possible. UNRWA also wishes to extend its gratitude to its partners and advocates. Their renewed support is critical to maintain the Agency’s work including the lifesaving operation in response to the humanitarian tragedy in the Gaza Strip.

We hope that 2024 will bring much awaited peace and stability to the region and beyond.

From UNRWA to the world, best wishes and many thanks!

31 December 2023  - text by Laurane March and Louise Wateridge