Thursday, September 21, 2017

As the school year starts in the West Bank, Gazan schools remain closed


By Lynda Franken - September 11, 2014
TAGS:
Section: [Main News] [Life under Occupation]
Tags: [Gaza] [school] [Education]

An UNWRA school in Gaza used as shelter by refugees, August 2014. Photo by Lazar Simeonov.

 

“I hope that we can lead a normal life (…) and can go to our schools in safety and security. We did not do anything wrong and on this day we should have been sitting at school desks,” says Bisan, who is supposed to start eighth grade this year, but now lives in an elementary school in Gaza City that is used as a shelter. 

Bisan is one of approximately 75,000 school-aged children that live in 85 shelters, according to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). This is “a number never before seen in Gaza’s history,” their emergency report of 26 August reads. 

The number of refugees in UNRWA schools has rendered education in their facilities impossible. Additionally, another 277 schools in Gaza (69% of all schools in the coastal enclave) were due to Israeli bombing over the last six weeks, according to the Negotiations Affairs Department of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO-NAD). The start of the school year, on 24 August, has therefore been postponed until further notice. 

UNRWA held a ceremony in each emergency shelter to mark “what should have been the first day of school” while it tries to educate through other means, like a satellite educational TV channel and self-learning materials. A three phase plan was set up to educate the minors of Gaza, who make up almost half of its 1.8 million citizens. 

The plan, which was created in coordination with the Gazan Ministry of Education, aims to expand psychosocial activities in phase one, enhance learning skills in phase two and return to education in school building in phase three. It was already estimated by the UN earlier this month that 373,000 children in Gaza are in need of direct psychosocial support, while thousands of others are likely to face psychological problems in the future.

Education as a target

The need for psychological support seems apparent after reading the stories of some of Dr. Nazmi al-Masri’s students at the Islamic University of Gaza (IUG). Al-Masri, who teaches English at IUG, wrote an article on his experiences when he resumed class on 16 August, several days into a five-day ceasefire that would eventually fail to be prolonged. Rather than teaching, he decided to start a dialogue with his students about their personal experiences during the latest Gaza offensive.

One of the stories is that of Naji, one of his best students, who recalls the faith of three of his friends with whom he worked on his graduation project. One friend, Khalid, died when an air strike hit his family home in Shujai’iya on 20 July. Another, named Saber, also from Shujai’iya, had both of his legs amputated after he sustained serious injuries while fleeing during an attack on his house. The third friend, Slaman, from Beit Hanoun, was left homeless when an airstrike hit his house. He now lives in a UN shelter which lacks basic provisions.

Apart from mourning the loss of its students, the IUG was also hit in a direct attack on 2 August causing extensive damage to the building. The Israeli military claimed the university held “a Hamas military wing facility that was used for research and development of weapon manufacturing.”

It was not the first time the university was struck. During the 2008-9 'Operation Cast Lead,’ 74 laboratories were destroyed in air strikes for the same reason. The report of the Goldstone Commission, which operated as a UN fact finding mission on the operation, held that the Mission “did not find any information about their use as a military facility or their contribution to a military effort that might have made them a legitimate target in the eyes of the Israeli armed forces.”

West Bank protest 

While the schools in Gaza did not start on the 24th, schools in the West Bank opened with a day of solidarity with the people in Gaza, exclaimed by the Palestinian Ministry of Education. The assault in Gaza was discussed with the students before the school day was brought to a close at 11 AM. Students and teachers were then urged to go into the center of town to protest against the Israeli assault on Palestinians in Gaza. 

One of those protests, in Beit Ummar, north of Hebron, turned violent after the Israeli army clashed with school boys. Two boys were slightly injured after being hit by rubber-coated bullets, said Muhammad Ayyad Awad, a local spokesperson to Ma’an News.

Alike the Islamic University in Gaza, Birzeit University in the West Bank was accused by the Israeli government of being linked to Hamas. The university was raided earlier during this summer’s 'Operation Protective Edge’ when Israeli forces arrested two students on 18 June. Both of them were members of the student branch of Hamas, who were staging a sit-in against the arrests of their colleagues, while others managed to escape. The military forces also seized Hamas flags and other propaganda material. 

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated it did so because “Birzeit University (is) a hotbed of incitement and terrorism in Ramallah.”

In reality, the Islamic Bloc represents only a part of the university’s student body. During the latest student elections in May 2014, the 'Islamic Bloc’ led by Hamas supporters gained 20 seats out of 51 total, while the Fatah faction gained 23 seats. This outcome was exactly the same as the year before.

It is worth mentioning that the votes for Hamas do not directly represent their increasing popularity. Some students vote for Hamas as a “punitive vote,” explained Adnan Abu Amer, dean of the Faculty of Arts at the Gazan Al Ummah Open University in an article on Al-Monitor. 

“Some of the students have cast ballots in favor of the Islamic Bloc out of their hatred for its Fatah-affiliated rivals and not out of their ideological conviction.”  

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