Israel’s 11-day military offensive against Gaza in May had a devastating impact on the besieged Strip. The attack killed 260 Palestinians, among them 66 children, with over 2,200 people injured. Over 100,000 Palestinians fled their homes, many relying on shelter in UNRWA schools. About 8,200 internally displaced people remain with host families or in temporarily rented accommodation. The damage to homes and infrastructure was extensive – 1,255 houses destroyed, and 918 homes rendered un-inhabitable. Educational infrastructure was also damaged – 188 schools and 80 kindergartens.
Fobzu currently supports 13 Palestinian refugee students in financial need studying at universities in Gaza. Now in either the second or third year of their courses, they have lived through four wars and have spent the majority of their lives under illegal blockade. The statistics are shocking but don’t capture the personal and collective experience of this latest assault. We asked some of the students Fobzu supports to tell us what it was like for them.
Ahmad is a student at Palestine University. He told us ‘each war is more difficult than the previous one’:
‘Here in our neighbourhood, the occupation forces destroyed a whole area, killing 20 civilians at once. This forced us to flee in search of shelter, but unfortunately it wasn't possible to find any safe space, as every inch in Gaza had either been bombed or was under the threat of being bombed.’
Aya, who studies at Al Aqsa University recalled that the most difficult time was at night:
‘I would sit in the corner of my room cuddling myself while being surrounded with all the different kinds of death, as there is no safe place to go to and shelter during those moments. I can’t stop thinking if I’m going to die that night or survive. Am I going to be severely injured and be hindered for the rest of my life? Am I going to lose a loved one? The thinking doesn’t stop… That is what I would live through every night. Waiting for death till the sun rises and the bombardment quiets down briefly.’
Universities suspended classes in the midst of the Spring semester as students were preparing for final exams, but few had their education on their minds. ‘I really forgot everything about study’, Rana told us:
‘Every night silence is everywhere except the sound of war planes and suddenly the bombing sound spreads throughout, houses were falling leaving a big number of victims and we think its our turn now, living in a scary situation until the break of dawn…’
Abdullah wondered, ‘How can we study, or perform any other daily task, in this environment? I pray for peace for everyone.’
Ahmad wanted to convey his voice to the world:
‘Our message here is that Israel must stop killing civilians, women, children and the elderly. Stop chasing people out of their homes. Stop demolishing people's homes. Shouldn't the world's conscience finally wake up?’
Not long after a ceasefire was declared, universities in Gaza returned and despite all that they had been through, students were back to their studies. Although once again, young people are grieving enormous losses and the harsh realities of siege and occupation persist, students haven’t given up on hope for the future. As she resumed her studies, Aya was optimistic:
‘These miserable days ended and I’m back standing on my feet and following my dream. I’m forgetting about all the horrible feelings that I’ve been through, hoping for a better tomorrow without war and fear.’
Fobzu provides much needed support to students in financial need at Birzeit University and in Gaza. Please consider making a donation to support Fobzu’s work here.