Since Israel began its military offensive against Gaza on 7th October, over 9000 Palestinians have been killed, over 1.4 million Palestinians have been displaced, and entire neighbourhoods have been reduced to rubble. The Palestinian Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research announced on Monday 30th October, 427 students and 12 employees had been killed in the Israeli military bombardment carried out against the Strip. Many more are feared buried under the rubble of the buildings destroyed. 

 

As part of a broader attack on Gaza’s civilian infrastructure, including its hospitals and medical facilities, Israel’s offensive has caused extensive damage to a number of educational institutions. The Ministry highlighted the destruction of 11 higher education buildings, nine in Gaza and two in the West Bank, either partially or entirely damaged. On Wednesday 11 October, Israel bombed the Islamic University of Gaza, before releasing a video which showed four of the university’s buildings being hit by targeted missiles. In a statement published on its official Facebook account, the Islamic University described extensive damage to equipment, laboratories, furniture and the facade of several buildings, and asked the international community to take immediate action to protect the rights of its students.

 

The Al-Azhar University, located in Gaza, has also been hit by airstrikes, causing extensive damage to its infrastructure  – Mkhaimar Abusadad, a professor of politics at the university, described the first assault as  “the most intensive bombing I’ve ever seen.” On Saturday, 4th November, the Israeli occupation renewed its heavy bombardment on Al Azhar University, persisting in targeting educational institutions.

 

“Nobody talks about education at the moment.  I know that it is one of your major interests to know about how the educational sector has been affected. Education is not discussed at all at the moment because everybody has one mission that is to survive in these circumstances. but my anticipation is that the semester will be cancelled somehow because most of the universities and colleges have been attacked or destroyed in one way or another, not to mention that people after this war when they go back to their houses they wouldn’t have water supply, Internet or electricity so that Makes the educational process something impossible to proceed with”, says an anonymous lecturer from the faculty of engineering and information technology at Al Azhar University in Gaza. 

 

Since the 7th of October,  Israel has also bombed four schools in Gaza: one attack, targeting a UNRWA school in the Al Maghazi refugee camp,  killed 8 people and injured 40 more. Since the start of the war, education has been suspended across all 19 higher education institutions in the Gaza Strip, impacting over 88,000 students. 

 

Military assaults on Palestinian educational infrastructure by Israel is not a new phenomenon. Gaza’s Islamic University has been bombed before, both in 2008 and 2009 and 2014. More recently, in August of this year, Israel faced  international criticism after demolishing a school in the occupied West Bank, just days before the start of a new school year. A recent UNESCO report found that between January 2019 and September 2021, explosive weapons launched by Israel affected at least 305 schools and kindergartens in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Back in 2009, the term “scholasticide” was coined to describe Israel’s targeting of educational institutions following the destruction of  ‘Operation Cast Lead’. 

 

While the situation is most severe in Gaza, students in the West Bank are also facing an escalation of Israeli military and settler violence. Since 7th October, at least 144 Palestinians have been killed by soldiers and settlers since the 7th of October, and over 1000 have been injured. There have been mass arrests of Palestinians, including 8 Birzeit students and many more across the West Bank; night raids and incursions have increased significantly, and students are facing increased restrictions on their freedom of movement – not only have a number of checkpoints been closed, but the sharp rise in settler violence has made travelling dangerous for many. 

 

“Ramallah, where I live, is ‘relatively’ safe but between the city and villages or the city and other cities, it's pretty risky,” says Ahmad, a bachelor student in Civil Engineering  Birzeit University. “Travelling takes three times longer than usual because the main routes are closed. It's almost like every city is locked up inside its city, so different places in the West Bank are not really connected to each other.”  

 

As a result of these conditions, Birzeit University campus is now close to empty, with all of the students having left and only a handful of faculty members remaining. “Even students who are living in dorms at Birzeit quickly went back to their villages because of the road conditions,” says Ahmad. In order to get around these restrictions of movement, as with most other universities in the West Bank, Birzeit has moved all of its classes online. “Even the practical laboratories and engineering faculties are all shut at the moment – some of them they were able to put online, but many others are frozen for the moment,” says Ahmed. There have also been a number of days where teaching has had to stop entirely. “There were no lectures at all after the bombing of the [Al-Ahli] hospital, because there'd been so many protests and nobody was ready to take lectures and study as if it was a usual day! People were feeling angry and desperate about Gaza.” says Ahmad. 

 

But despite these restrictions, students in the West Bank are coming together in a spirit of unity with their colleagues in Gaza and to make their voices heard. Student volunteers at the Right to Education Campaign at Birzeit have been active raising international awareness about the impact on education of the current war. Meanwhile, there are frequent protests in Ramallah’s Manara Square and on campus, the student body, along with lecturers and union members, have established six emergency committees to support Gaza. “Students are trying to be as helpful as they can… They are always asking: What should we do? How can we have a positive effect?”, says Ahmed.

 

On 15th October, Birzeit University published an open letter calling “upon the international academic community, unions, and students to fulfill their intellectual and academic duty of seeking truth, maintaining a critical distance from state-sponsored propaganda, and to hold the perpetrators of genocide and those complicit with them accountable.”

 

 

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