One of the real treats of writing a blog is the opportunity it brings to meet and talk to new people with very different life experiences. Apparently the Learning Renaissance has a growing readership in the Middle East, in particular a number of students in Gaza regularly read the blog.
I have spoken to one of these students and asked her to write me an article on education in Gaza. She is a student with a passion for languages, and a very good grasp of English. Understandably, she wishes to remain anonymous.
Unfortunately, her article contained very little about learning in Gaza and a lot about the barriers to accessing education for the local young people. She describes a deplorable situation which is an intolerable way for young people to grow up. I hope those in power in the Middle East will read this account and hang their heads in shame until they rectify this situation…
Education in Gaza and the West Bank
The Gaza War, also known as Operation Cast Lead, lasted just three weeks – from December 27, 2008 until January 18, 2009. During that time, Israel launched an aggressive assault on Gaza from both the air and the ground.
When the dust settled, over,383 Palestinians were dead – nearly 1 in 4 of them children – and a large portion of Gaza was destroyed. It is estimated that schools were destroyed and more than 280 schools were damaged, as well as more than 20,000 houses. Perhaps most troubling, a Queen’s University, Belfast study found that even before Cast Lead, 98% of children in Gaza had experienced war trauma. The consequences of the war were made even more dire by the fact that Israel has been enforcing a crippling blockade on Gaza’s 1.5 million residents since June 2007.
The blockade means that many essential materials cannot get into Gaza, including cement, lumber, and glass: materials essential for reconstruction; paper, pencils, notebooks and textbooks: materials essential for learning; and basic medical supplies that are essential for maintaining good health.
Gaza’s underground aquifer is badly damaged and without materials to repair it, 90 to 95% of its water is unsafe to drink according to World Health Organization guidelines. The impact on the educational sector has been especially significant. Restrictions on fuel have paralyzed 50% of the sector, as half the students at all levels of education are unable to reach their schools and universities. Since 78% of the population lives below the poverty line, many families are forced to alternate which children they send to school so they can share the same uniform. And according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), thousands of students faced “darkness and cold” during the winter in poorly lit and sparsely furnished schoolrooms.
Students who wish to pursue a higher education are rarely allowed to leave Gaza, and even when they are, they must be accompanied by an official diplomatic delegate from the host country, which is extremely difficult to arrange. As such, hundreds of students have missed opportunities to study outside of Gaza’s borders.
The Israeli occupation of the West Bank has been placing obstacles in the way of students seeking a decent education for over 42 years. Israel controls hundreds of military checkpoints throughout the territory that impede students’ ability to partake in daily activities such as walking to school. What should be a short commute can literally last for hours and students often miss class. While waiting for approval to pass through a checkpoint, students and professors have been intimidated, assaulted and arbitrarily arrested by Israeli soldiers.
Israel also controls the West Bank’s borders and can decide which students and teachers can access its universities. Since the beginning of 2006, many thousands of Palestinians with foreign passports, and foreigners, have been denied entry to visit, work or study in the West Bank. 22-year-old Berlanty Azzam, who was only a couple of months away from finishing her degree in business management at the Vatican-sponsored Bethlehem University, stopped on Oct. 28 at a West Bank checkpoint, on her way to a job interview. According to her attorney, Yadin Elam, she was blindfolded, handcuffed, and removed to Gaza by force – without any kind of hearing or access to a lawyer before she was deported. “I am very sad today, the Israelis punished me because I am from Gaza, all what I wanted is to have my university degree,” she said in a phone interview with reporters.