Palestinian children learn about musical instruments in Gaza’s first music school on 7th November 2016 [Mohammed Asad/Middle East Monitor]
By Ramona Wadi, Middle East Monitor, 17 November 2016.
For Palestinians whose concept of education remains an integral part of both intellectual development and anti-colonial struggle, the news that 15 new schools are set to open in Gaza next year is most welcome. According to Ma’an news agency, Gaza’s deputy education minister Ziab Thabet has announced that the schools will open despite issues such as a shortage of building materials and the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to employ teachers.
Nevertheless, the news juxtaposes education and implosion as experienced by Palestinians in Gaza. While the illegal blockade enforced by Israel upon the enclave has been a perpetual source of oppression, its Operation Protective Edge in 2014 intensified the existing incarceration by the deliberate targeting of schools and universities, thus disrupting academic progress under the perpetual pretext of “security” concerns.
We should recall UNESCO’s January 2015 report, in which the absence of protection for educational institutions during the military offensive was noted. It also revealed that “student deaths” in Gaza amounted to 24.7 per cent of the total recorded civilian deaths. “Deaths”, of course, doesn’t convey the full picture; these students were killed by Israel.
Another observation was Israel’s targeting of students specialising in education and business, two areas which are necessary in order to build a sustainable society. Indeed, UNESCO’s report provided the missing link between the generalised concept of destruction — which formed a major part of reporting while the atrocities were being perpetrated — and the deliberate intention to destroy the only avenue that can, in the long term, enable Palestinians to construct and maintain a semblance of independence and normality.
At the start of the current academic year, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the occupied Palestinian territories (UNOCHA) released a brief statistical report which exposed the deliberate consequences shaped by Israel in 2014 and exacerbated by the PA which, for three consecutive years, has refused to allocate an operational budget for education in Gaza. “At least 20 new schools need to be built in Gaza each year to keep pace with population growth,” said the UN, “but only 20 new schools have been built over the past eight years (all in 2013).” The combined impediments with regard to education, including power shortages and lack of income to satisfy basic needs, have led to a decline in students’ academic performance. “Student performance in Gaza is falling behind that of the West Bank,” says UNOCHA.
It is evident that both Israel and the PA have targeted Palestinian competence in a manner which may prove to be irrevocable, when considering the methodical and premeditated restrictions imposed upon Palestinians in Gaza. The decline in academic standards, however, should not be interpreted as an acquired Palestinian characteristic but the reflection of a scheme targeting several aspects of life and resistance in the enclave. Individually, violating the right to education has stalled ambitions and personal development. From the collective aspect, the destruction of Gaza’s education system is a direct targeting of the people’s resistance through education, as well as a practical obstacle for Hamas, given that the movement has always insisted upon education as a priority, as well as a prelude to, and necessary component of, anti-colonial resistance.