Robbed of an education, Gaza's children learn how to survive

Robbed of an education, Gaza's children learn how to survive
4 min read
12 February, 2024

Education is a vital lifeline for Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, and in exile to achieve emancipation from occupation, preserve their identity, and remain steadfast in the face of adversity. 

However, as Israeli bombs rain down on Gaza, Palestinian children have been forced to abandon dreams of becoming doctors, lawyers, or engineers to find safety wherever they can. 

According to Education Cluster, an initiative co-led by UNICEF and Save The Children International, more than 625,000 students and 22,564 teachers in Gaza have been affected by attacks on educational facilities and school closures. 

"Students in Gaza used to dream big. Now they learn how to build tents and bake bread. They are living in a nightmare"

89% of school buildings in Gaza are being used as shelters for IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons). They are at four times their capacity and many of them sustained damage from Israeli bombing. Even if the war ends, schools will need to be rebuilt and many will continue to function as refugee camps. 

Hanin Abdu, a biology teacher in Gaza and displaced mother-of-three told The New Arab that "foreign aid may be able to renovate and rebuild classrooms, but what about the thousands of students and teachers killed by Israel? Who will compensate us for our lost generation?"

For Hanin, education is essential for Palestinians to remain on their land. Israel has made deliberate, systematic efforts to damage Palestinian education. "My daughter asked me about her school bag and homework. How do I tell her everything has been burned," Hanin said, visibly distressed.

Gaza's children have had their dreams snatched [Getty Images]
Gaza's children have had their dreams snatched [Getty Images]

It will likely take months for children in Gaza to resume their studies after the war is over. The suspension of education, worsened by COVID-19 and past conflicts, will have a lasting impact on their future, creating a legacy of trauma. 

Even the sanctity of the school has been destroyed. Schools have been repurposed as shelters, particularly those belonging to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), which have been subjected to incessant bombing by Israeli warplanes. As stated by UNICEF, Gaza is the most dangerous place in the world to be a child

150 UNRWA schools in Gaza are now refugee shelters, with 130 locally administered schools also providing shelter.

"The dismantling of the education system serves to destroy the symbolic significance of UNRWA schools, which have stood as a testament to Israeli army crimes for 75 years," Arwa Safi, a Palestinian-American human rights lawyer told The New Arab. "These schools symbolise hope for Palestinian refugees, serving as a reminder of their right to return to their homes."

Across these schools, displaced Palestinians now use classroom chairs and stools to cook with in the absence of gas. 

80% of the total population of the besieged Gaza Strip has been displaced, and unable to work or study. They are facing acute hunger, thirst and cold, with limited access to electricity and the internet. 

"Students in Gaza used to dream big. Now they learn how to build tents and bake bread. They are living in a nightmare," Awra said. 

Gaza's living nightmare

Sara Mahmoud, a psychologist and mentoring expert with Mercy Corps in Gaza, told The New Arab that the image of schools triggers trauma for Gaza's children. Schools now symbolise refugeehood and a substitute for housing instead of a beacon of learning. 

"Sensory overload caused by turbulent emotions takes a heavy mental toll on children living in this environment. They lack the necessities needed for habitation which prompts severe consequences for their health. These troubling mental images remain printed in our minds, leaving a significant impact on our psyche," Sara explained.

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Students are forgetting the time they spent in class, studying and playing with their friends. All they know now is the pain of displacement and the loss of their families and their futures. According to Sara Mahmoud, returning to school will prove difficult, potentially triggering episodes of trauma and distress.

According to the Palestinian Ministry of Education, 4,327 students have been killed and 7,819 others have been injured. 231 teachers and school staff have been killed and 756 injured due to Israel's ongoing assault.

Meanwhile, 281 state-run schools and 65 UNRWA-run schools in the Gaza Strip have been completely or partially destroyed.

Rodayna Raydan is a Lebanese British journalism graduate from Kingston University in London covering Lebanon

Follow her on Twitter: @Rodayna_462