A UNESCO report issued in late January looked specifically at Gaza’s educational system. Already rendered precarious with schools operating double shifts due to a shortage of premises, it was damaged further by Israel during Operation Protective Edge last summer.
Israel’s direct attacks on educational premises by drones, anti-tank missiles and air strikes, has resulted in severe damage and destruction of school buildings; staff, students and parents have also been killed and injured whilst on the premises. According to UNESCO, there was no protection available for the educational establishment throughout the Israeli offensive, resulting in 421 students being killed and 1,128 injured. “Student deaths during the conflict,” UNESCO reports, “constitute more than a quarter – or 27.4 per cent – of total civilian deaths incurred in Palestine.”
The targeting of higher educational institutions (HEIs) by Israel resulted in 14 damaged premises; disruptions to the academic year; damage to infrastructure; student deaths; and an estimated bill of $16,088,597 to repair and replace buildings, facilities and equipment. The destruction has hindered access and mobility for students and staff, no doubt deliberately as a tactic to increase the disruption of education for Palestinian students in Gaza.
Of particular note is the targeting of students according to subjects studied. The data published in UNESCO’s report shows that there was a higher number of injured students who specialised in business and education; this detail portrays Israel’s intent to subjugate the Palestinian population through its colonial violence.
Responsibility and accountability for this attack on Palestinian education, however, do not feature in UNESCO’s report. Key concerns were identified, including psychosocial support, quality of education, services and materials, as well as the need for an emergency response, and were all considered to be of paramount importance. However, insisting upon the need to collaborate with Gaza’s Ministry of Education and Higher Education within the parameters of international law clearly portrays a distorted redress sequence that removes the aggressor and its accomplices from the whole scenario.
The report actually urges educational institutions at both local and international level to “rigorously monitor” attacks on higher education premises “and using that information to devise effective co-ordinated responses.” The report is quite open that it is, “Encouraging HEIs to develop best practices in protecting education from attack.”
If quoting international law with regard to Gaza suits UNESCO’s purposes, the organisation would do well to adjust its memory frameworks and acknowledge the existence of international support for Israel’s colonial massacre through the platform offered by the UN. Deliberate attacks on education institutions by Israel represent an integral part of its colonisation process.
As can be seen historically, education and politics are intertwined; examples of this as ideology can be gleaned from Fidel Castro and Antonio Gramsci. The struggles faced by both men, particularly during their imprisonment, are visible perpetually in the Palestinian struggle for education and liberation. Education, therefore, remains central to Palestine’s anti-colonial struggle and requires the necessary space to cultivate knowledge away from external institutional impositions.
It is obvious, therefore, that Israel is seeking to destroy the education foundations that would enable Palestinians to break the cycle of oppression and dispossession in which they are trapped by the Israeli occupation. The state, however, is fully cognisant of the fact that its efforts, despite detailed reports that imply futile international condemnation, will be endorsed fully by the UN. The organisation itself is a contradiction: the colonialism that it proclaims to be obsolete is, in fact, the basis of the structure that supports its very existence. UNESCO’s report has missed a great opportunity not only to report on the dire state of Palestinian education in the Gaza Strip, but also to identify those responsible and hold them to account. Only when that happens will any form of redress benefit the Palestinian people.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.