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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

‘Education is our weapon’: EAA’s students of Gaza reveal horrors of life under occupation


After days of violence in the illegally besieged Gaza, Qatar’s Education Above All Foundation gave its students in occupied Palestine a unique opportunity to voice their concerns. 

Education Above All (EAA) launched on Wednesday a virtual event attended by speakers from the besieged Gaza Strip who were given the opportunity to speak to senior officials, including the Spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Qatar Lolwah Rashid Al-Khater.

The online event titled, Students’ Voices from Gaza: “Investing in their education for a brighter future”, hosted EAA’s students in the besieged strip who spoke about the recent Israeli bombardment and detailed how the indiscriminate bombing campaign impacted their lives and disrupted their education.

The event, hosted by Mohamad Zorab, featured a various Palestinian students who had different stories but shared the same traumatic experience due to life under occupation.

Aged 17, Walaa Jaradah was the youngest among the speakers. Recounting the events, she said she remembered hearing Israeli airstrikes and missiles edge closer and closer to her home. In that moment, she was asked to grab her most valuable possession before strikes destroyed her home. For Walaa, these were her books.

“Education is my weapon, through it I will be able to help my people and support my country,” she said in response to a question about why she chose her books in particular.

Like almost all students in the Strip who struggle with a lack of resources and electricity, Walaa also faced various obstacles on the journey towards pursuing her studies. 

“These 11 days were a living hell, people weren’t able to process what was happening and concentrate on education while preparing for the final exams,” she said.

However, the 17-year-old was determined to preserve her right to education.

“Through education we can overcome all obstacles,” she added. 

Similarly, Naser Hatem Al Attar, a medicine student who lost his house and four of his family, said “a university degree is a weapon. When the attacks started, I just wanted to take my laptop with me – to continue my education.”

The Qatar-based foundation, which has a team of networks on the ground in Palestine, has continued to engage with school children despite the bombardment.

“We are witnessing and establishing facts in real time, giving children and youth the chance to share their voice through various platforms through live stream, sharing and posting their words and stories and ensuring that we support them to amplify their voices to the world,” EAA said in an earlier statement to Doha News.

Since 2009, EAA’s Al Fakhoora programme has worked with partners in Gaza to protect this right with hopes to assist upcoming generations. 

“We have long standing strategic partnerships with UN agencies such as UNDP, UNICEF and UNRWA. Over the last 10 years we have gained a strong network across the community which includes our scholarship beneficiaries who are either students or alumni, along with various community organisations,” EAA said.

Sham Ayman is another Palestinian student who survived four wars in Gaza and is one of many who was forced to experience the death of a classmate during the attacks.

“Education frightens our enemy, they try to create obstacles to prevent us from our right to education,” she assured, noting “there are no dreams in this city as long as Israel is occupying our country,” she added. 

A disrupted academic year

EAA figures show some 591,685 (51% girls) school age children were affected in Gaza as of May 16th, including 286,743 who attend UNRWA schools.

The war also impacted some 21,300 education staff.

“We all know that education worldwide has been heavily affected by the Covid-19 crisis; in the Gaza Strip schools have been closed since 8 April and education has been provided through distance learning approaches,” EAA said.

However, while families are overwhelmed by death, destruction and displacement, added difficulties include a lack of access to electricity and the internet, posing a serious obstacle to distance learning as an option.

“Now, according to the UNICEF Education Cluster, it is assumed that education will not be provided at all, neither face to face nor through distance learning,” EAA added.

Read also: Sheikha Moza’s EAA kicks into action as Israeli raids bring Palestinian education to grinding halt

Speaking to the students at the virtual event, Assistant Foreign Minister and Spokesperson of MOFA, Al khater, who has herself been vocal against Israeli war crimes, praised the young Palestinians for their bravery in the midst of war and continued Israeli attacks. 

“All of you are great examples, you are the real legends,” the Qatari official said. 

While the latest flare-up is the worst to strike Gaza in years, it is not the first, and Palestinian school children have always faced obstacles in their right to education.

After the 51-day war in 2014, with the support of Qatar Fund for Development and in partnership with UNDP, UNICEF and UNRWA, Al Fakhoora designed and implemented several multi-faceted programmes as a response to the immense damage to the heavily targeted education sector, a spokesperson told Doha News. 

“These projects involved reconstructing and rehabilitating 50 educational institutions (including government and private schools, kindergartens, training centres and universities), as well as refurbishing 43 UNRWA schools that were used as shelters during the war,” EAA said.

“Al Fakhoora saw the aftermath of the 2014 war as an opportunity to “build back better,” and took this chance to incorporate ‘Child-Friendly’ school principles in many of the schools, as well as provisions for future incursions, such as the one we are facing now.”

“No one can take education from us, education is the foundation of the future,” said Nada Al Ashi, another student under the umbrella of EAA flagship scholarship programme in Gaza, which provides opportunities for over 900 youth to access higher education, equipping and enabling them with skills to work from the inside to contribute to the continual post-conflict reconstruction cycle.

A message to the world

“Here in the Gaza Strip we are fighting to pursue our dream, education is our weapon and top priority,” the students said, urging people around the world.

“Moral and financial support is needed, international support will definitely encourage us and empower us,” one student said.

“My message is to never lose hope. No life with hopelessness and no hopelessness with life,” another student said.

Addressing the students, Al Khater said she hopes “I hope this will be the last war for everyone here. All of you are great examples of bravery and strength in these challenging times.”

“We are all with you, our hearts with you, and people’s consciousness is finally with you,” she added.

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