At the Heart of a Siege: Education in the Crosshairs

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The blockade on Gaza Strip has been called the “longest in history”, and it has been almost seven years that the Palestinians have been suffocating by the Israeli embargo. While the Occupation is cunningly imposing collective punishment on the Palestinian people, the resistance keeps on the track more powerfully than ever. These people have shown they are not doomed to oblivion, never, ever. The series “At the Heart of a Siege” deals with the issue of Gaza Siege from new angles most of which have not been dealt with so far. The series includes six episodes each probing into a singular facet of the issues related to the blockade of the Gaza Strip in depth. In three of the episodes the filmmaker provides new insights into the newfangled fronts the Israeli camp has created in its Modern Occupation. “Education in the Crosshairs” puts into perspective the different obstacles the siege has caused when it comes to educational issues in terms of financial, social, and cultural dimensions.

TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00

  • Narration: Education is considered a necessity in Palestine. The educational institutions’ enrolment average can be described as the highest in the Arab World according to the regional and international criteria. The reason behind that is the 1948 Palestinian Catastrophe and the Six-Day War in 1967. These two wars caused the expulsion of many Palestinians from their land, and losing their sources of livelihood like agriculture, commerce, and industry. Therefore, Palestinian families chose to educate their children. They are willing to sacrifice anything for the sake of that.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Farid Al-Qeeq, Professor of Architectural Engineering at Gaza: “It is known that human resources are of the most important development factors in any society these days. We know many countries that do not have natural resources but are developed countries on the industrial level and the social welfare level. The occupation also realized that an educated society is the most capable of defending its rights either on the local or international levels.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Anwar Al-Barawi, Deputy Minister of Education: “Its people’s care of education distinguishes the Gaza Strip. With the help of Allah, the rate of school dropout is the least in the whole world, that it is less than half percent of the total number of students. The total number of students is 474 thousand students of different grades studying at governmental, UNRWA or private schools.”

  • Narration: Most of the educational institutions were established with the existence of the Israeli occupation by local and national initiatives. Those initiatives developed rapidly, so that the number of higher education institutions became more than 50 institutions in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank currently. Nearly 220 thousand students are enrolled in those entities. This development led all the Israeli occupation plans that aim at spreading the policy of ignorance to failure.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Anwar Al-Barawi, Deputy Minister of Education: “I think this issue lies within a big tricky Zionist plan that employs many tools to break the soul of the Palestinian nation and the determination of the Palestinian student. Students are meant to feel humiliated and feel frustrated, so they would be busy with themselves; not busy with their country and its development and work to liberate it by any means.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Farid Al-Qeeq, Professor of Architectural Engineering at Gaza: “The policy that aims at spreading ignorance the occupier was following was always a policy based on making the society ignorant. It helps achieving the occupier’s ambition in this land easily. This made the occupation act aggressively against establishing our local university. As I mentioned previously, it would prevent the building of any permanent campus for any Palestinian university.”

  • Narration: The ways that the Israeli Occupation is using to fight against education in Palestine are not limited to the prevention of building and developing the educational institutions. The Israeli Occupation went on causing the Palestinian nation poverty since the first occupation in 1948. This made some of the Palestinian families stop their children, especially females, from pursuing their study in an early age.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Itaf Marouf, Citizen: “I used to sneak out slowly in the early morning to go to school. When my mother would wake up, my father asked about me. He wanted me to go with them sell Mulukhiyah, and mother would say that I went to school. He used to come to school and take me from the class. I remember that when I was ten, my father used to collect green mints for me to sell and take me to the market to sell vegetables with him because he had no sons.”

TIME CODE: 05:00_10:00

  • Narration: When Itaf became 15 years old, a fifteen-year old boy proposed to her. Her father agreed on that proposal as an escape from allowing her to pursue study, which required expenses he could not afford.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Itaf Marouf, Citizen: When I got married, I knew nothing about marriage life. In my wedding day, I wore a wedding dress and everybody came. Then after the celebration, I thought I would go home. I was young and did not know a thing about marriage. The next morning, I gathered the other children in my room in my husband’s house and started playing childish games. I used to hide in the closet; I still remember that till the moment. Now I am 26 years old and I have a seven-year old child called Bara’a. The second child is Muhannad, and he’s four years old. I also have a two-year old daughter and a four-month old baby boy.”

  • Narration: Although Itaf has got four children now, she really wants to pursue her study and achieve what she wished for. She also recommends fathers and mothers not to commit the mistake her parents committed.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Itaf Marouf, Citizen: "I was dreaming of becoming a kindergarten teacher and teach little kids. That’s all I dream of, and it is something humble but I could not reach it.”

  • Narration: Itaf was not the first victim of education deprivation and getting married in an early age because of the siege imposed on Gaza. There are many young men and women who did not pursue their study and went to work to help their fathers make living for the family.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Itaf Marouf, Citizen: When I was a small kid, I used to tell my father I dreamt of being a doctor, but he always laughed at that. I advise all the mothers and the fathers of the world to educate their children and not to beat them or hurt them. They should give them the chance to have a job and learn the best vocations. They shouldn’t let them get married before they are 25 years old whether they are males or females, until they know about marriage life."

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Mohammed Abu Obaid, High-School Graduate: I work in the market of the Beach Refugee Camp with my father. We sell vegetables. I graduated from high school this year and I dream of joining the university and studying Journalism. That’s all I wish, but our financial condition is really hard.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Maher Abu Obaid, Mohammed’s Father: I sell kinds of vegetables for one Shekel. Can this income allow me to send my son to university to study Engineering or Medicine or whatever he wants? Our financial condition is very bad. There are many people living the same in the Gaza Strip, especially this year. In the last year, there were job opportunities. Cement and iron were available, so workers like builders and others had the chance to work. But this year, everything just stopped.”

  • Narration: Mohammed, his father and many others did not accuse only the siege for being responsible for not continuing their education, but also accused the shortage of the aid coming from Arab countries. The aid was supposed to provide employment opportunities for graduates. Therefore, that contributed to making fathers give up the idea of having their children educated.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Mohammed Abu Obaid, High-School Graduate: Arab countries should take into consideration the bad Palestinian economic condition. Especially the unemployed college graduates. So, Arab countries have to replace the foreign workers there with those graduates.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Maher Abu Obaid, Mohammed’s Father: From religious and political viewpoints, and because of brotherhood, Arab countries should hire Arabs in their countries instead of foreigners. They should reconsider hiring Americans so that Arabs who cannot find jobs live a dignified life. Foreigners have their own countries that take care of them, but we in Gaza suffer from lack of employment and our financial condition is very hard.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Fadi Al- Tannani, Graduate: Job opportunities in Arab countries solve the problem of the new graduates. They will find jobs and have income for themselves and their families. Therefore, the economy will prosper in the country as the money coming from outside will help breaking the siege and provide jobs.”

  • Narration: Fadi al-Tannani was a graduate among tens of thousands of graduates who had no jobs. So he went to the market to work at a money exchange office.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Fadi Al- Tannani, Graduate: I graduated in 2006 and had a Bachelor degree in Accounting. After four years, they wanted to hire accountants in the General Personnel Council. I applied to that job but had no chance to work. So I had to go to the market to work so that I can afford the expenses of my children and my house and provide food and drinks, and Alhamdulillah.”

  • Narration: The deterioration of the economic conditions in the Gaza Strip because of the imposed siege for years is reflected negatively on the educational institutions, students, and university instructors.

TIME CODE: 10:00_15:00

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Farid Al-Qeeq, Professor of Architectural Engineering at Gaza: The Siege and the blockade weakened the economic condition of many social sectors. The real difficult problem that faces us now is the increase of the students who need financial aid. The unemployment rate increased. This resulted on the fact that many students belong to families of limited income who cannot afford the university tuition. Therefore, this was reflected on the university’s ability to pay its staff salaries.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Nour Abudayah: “My name is Nour Abudayah. I am twenty-two years old, and I study Journalism and Media at the Islamic University of Gaza. I do not have my certificate yet because I did not pay all the university tuition. Of course, the economic situation of the country is not helping me to pay and take it but in case I worked, I would be able to pay.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Mahmoud Hammad, Graduate of Al-Azhar University: “Yes, Abu-Hussain. Nothing happened with me at university, and I do not know what to do. I went to get my certificate from university to apply for employment, but they refused to give it to me. I have to pay lots of money as university fees to get the certificate. I am trying to make it as installment, or anything like giving me a registration certificate or a transcript to be able to apply for a job at an organization or a company. They are totally rejecting that. Every semester, from 2007 to 2010, I used to go to my father to have the term tuition. He would barely manage to get the money for the term fees. Sometimes I would pay for one semester then would not pay for the next two semesters. This was the problem. The main reason I was not able to pay for university was that did not have 700 dinars or half of that money or even a quarter of it. I did not have the money to pay for university.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Ahmad Gunaim, Islamic University Student Council: “I work in the Islamic University Male Student Council. Many students come to the council and say that they have to pay 50 or 100 dinars because their certificate is pended. The university is not allowing them to get the certificate unless they pay this amount of the remaining fees. I think that the university has the right to receive all the fees from the students because these students studied at this university, and in return, the university receives the study fees. This phenomenon is popular among Palestinian students. Most of the remaining money is a little money but prevents the young men and women from having their certificates and work to secure a better future.”

  • Narration: These Israeli occupation offensives against the educational institutions in many places are continuous. They are almost daily and this sometimes leads to casualties and to the destruction of the buildings that are still witnesses of the killing and damage.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Maisara Aukal, School Health Director: “We are in Beit Hanoun and it is a border area. It has got many schools. As you can see to my right hand, there’s Hani Na’em Agriculture School. When the Israeli Occupation bombs empty adjacent places, this destroys the classrooms’ roofs, the places where cows and chickens are kept and the school’s walls. This also causes horror and fear among students and teachers. So the school evacuates the teaching staff and the students. Thus, bombings directly affect the study time and the students’ behavior and lead to influencing their study level as a whole. Students do not attend classes in case of Israeli bombings and breaking in this area. Hani Na’em Agriculture School is called so after the name of a martyr teacher who was killed in one Israeli assault. The school itself was targeted and the teacher was killed inside.”

TIME CODE: 15:00_20:00

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Anwar Al-Barawi, Deputy Minister of Education: “In wartime and other times of peace, and whenever the Israelis like, they bomb many schools. Some of these schools remained unreconstructed. In fact, this is considered to be of negative effects on education and the Palestinian population. There are many schools in the northern, southern, and middle provinces that had the same dangerous threaten; these are schools of the Ministry of Education.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Mazin Ghabaen, Al-Shuqeiri School Principal: “Ahmed al-Shuqairi High School for males has 850 high school students. This school is by the border. And on the 31st of January, 2013, at 2:00 am, the building opposite to the school was hit by two F16 rockets. This assault caused the damage of the glass windows of the entire school. Glass fragments were scattered all over the place and the school buildings were cracked.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Anwar Al-Barawi, Deputy Minister of Education: “As everybody knows, education is a human right wherever the person is. Moreover, this is what the United Nations stated in addition to other international entities and treaties issued in human rights. However, this right in Palestine in general, and in the Gaza Strip in particular is violated in many ways. It is violated by the bombs of the Zionist enemy that does not distinguish anything. Also there’s the unjust siege imposed on the Gaza Strip from every side, specially, during the last period of time. This has completely stopped the building of schools.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Maher AL- Khuli, Educational Activists Director: “We are now in the place of the two schools: Ma’rouf al-Rusafi School and Khalil al-Wazeer School. Those two schools were removed because of the bombing of the adjacent “Palestine Stadium” by the Israeli warplanes. This happened during the aggression on Gaza in 2012. Each school had more than 600 student, this means they were 1200 student in total. These students were divided and sent to other schools depending on where they live. However, there are problems facing students, their teachers and their parents because of the students’ low level caused by the big number of students in classrooms, specially, in the second shift. Students also feel exhausted and not focused in this period of time.”

  • Narration: It is true that the siege stops constructions and limits some life fields, but those in charge of the educational institutions work actively on coming up with new ways. They aim at developing education and build human skills. For example, they added the “Futuwwa program” that includes physical training and skills which enables students to adhere difficult circumstances and trains them to be patient and steadfast.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Maher AL- Khuli, Educational Activists Director: “This program is designed for high school male students, and there is big number of students registered in this program. That is because the student sees his character and himself. The program creates a person with a strong personality, an honest character with morals, talents and good manners. Therefore, many people would like to join this training and attend the intellectual lectures. They would like to join “The Bravery Camps”.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Mohammed Syam, Pupil: ““Bravery Camps” are meant to make students aware of many things and provide them with cultural and social knowledge. They also provide students with physical fitness. This goes a long with the saying “A healthy mind in a healthy body”.”

  • Narration: The “Bravely Program” made the Israeli occupation furious. Israel has considered such programs as incitement of violence and hostility. The creators and the participants of the program believe this is a Palestinian affair, and no one can interfere in.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Anwar Al-Barawi, Deputy Minister of Education: “Joining the “Bravery program” is a right of Palestinian students, the Palestinian society and the Palestinian schools. According to the administrative reports we receive, we found that after the implementation of this program, the male schools became more disciplined and committed in behavior. Why are they standing against some exercises that make Palestinian students feel they are Palestinian while they say nothing about the theology in the Israel curricula?”

TIME CODE: 20:00_25:00

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Mohammed Syam, Pupil: “My ambition is to become a Physical Education teacher, after that I may join the military service. It is known that our nation experiences wars, and this means that we should have conscription like other countries of the United States and European Countries in addition to the Zionist occupation.”

  • Narration: Form the depth of the siege, Palestinians try to rise and deliver the message “that they are remaining” to the Israeli occupation. This occupation is tightening the noose on the Palestinians and depriving many of those with general secondary school certificates from pursuing their study abroad or even in the West Bank. In addition, university instructors are not able to travel to participate in international conferences to keep up with the development in education.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Farid Al-Qeeq, Professor of Architectural Engineering at Gaza: “You know it is very important for academic employees to contact their counterparts in other universities, attend conferences and regional workshops where they are introduced to the new sciences of their specialty. By the way, nearly 50 percent of the staff members travel to different places of the world every year to participate in these conferences. Lately, the university had to issue a new law that prevents the instructors from leaving the strip. We say this with sorrow because as you know the Rafah crossing opens maybe for every month or two. Thus, we cannot take a risk because if any instructor were able to cross the Gaza Strip borders, no one would guarantee his/her return.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Ahmad Gunaim, Islamic University Student Council: “The reasons why I did not leave the country for education were two: the first was the economic condition. We know that when young Palestinians go abroad, they would need pocket money and will have to pay for rent, university tuition and transportation. They would also need to buy clothes and all the needs of an average student. These expenses are much larger when a student leaves abroad, and that was the first reason. As for the second reason, it was the crossings and their continuous closure. When Gazan students in particular want to leave the country to study abroad, the crossing closure would obstruct their return.”

  • Narration: Whether students Graduate form a university in Gaza or elsewhere, they worry about staying home without being able to have a job in their specialty. People in charge of education experience shortage of financial support because they do not have their full salaries. This comes as a result of the deteriorating economic conditions because of the siege imposed on Gaza.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Ahmad Gunaim, Islamic University Student Council: “After graduating from university, most of young men are destined to remain home. This is a complicated problem that Palestinian students continue their study at university for 4 years, paying tuition and receiving pocket money, and then after graduation, students stay home. This is a big problem and a dilemma that youth face specially in the Gaza strip.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Nema Ali, Student at Islamic University: “We know that there are not multiple job opportunities. Usually, 100 people apply to a job and the institution only hires 10 of them. Well, what would the rest do? They will have to start their own project if they had the money or they may become workers at any company just like many Palestinians.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Mahmoud Hammad, Graduate of Al-Azhar University: “Despite that, despite the hard conditions and the crippling siege on Gaza. I advise all male or female students who study at university to continue studying. We are a nation that deserves to live indeed.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Nour Abudaya, Media And Journalism Graduate: “There is nothing impossible to happen because this is life, and Allah gives everyone his or her chance. If there is no chance in the current time, chances come in other times. Sometimes, as long as the person is alive, every day for him/her is something new.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Anwar Al-Barawi, Deputy Minister of Education: “The Palestinian nation would never collapse and would never be broken. The people of Gaza Strip in particular are ready to carry on with a full salary or half of it or a quarter of it or even with no salary. That is because they define life in different ways. Life here in the strip means (Palestine comes before everything).”


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