Imagine you are a Palestinian academic or a student
Nazmi Al-Masri on August 12, 2014
Over the one-year period from July 2013 to July 2014, I was supposed to participate in six international academic conferences and meetings as a partner in four international projects: three EU-funded projects (two from Erasmus-Mundus, one Tempus) and one British Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded project. Because of the siege and the current war, I could not participate in any of these academic gatherings, which were held in the UK, France, Spain, Germany, Jordan, and Cyprus. Many other colleagues have similar problems.
The Islamic University of Gaza (IUG) is currently a partner in four Erasmus Mundus exchange projects and about 50 students and staff members have won full scholarships to join about 30 universities in 14 European countries including the UK, Italy, France, Spain, Germany, Portugal, Greece, Sweden, Finland, Poland, Cyprus, Belgium, Austria and Czech Republic. All these grant holders were supposed to get visas in July and join their orientation and study programs in August or September, but it seems this is not going to happen.
On Saturday 2nd August 2014, the Islamic university of Gaza (IUG) was deliberately attacked as described by the Israeli “Defense” Minister Moshe Yaalon in a press conference held on the same day. The arts and education faculties, the university personnel and finance departments and other departments were reduced to rubble in a matter of minutes. This is not the first time Israel has destroyed higher education facilities in Gaza: in December 2008, two other buildings hosting the engineering and science faculties were leveled to the ground.
Imagine your university is bombed twice by the most advanced F-16 war planes on the planet, made and donated to Israel by the USA.
Imagine your office, computer, documents, books and files are completely destroyed or burned as a result of a heavy bomb deliberately hitting a six floor building in the middle of the university campus.
Imagine you can only travel for a maximum of 35 miles from south to north or 6 miles maximum from east to west for almost 8 years.
Imagine your home is completely destroyed and you lost EVERYTHING: your savings, happy memories, furniture, clothes, computer, books, etc.
Imagine, imagine and imagine more and more ……
These introductory scenarios are not science fiction at all – they are real and happening now in the bleeding and besieged but defiant Gaza.
All academic readers are kindly invited to use their imagination and reflect deeply on these nine real situations, which can also be used as real problem-solving and cognitive development activities.
Situations of domestic destruction:
• Your home is one of more than 10,800 homes bombed and destroyed or severely damaged (so far in this current assault) by Israeli F-16 warplanes. Your study room, laptop, books, documents, files, and personal belongings are all completely destroyed in seconds.
• You are a member of thousands of Palestinian families deliberately made to suffer the murder of one or more of its members as a result of Israel bombing your home with such warplanes. Even worse, you are one of more than 70 families who have lost three or more member, i.e. eliminated.
• You are one of about 10,000 Palestinian students who have completed all their courses required to graduate as an engineer, nurse, teacher, economist, IT specialist, etc., but you are not allowed to take your certificate for months or even more than a year until you pay the remaining tuition fees for the courses taken. (To assist needy students, Palestinian universities in Gaza allow students to register for courses without full payment of fees but their certificates are withheld until all fees are paid).
The inability of students to pay their fees is due to the increasingly deteriorating economic situation in Gaza as a direct result of the siege and the three destructive Israeli attacks on Gaza in the past six years. Many Palestinian parents cannot pay the remaining tuition fees for their sons and daughters because of the high rate of unemployed Palestinians, currently c. 40%. If students cannot obtain their certificates, they cannot apply for a job.
• You are a university professor who has conducted a study and prepared a paper to present in an international conference. Eager, you have prepared everything needed to exchange ideas and experiences with other professors from other countries, but you are prevented from traveling because of the illegal siege and the attacks. Imagine you are one of these academics!
• You are a student who has worked hard under extremely difficult economic, academic and social circumstances to graduate from a local university. Despite the odds, you are dedicated to supporting your family and building your future. You obtain a bachelor’s degree, get accepted to a European university and win a full scholarship, despite the strong local and international competition for funding, to get a master’s or doctoral degree.
So far so good, but the agonizing journey begins with the draconian travel restrictions. First, you are lucky if you even get a visa in the space of a month after you have submitted all the required documents to one of the EU consulates located either in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. Practically all Gazans are not allowed to exit Gaza to get to the relevant consulate. But let’s imagine you do manage to get a visa and start finding ways to leave Gaza.
According to Gisha, an Israeli-Based human rights organization, “more than 1,000 Gazan students apply to universities around the world each year but there is no official body or channel to coordinate their requests or exits.”
The besieged Gaza strip has no airport (Israel destroyed the only 3-year old airport in Gaza in 2001), no seaport and no control of its borders with Israel and Egypt. Palestinians in Gaza have to go through Cairo or cross Israel into Jordan to travel to any other country. To simplify this reality, imagine your country had no airport or seaport and you could only travel to other countries by crossing through two neighboring countries that border you.
Over the last 8 years, Israel has bombed Gaza’s only power plant not once, but twice: on 28 June 2006 and 23rd July, 2014 respectively. What effect does this immoral bombardment have on academic life?
• Imagine that you are an English language professor who has prepared a teaching video about British or American culture. You have spent a lot of time selecting your material and preparing tasks and exercises to be shown on an LCD projector. After just two minutes of the show, the power suddenly goes off without any prior notice and you do not know how long the outage will last for. Thirty minutes later, the power is back on for five minutes and then off for another 10 minutes, and so on. Imagine and reflect what this is like!
• Imagine that you are a student in your final year of university. You have a final exam or important assignment to submit tomorrow and you need to use light and internet to study, but since 2008, the power has been off for least 12 hours per day, as Israel has prevented the import of sufficient fuel for the power plant.
It has taken me five days to finish and email this article because Palestinians in Gaza are denied electricity. During the past 2 weeks, we have internet access for around 1-2 hours per day for an unknown period of time.
• Imagine that you are an academic or a student, and you have a lecture on the 6th floor of the university. You take the lift with 13 colleagues. While the lift is ascending, the power suddenly goes off and you get stuck and suffocated in complete darkness for an unknown period of time. Female students in the lift keep screaming and crying, including a pregnant lady. How do you feel?
To sum up, subjecting about 2 million Gazan Palestinians (out of about 11 million Palestinians) to live under Israeli military occupation for almost seven decades, besieging and imprisoning them for more than seven years, and launching 3 destructive attacks in less than seven years, has numerous academic, economic, mental and psychological consequences for academics, students and parents. Discussing these alarming consequences in full is beyond the scope of this article. However, below are just a few effects which one cannot measure effectively but which hamper the lives of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the Gaza strip.
Firstly, many academics, students and parents have developed chronic anxiety and hyper-tension. Understandably, they suffer from lack of motivation, are angry and frustrated.
The bitterness felt toward the international community, which takes no significant steps toward relieving the oppression, repression and injustice can result in severe negative attitudes towards others. There is a serious lack of confidence in the international community, especially the governments of the so-called free and democratic world who have been watching constant violations of all sorts of human rights for years without taking effective actions to stop these violations.
The Palestinian academics and students have many legitimate questions. These include the following:
• How long do we have to suffer to lead a normal academic life like other academics and students in other countries?
• How long do we have to suffer to have a stable academic calendar, where we know we can plan to attend conferences and keep all academic dates?
• How long do we have to suffer to have freedom of movement via our own airport, seaport or border crossings?
• How long do we have to suffer to have power for 24 hours a day?
• How long do we have to suffer the destruction of our homes, universities, schools, airport, hospitals, water desalination plants, power plant and other infrastructure?
Nobody knows when these unbearable restrictions and this suffering will become history apart from Israel, its strongest ally, the USA, and the EU governments who could force Israel to end its inhumane and illegitimate military measures – which plant seeds of hatred, violence and extremism – by lifting the siege, respecting human rights and above all ending the occupation. These steps would plant the seeds of tolerance, co-existence and peace.
I conclude this article with a quotation cited in the aptly titled humanitarian campaign, “Education in Gaza, a seed for peace”, intended to support Gaza’s education system. The campaign is an undertaking by the UNESCO Centre of Catalonia – Unescocat:
In the long term, the profound psychological consequences and the pain deeply affecting children and young people makes it difficult for us to imagine a future with citizens educated within a culture of peace and free of violence for at least two generations.
As defenders of Human Rights in general and, specifically, the universal right to education (defined in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 28 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child), we cannot remain impassive in the present situation.
About Nazmi Al-Masri
Dr. Nazmi Al-Masri is a Professor of English at the Islamic University of Gaza