Israel’s targeting of Gaza schools ‘eroding foundation for societal growth’

More than 76 percent of schools in Gaza require ‘full reconstruction or major rehabilitation’ to be functional.

More than 76 percent of schools in Gaza require “full reconstruction or major rehabilitation” to be functional following Israel’s months-long onslaught, according to a new assessment shared by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Based on satellite imagery collected in May, the new Education Cluster assessment highlights a “continuous spike in the direct targeting of schools” in the besieged and bombarded territory.

Of the school buildings used as shelters for displaced people in Gaza, 69 percent have been directly hit or damaged in attacks and more than 96 percent of the schools directly attacked – 296 in total – were located in areas subject to Israeli military evacuation orders, it added.

Israeli attacks on educational institutes in Gaza have not only “disrupted immediate educational activities but also eroded the foundation for sustained societal growth and development”, Talal al-Hathal, director of the Al Fakhoura Programme at Education Above All Foundation in Qatar, told Al Jazeera.

“Targeting critical educational infrastructure dismantles hope for many Palestinians in Gaza where education is an important and critical tool for survivability and equality, contributing to better outcomes for Palestinians in their future life,” al-Hathal said.

“Education serves as a critical tool for survival, empowerment, and long-term development in the region, offering a pathway to a more stable and prosperous future.

“By targeting educational facilities, the aggressors strip away the prospects of enlightenment, opportunity and progress, deepening the cycle of despair and deprivation in the region.”

In April, the UN children’s agency UNICEF said eight out of 10 schools in Gaza are damaged or destroyed with an estimated 620,000 students out of school. Nearly half of Gaza’s population is under 18, and its education system was already struggling after several wars and escalations since 2008.

“To be able to learn, you need to be in a safe space. Most kids in Gaza at the moment have brains that are functioning under trauma,” said child psychiatrist Audrey McMahon of Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF). Younger children could develop lifelong cognitive disabilities from malnutrition, while teenagers are likely to feel anger at the injustice they have suffered, she said.

“The challenges they will have to face are immense and will take a long time to heal.”

israaa university
A video screengrab shows the destruction of Israa University in Gaza City in what appears to be a controlled demolition [File: Al Jazeera]

Al-Hathal called the targeting of educational institutes across Gaza “shameful as we consider the global education crisis where we see that more than 250 million children are out of school globally”.

In addition to the destruction of the buildings, students and teachers have also been killed in the attacks that have ravaged educational infrastructure and caused mental trauma to thousands of beleaguered students.

“The war will undoubtedly leave educational institutions, access to critical infrastructure, and the regularity of the education process in Gaza in a worse state than before the war,” al-Hathal said.

“With almost 400 school buildings in Gaza sustaining damage, the war has exacerbated the plight of the educational sector. This damage is compounded by the internal displacement with these schools now serving as shelters and hosting nearly four times their intended capacity, further burdening the already strained educational infrastructure.”

It is not just schools that have borne the brunt of the Israeli onslaught. Centres of higher education, including universities, have been completely paralysed.

Israa University, located in the south of Gaza city, was demolished by Israeli forces, as evident from a video released by Israeli media in January. The university authorities said Israel occupied and used the campus as a military base and detention facility for months before destroying it.

“Community partnerships, mental health support, technology assistance and education advocacy are a number of initiatives that can help students and teachers in Gaza overcome the current challenges,” al-Hathal said.

Source: Al Jazeera