More than six months after Israel’s winter invasion of Gaza, a number of partially or largely damaged universities await reconstruction. Raw materials essential for rebuilding are unavailable in Gaza primarily because of Israel’s 26-month blockade of the tiny territory. Coupled with the wide-scale destruction from Israel’s 22-day onslaught, the siege has crippled most aspects of public life for Gaza’s 1.5 million residents.
In late December 2008, Israeli operated, American-made F-16 jets bombed Gaza’s Islamic University. The university’s laboratories and several buildings were destroyed.
Dr. Kamalin Shaath, President of the Islamic University, explained that “The buildings are still demolished, all we did was remove the rubble. We are looking forward to beginning the reconstruction.”
Dr. Shaath added that “The students of the engineering faculty lost their graduation projects. Other sectors in Gaza were impacted due to the destruction of the laboratories. For example, the agriculture sector used to benefit from the university’s labs for testing soil.”
Ahmad al-Asmar, a student at the Islamic University of Gaza, explained that he has been “greatly impacted and saddened due to the destruction of our laboratories. However, we are determined to continue our academic life.”
To cope with the needs of students and faculty the university has created makeshift labs. The university also sent out messages of protest to relevant international organizations like the International Federation of Universities. However, Dr. Shaath stated that “All we received from various bodies were merely message of verbal solidarity. I can understand there must he some kind of political pressure. But I can assure you that we are determined to keep up our academic life, despite such a great loss.”
There is a similar scene at nearby al-Aqsa University, which was also damaged during Israel’s invasion. The entire community education facility that was under-construction was completely destroyed. Also destroyed was al-Azhar University of Gaza’s agricultural college and its Spanish institute. According to university officials at the al-Aqsa University, financial losses due to the invasion are estimated at more than $1.5 billion dollars.
Ayman al-Derawi, head of al-Aqsa University’s Engineering Department, stated that “There are many essential goods and commodities that are lacking here because of the Israeli siege. We have had to place plastic covers over broken windows in order to cope with the situation.”
International organizations have been unable or unwilling to assist the university because of Israel’s siege and pressure by the United States. Dr. al-Derawi explained that an organization based in the United Arab Emirates “has offered a small portion of funding for an immediate reconstruction” of several buildings.
Ahmad Abu Aisha, an undergraduate math student at al-Aqsa University expressed his outrage at the situation, stating that “The Israeli army deliberately attempted to damage our academic life. More than one university was either partially or largely damaged.”
In addition to the universities, an American school in northern Gaza was totally destroyed by Israel. Moreover, several schools run by the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) across Gaza were damaged by Israeli shelling. As the new academic year approaches, the third under Israel’s siege, Gaza’s universities and schools remain in desperate need of reconstruction.
Editor’s note: due to an editing error, this article originally stated that it was al-Aqsa University’s school of agriculture that was damaged during the Gaza invasion and that the financial losses to al-Aqsa University as a result were estimated at $6.5 billion instead of the correct $1.5 billion.
Rami Almeghari is a journalist and university lecturer based in the Gaza Strip.