I have just turned 22.
My birthday should have a joyful occasion, spent with family and friends. Instead, it was agonizing.
The sounds of celebration were replaced with those of bombardment.
I cannot get over the fact that the Islamic University of Gaza (IUG) has been destroyed by Israel’s warplanes.
When I first heard that news, I dismissed it as impossible. Then my disbelief was transformed into tears.
Scrolling through social media posts, I discovered that far from being a nightmarish illusion, the destruction was now a harsh reality.
Established in 1978, the IUG has partnerships with more than 140 higher educational institutions worldwide.
Now its network of research centers has been reduced to rubble.
Cherished moments have been turned into ashes.
Dreams have been shattered.
The memories came flooding back to me as I looked at posts documenting the university’s destruction.
My time studying at IUG was a happy one. I enjoyed attending lectures, studying in the central library.
The campus was calm and I loved being there with friends. I took part in many events.
A few months ago, I graduated from the IUG with distinction.
I had envisioned a splendid future.
Everything has changed irrevocably.
I had hopes of continuing to study – as a postgraduate – in the IUG. My hopes are now ruined.
Six wars old
I may be 22. But in Gaza terms, I am six wars old.
It is a luxury to celebrate a birthday here. Our celebrations are overshadowed by the relentless hardship of life under occupation.
Before this latest war, I had plans for my birthday and a list of things I wanted to achieve over the coming 12 months.
Israel constantly shatters our aspirations, even casting doubt on whether we will be alive next year.
The stifling of aspirations of talented students and dreamers is starkly different to the opportunities afforded to young people around the world.
Let me tell you about Nour, a first-year IUG student.
Once brimming with enthusiasm, she regarded her educational journey not only as a means to acquire knowledge but to contribute toward building a brighter future for her community.
In Nour’s words, the campus was not just a physical space, it was a place of dreams. Hers and those of countless others.
Israel’s war on Gaza has obliterated more than buildings. It has razed beautiful spaces where memories were crafted with family and friends.
We have been left with an enormous void.
The targeted assaults on places of learning in Gaza are an attack on the right to education.
Classrooms, lecture halls and libraries were once vibrant places, full of people eager to learn. Israel is erasing the places where minds were nurtured and futures were shaped.
In this grim reality, the people of Gaza and every corner of Palestine find themselves fighting for more than survival. They are seeking the restoration of their right to education.
This right is fundamental. It is a pillar of hope amid despair.
The stories of Gaza’s victims should not merely evoke sympathy. They must fuel global advocacy for peace.
The world must demand an end to the Israeli occupation.
The world must demand a future in which Palestinians can live unshackled from fear.
It is urgent that the world does not just acknowledge the tragedy now unfolding in Gaza. The world must mobilize so that dreams which have been shattered can be rebuilt.
Eman Alhaj Ali is a journalist and translator based in Gaza.