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Palestinian education – a cry for awareness

The present political and military climate in Palestine has negative ramifications in many fields, including health, security and education. Students are deprived of materials and leaving the country is not a matter of choice. Faced with this challenge many humanitarian organizations have chosen to unite efforts in raising awareness in regard to the difficulties that students in Palestine have to face.

Words by Iris Barbulescu

“The biggest challenge during my academic formation was the education under ongoing violence and conflict as a result of many miserable socioeconomic and political problems in Gaza Strip”, says 23-year-old Omar Hawajri, undergraduate in the Gaza Strip.

He is one of the many young people, dealing with the drawbacks of a faulty system.  The current conditions in Palestine make it nearly impossible for students to follow a higher education of their own choice outside the country.  Each year over 1000 students from the two universities in the Gaza Strip apply for studying abroad but no official body handles their requests or their permission to exit.  Therefore they cannot leave even if they are accepted by the universities or have received scholarships.

“There is a remarkable lack of internships and development programs for students. It is a result of an acute shortage of educational materials, supplies and other necessary equipments for the process of education”, Omar says.

The students in Gaza Strip are forced to cope with frozen semesters, canceled exams and lack of materials. Since the traffic of goods at the borders is controlled by the military, what gets in and out of the area depends on them. Most materials are not accepted, including consumables and books. Last year six university buildings were destroyed and sixteen were damaged. Students and teachers were killed and wounded.

”The Israeli occupation is blocking Gaza with the current closure of borders and is still preventing humanitarian aid, construction materials and others necessary supplies to Gaza”, Omar says.

According to him there is more to this than the obvious bodily harm or physical restriction. There is a feeling of isolation and a general fear of being abandoned by the rest of the world.

“The first problem was the unemployment and its catastrophic effects on my community. That kills the dreams and creativity of many graduates. I have faced many problems in searching for a better and suitable job to help me to cover my personal basic needs.  And I can’t complete my postgraduate in any advanced university here or even outside of Gaza Strip in order to achieve my vision in a master degree”, Omar says.

No materials or teachers
When the borders were sealed, many students found themselves trapped within the Gaza Strip. Students were not permitted to study in the West Bank and more than 1200 Gazan students undergoing educational programs in the West Bank at the time were expelled. As a result, most of them chose to follow an education, which did not coincide with their desires, just because they could not leave the area. Students that were visiting the Strip during the seal-off were unable to go back to their universities and chose to continue their studies in Gaza instead of waiting for an uncertain future. The situation is even direr for students that wish to follow studies like medicine, engineering and sciences. The lack of materials and the limited number of teachers make the young students depend on studying abroad.  On top of that universities in Gaza are not able to offer doctorate level studies for their students.

All these actions have a powerful psychological effect on the youth of Palestine. The general negative pressure and the incapacity to follow one’s dreams leave a dark mark for a long time. The lack of a sustainable educational system has consequences on multiple levels. It damages the occupational infrastructure.

“This is definitely making our people mostly consumers rather than producers”, Omar says.

Many humanitarian organizations, among them being the Danish Mellemfolkeligt Samvirke and Action Aid Denmark concern themselves with the problem of higher education in Palestine and have started a wide sustained campaign. “Right to education-Palestine” is a campaign meant to start this spring. It focuses on raising awareness among Danish students and in the long run establishing Danish-Palestinian collaboration among universities. This includes educational research, student and scholar exchange.  The organization plans to act on two levels. The first consisting of encouraging informal contact between the Danish and Palestinian students. The second level has a very formal side to it, targeting the Danish government in order to facilitate an official recognition of the Palestinians’ right to self-determination, sponsorship and exchange programs.

All about awareness
The campaign wishes to present the Danish student with the living conditions of the Palestinian youth. It seeks to make the Danish students understand that the people that go through these difficulties are students just themselves. The campaign will include lectures, happenings, public debates and film projections. Facebook and other social sites will be used as an important tool and common environment, where videos of the Palestinian students can be seen. However, given the harsh circumstances in which the Palestinians dwell, a short campaign is far from enough to make a visible difference. It is not the students that have the authority, but the higher-ups and they are not easily influenced. Such changes require persuasion, patience and a healthy dose of luck. However, if we are to consider the campaign to be the beginning of something big, then it might be just the right step. But will a campaign that aims at raising awareness be able to impose itself among military and political restrictions? Michael Hunnicke from the organization Mellemfolkeligt Samvirke thinks so.

“This conflict is about raising international pressure. A difference can be made since many political issues are about raising awareness. There are many students in countries all over Europe making this type of campaign. It will make it difficult for the politicians to keep avoiding this problem”, Michael Hunnicke says.

No miracle is done overnight. In the case of the education in Palestine, it will probably take a united effort to cause a breach in the barriers of physical and mental oppression.

“To be honest, its sounds like a dark future and an unknown fate for the Palestinians in Gaza. However, I hope I can do something for my community to help them to a better live without violence and conflict”, Omar Hawajri says.