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Imagine you are a Palestinian academic or a student

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The Islamic University of Gaza bombed by Israeli  F16s , August 02, 2014.  (Photo: Mustafa Hassona/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

The Islamic University of Gaza bombed by Israeli F16 warplanes, August 02, 2014. (Photo: Mustafa Hassona/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

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.

Travel-related situations:

• 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.

Power/electricity-related situations:

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.

Nazmi Al-Masri

Dr. Nazmi Al-Masri is a Professor of English at the Islamic University of Gaza

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12 Responses

  1. annie on August 12, 2014, 1:37 pm

    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?

    i have to admit, this particular scenario had never occurred to me before. i imagine it must be quite common in situations where electricity is so intermittent. and to answer his question, i’d feel extremely claustrophobic.

    • tod77 on August 13, 2014, 11:20 am

      I find it invigorating, that the first of the questions is:
      “How long do we have to suffer to lead a normal academic life like other academics and students in other countries?”

      Never cease to ask ALL these questions. The madness will end. Life will prevail.

  2. jon s on August 12, 2014, 5:05 pm

    Please explain where Gaza gets its electrical power from.

    And at least mention that Hamas fire hit the power lines that conduct electricity from Israel to Gaza.
    Don’t fire rockets at Israel, and your electric power won’t be disrupted.

    • Philemon on August 12, 2014, 8:20 pm

      Here in the states, we have power outages caused by politicians who are more interested in improving their campaign finances than in using the funds to improve decrepit infrastructure so that it can withstand the odd storm, and all the out of state power companies send in teams to bail them out. In spite of people sending up firecrackers on the Fourth of July, there’s no, “Oh, those ungrateful Massachusetts/New York/Connecticut politicians who obviously wanted they’re voters to die!” outrage.

      From my reading, Gaza had a power plant, which Israel bombed. So that’s where they got their electricity before Israel bombed it.

      “Don’t fire rockets at Israel, and your electric power won’t be disrupted.”

      That’s so sweet, Jon S, if only it were true. But the Palestinians have had intermittent, only a few hours a day, limited electricity for a long time now. But you don’t know how much of a callous, inhuman, automaton you sound like.

      Shorter jon s: “You gulag prisoners don’t know how good you have it. You are lucky we give you food and water. Without them you could not live, heh?”

      • jon s on August 13, 2014, 1:44 am


        Regularly, Gaza receives around 60% of its electricity from Israel, 30% from its own power plant, 10% from Egypt.
        Hamas fires at the power plant in Ashkelon and at the power lines that provide electricity to their own people.
        Hamas fires at the Kerem Shalom crossing, where humanitarian supplies are delivered to their own people.

      • annie on August 13, 2014, 2:12 am

        Regularly, Gaza receives around 60% of its electricity from Israel

        doesn’t that seem odd, since they have all those gas depots right off thier coastline, that belongs to them? and since most of israel’s water comes from stealing palestine’s, one would think there might be some quid pro quo?

        and since israel the benevolent allows the prisoners food to eat, should they be thanked for that also? should palestinians get on their knees and thank the warden?

      • jon s on August 13, 2014, 6:53 am

        At least they shouldn’t shoot out the power lines, and then complain that they don’t have electricity.
        Many Israelis wonder why we don’t just throw the switch, shut it off.

      • talknic on August 13, 2014, 2:27 am

        jon s “Regularly, Gaza receives around 60% of its electricity from Israel, 30% from its own power plant, 10% from Egypt”

        Yes, the Occupying Power is responsible for all shortfalls of basic necessities in Occupied Territories. Maybe Israel should end occupation, Gaza has ample gas to generate all its own electricity. Now it has to import fuel to generate its 30%.

        “Hamas fires at the power plant in Ashkelon and at the power lines that provide electricity to their own people”

        Unfortunate that the IDF also relies on electricity. Say when was the territory surrounding Ashkelon legally acquired by Israel? It has been illegal to acquire territory by war (ANY war) since at least 1933

        “Hamas fires at the Kerem Shalom crossing, where humanitarian supplies are delivered to their own people”

        Not only humanitarian supplies. There are Israeli military there too. BTW …..why does stuff from Egypt have to go thru an Israeli checkpoint? Something to do with occupation I guess.

      • eljay on August 13, 2014, 7:32 am

        >> jon s: Please explain where Gaza gets its electrical power from. … Don’t fire rockets at Israel, and your electric power won’t be disrupted.

        Please explain where the rapist’s victim gets her food and water from. Don’t slap and punch the rapist and your food and water won’t be disrupted.

        Hevven forbid that the victim should be set free and the rapist held accountable for his past and ON-GOING crimes. Or that Israel should end it’s theft, occupation and colonization of Palestine and oppression, torture and murder of Palestinians, and be held accountable for its past and ON-GOING (war) crimes.

      • Walker on August 13, 2014, 1:26 pm

        jon s, try to be slightly honest. Israel tightly controls all aspects of Gaza’s economic development including its electrical generation capacity due to the economic siege that it has imposed since 2007.

        In fact Israel has deliberately suffocated the Palestinian economy since its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza started in 1967.

        Harvard’s Professor Sara Roy has written extensively about how Israeli actions have damaged Gaza specifically. Her The Gaza Strip: The Political Economy of De-Development was published in 1996.

        Israel has a responsibility under international law to supply Gaza with electricity. It charges through the nose for that electricity.

    • annie on August 13, 2014, 2:23 am

      Don’t fire rockets at Israel, and your electric power won’t be disrupted.

      you mean the electrical power allows them access to since it’s a given israel will not allow palestinians to be self sufficient? because israel will not allow palestinians independence? that’s a neat trick jon. maybe if israel had not put palestinians in prison, they wouldn’t fire rockets into israel. what a novel thought.

      but we all know israel wants to control all of palestine, including gaza, and that’s why they can’t provide themselves with their own electricity.

    • talknic on August 13, 2014, 2:41 am

      @ jon s “Don’t fire rockets at Israel, and your electric power won’t be disrupted”

      Don’t occupy and you won’t be required to make up the shortfall of basic necessities to Occupied Territories.

      Don’t occupy, steal / illegally annex territory, create illegal facts on the ground, dispossess, encourage illegal settlement in non-Israeli territories, collectively punish, breach the UN Charter/International Law/relevant GCs and folk won’t have a legitimate reason to resist occupation and you won’t incur what is currently well deserved hatred and you won’t be required to defend the indefensible….

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