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The costly Gaza educide

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Destruction of schools and universities in Gaza will rob future generations of their deseving academic paths (Emad El Byed - Unsplash)

By: Dr. Nurul Izyan Zainuddin

More than six months have passed since the onset of conflict in Gaza, a period marked by devastating losses. Recent statistics indicate over 30,000 casualties in which majority of them are women and children. According to UNFPA, approximately 1.7 million people in Gaza are currently displaced. This turmoil has not only shattered lives but has also led to the collapse of crucial infrastructures, including healthcare and education.

Dr. Nurul Izyan Zainuddin

Report from the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and NGOs the Education Cluster and Save The Children as of March this year depicted that approximately 212 schools out of 563 school buildings in Gaza have been targeted, while satellite imagery pointed that at least 53 schools have been totally destroyed. The assault on education doesn’t end here. Universities in Gaza have experienced destruction too, and the academic community has suffered greatly with at least 94 lives of academics lost. In January 2024, Al-Israa University, Gaza’s last operational university, was bombed. Over the span of just four months, each of Gaza’s 12 universities has been targeted and largely demolished as reported by Palestinian Education Ministry. The bombings of these educational institutions raised a question whether there was a deliberate intent to dismantle Gaza’s entire education system.

The term ‘educide’ was first coined by a book entitled “Cultural Cleansing in Iraq: Why Museums Were Looted, Libraries Burned and Academics Murdered” published in 2010, merging the words ‘education’ and ‘genocide’. While the initial usage of the term was to question whether the systematic killing of Iraqi academics and the intellectual elite could constitute a case of ‘educide’, the term has since been used to elucidate systematic decimation of a region’s educational framework during conflicts or invasions – which may rightly describe the situation in Gaza. The consequences of such targeted destruction are profound and far-reaching, impacting not just the present academic operations but also the intellectual and societal landscape of future generations.

The consequences of educide in Gaza are not few. The loss of educational infrastructure and academic personnel has essentially paralyzed universities in Gaza, thus disrupting the academic calendar indefinitely. Planned examinations and other academic activities are now postponed or cancelled altogether. Ideas, efforts and resources reserved for various academic activities have now understandably gone in vain. As for academics and students who survived the bombings, they could possibly be forced to migrate, which can then worsen the intellectual drain from the region in the long run. Furthermore, the ongoing instability will likely jeopardize their academic standards with many research projects halted, and essential resources like libraries and laboratories destroyed.

On a more personal note, I sincerely believe that one should not overlook the psychological toll this violence has taken on students and educators alike. The trauma associated with such loss can significantly impair their mental well-being, thereby affecting their educational and research capabilities. It will also take collective and exceptionally strong effort to support the demotivated and traumatised students to resume their academic journey once, and if, the conflict is over. While the rest of the world has shifted to and embraced e-learning, this development is almost impossible to be achieved in Gaza due to the relentless bombings, instability of internet connection and lack of electricity. The extensive damage to the educational system in Gaza could set the region back by decades, just like what happened in Iraq, significantly hindering its progress compared to the rest of the world.

If one still wonders if the term ‘educide’ is appropriate to describe the current situation of the education system in Gaza, then they are more than welcome to examine the evidences and consequences which speak volumes of itself. Understand that the destruction of the education system is not just a casualty of war but a deliberate strategy aimed at crippling a society at its foundational level.

One thing worth noting is that despite decades of restrictions in Palestine, Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza aged 15 and above had a literacy rate of 97.8 per cent as of 2022, as reported by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. It is then our obligation to echo the spirit and resilience of the people in this region and help to ensure that they receive equal access to education just as the rest of students around the world. Let us all be ready to empower them in Gaza, to spearhead the reconstruction and revitalization of their scarred communities to a brighter future.

I am reminded of the poignant words of Dr. Refaat Alareer, a professor from Islamic University of Gaza who tragically lost his life in an Israeli airstrike last December telling us:

“Let it be hope, let it be a tale.”

The author is a Dental Lecturer at the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Clinical Sciences, Faculty of Dentistry, Universiti Malaya, and may be reached at izyanzainuddin@um.edu.my

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