Bianca Zammit – Gaza
On December 28th 2008 mid-term examinations had been scheduled to take place at the University College of Applied Sciences (UCAS) in Gaza. When the day arrived, however, the University College’s rooms, which usually cater for 8000 students, were void of any life. This was the second day of operation Cast Lead. The University remained closed and examinations were postponed. Concentration, patience and motivation; the three pillars to learning were the main targets of operation Cast Lead as it sought to instill a sense of danger in every spot in Gaza. Operation Cast Lead wholly demolished or rendered unusable several educational facilities across the Strip. Amongst these facilities were 280 kindergarten, primary and secondary schools, the American International School, the library of the Al Aqsa University and the laboratory of the Islamic University. Many other educational facilities were shot at causing facades to become tarnished with indelible war stains and windows to shatter in a deliberate attempt to undermine education.
When Operation Cast Lead ended, The University College of Applied Sciences announced the new dates for the mid-term examinations. The time after Cast Lead has been the most testing for all students in Gaza as they struggle to put memories aside and focus on mastering their academic abilities.
For Sawsan Tamboura, a student in Secretarial English at UCAS, memories of Cast Lead are still vivid and too powerful to override. She has had a very difficult time concentrating on her studies ever since. When Cast Lead started she left her home in Beit Lahiya and went with her family to the closest UNRWA school. The school was bombed with white Phosphorous bombs killing her two cousins, who were at the same UNRWA school. The same attack caused her aunt to lose both hands, her skin was burnt and it also caused her hair to fall. Her exams were postponed to February. Tamboura studied very hard but had problems concentrating. Against all odds, she insists on pursuing the road of education and supports her friends to continue in theirs. "Education is the only tool we as students have, it is everything for us".
For other students the damage caused by Cast Lead was physical as well as personal obliging them to rethink their educational prospects. 5,300 people were injured by Cast Lead.
Yousef Abdul Jabbar Al-Mughrabi is an outstanding 21 year old students with an above 90 average. During Cast Lead a drone bomb exploded in the vicinity of his home causing him to become blind and paralyzing the right side of his body. Before Cast Lead he was following a degree in Civil Engineering at the Islamic University. Now he has been forced to change his course and start from scratch. He chose Islamic Studies at the Islamic University. In order for him to study, he relies wholly upon his wife. She reads from his textbooks and he repeats after her and memorizes. For him to come to University he depends on his brother who accompanies him every day. Al-Mughrabi is following new advances in research technology aiming at enhancing sight and hopes that he will find help in order to improve his sight. His spirit is still energetic and lively. "I wish that my sacrifice will not be for nothing but will help the Palestinian plight for justice".
Cast Lead affected everybody, students, parents and teachers. Aya El Mashharawi is an English teacher at the University College of Applied Sciences. During Cast Lead her 12 year old brother and 17 year old cousin lost their life by a drone plane attack as they played on the roof. When this attack took place Mashharawi herself was only minutes away from the site. This episode torments her. "Life will continue if you like it or not. I want to work hard to make a lasting contribution to Palestine". The lasting contribution she is trying to make is that of motivating her students to face their fears and improve their English. "Media around the world is controlled by Zionism. It depicts us Palestinians in a negative light. Yet, we have pens to explain and speak our minds and we have to do this in English, the international language. We want to live, travel and lead a normal life like people anywhere". She encourages her students to use the internet as a tool to improve their English and to talk about the plight they face on a daily basis.
For Mahmoud Jalambo, teacher of English at the University College of Applied Sciences it is important to put things into perspective. Cast lead was the last in a series of attacks on Gaza seeking to disable its infrastructure and included with this academia. Notwithstanding the damage caused, Palestinians have remained steadfast in their determination to lead as much as possible a normal life. "We as Palestinians have achieved all things alone. We rebuild our spirits again and again". It is with this spirit Jalambo mentions that Palestinian students and teachers continue in their path for education. To Mahmoud Shakfa, also teacher of English at the University College of Applied Sciences, education is the only path that can result in any tangible results both for students in their personal life and for the Palestinian struggle as a whole. For this reason, no matter the hardships involved, education will be the road most traveled.
– Bianca Zammit is a member of the International Solidarity Movement in Gaza and of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.