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With schools in ruins, education in Gaza will be in trouble for years

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Amjad Abu Daqqa was one of the top students at Khan Younis School, excelling in math and English. When war broke out in the Gaza Strip last October, he was applying for a scholarship to study in the United States.

Teachers used to reward his good grades by sending him to local historic sites or piers where they could watch the boats and take photos of the sunset. He dreams of entering medicine like his older sister Nagem, who studied dentistry in Gaza City.

But his old life and dreams now feel far away. His school was bombed, many of his friends and teachers died, and his family joined more than a million people who fled their homes to seek safety in Rafah.

“Everything in my town is gone forever,” said 16-year-old Amjad. “I felt like a body without a soul and I wanted to feel hope again.”

There is no end in sight for the war in Gaza. Even if there were, it would do little to change the bleak educational prospects for the territory’s more than 625,000 students, whom the United Nations estimates are bleak.

Seven months of war destroyed every level of education there. According to the United Nations, more than 80 percent of Gaza’s schools have been severely damaged or destroyed in the fighting, including every one of the 12 universities.

That has led critics, including the Palestinian Ministry of Education and more than two dozen U.N. officials, to accuse Israel of deliberately targeting educational facilities, just as Israel has been accused of targeting hospitals.

“It may be reasonable to ask whether there was a deliberate and wholesale destruction of the Palestinian education system, known as ‘school massacres’,” the panel of 25 UN experts said in a report. statement last month.

“These attacks are not isolated incidents,” it added. “They present a systematic pattern of violence aimed at dismantling the foundations of Palestinian society.”

In response, the Israeli military said in a statement on Wednesday that it had no “doctrine aimed at causing maximum damage to civilian infrastructure.” The report attributed the destruction of schools and hospitals in Gaza to Hamas’s “use of civilian buildings to carry out terrorist activities,” saying Hamas built tunnels under these buildings and used them to launch attacks and store weapons.

“In some cases, this illegal military use may render schools immune from attack,” the military said.

Hamas did not respond to requests for comment on Israeli accusations that it uses schools and other civilian sites in Gaza for military purposes. Hamas has long denied such accusations. When State Department spokesman Matthew Miller charges against the group last fall In response to its campaign in schools, the organization issued a statement saying, “The suggestion that Hamas uses hospitals and schools as military sites is a repetition of a blatantly false narrative.”

The United Nations said last month that it had recorded the killings of at least 5,479 students, 261 teachers and 95 university professors in Gaza since October, and the injuries of at least 7,819 students and 756 teachers.

The implications for Gaza’s future are as profound as the disaster. Students had already experienced a long educational gap and now faced a future with few intact schools to return to after the war.

Hamdan al-Agha, 40, a science teacher from the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis, said the war had “really had a huge impact on the education system.” “And it’s something that will last for generations.”

Before the war, Gaza had 813 schools employing about 22,000 teachers, according to the Global Education Cluster, a research group working with the United Nations. Many of the schools are run by UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees.

But as of last week, more than 85% of schools had been damaged or destroyed, according to data. a study conducted Conducted by the Education Cluster based on satellite imagery. More than two-thirds of Gaza’s schools will either need to be rebuilt from scratch or undergo extensive repairs before they can be safely used again, the report said.

an older study More than a third of the school buildings were found to have been hit directly, with 53 schools “completely destroyed.” Another 38 lost more than half their buildings.

Universities have been particularly hard hit. Gaza City’s Al-Azhar University, where Amjad’s sister Nagem studied dentistry, is in ruins. The Israeli army uses the campus as an outpost and says Hamas has operated there and left behind weapons. Nagmu now spends his days cooking, cleaning the family tent and taking care of his younger brother.

The Education Cluster study found that more than 320 school buildings were used as shelters for displaced Gazans, more than half of which were directly hit or severely damaged by nearby explosions.

An Israeli sergeant who spoke on condition of anonymity said he spent a week at Al-Azhar University last fall. He said soldiers found five tunnel entrances on campus and he saw weapons, including rifles and grenades, in two tunnels.

“I felt like I was on a military base,” said Sgt. “But if you look closely, you can see this is a university.”

Another reservist, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the military used Al-Azhar as a position to guard a supply line in northern Gaza that is also used to transport Palestinian prisoners.

During breaks, he said, soldiers would play backgammon, drink coffee and rummage through the ruins of the university. Most of the books they found were boring—they were “all about law or chicken anatomy,” he said—but sometimes soldiers found something useful.

“There are laboratories all around,” the soldier said, so “we buy beakers, clean them, and then we have coffee cups, which is good.”

Amjad said he could think of five teachers at the school who were killed, including his science teacher Eyad Rikb and a physical education teacher nicknamed Abu Shaq. Sometimes, going through the list of people and things he’s lost can feel overwhelming.

“Gaza has lost everything,” he said. “I’ve become desperate.”

Some students tried to continue their studies during the war, aided by teachers who volunteered their time or parents who homeschooled their children in shelters and tents. Nagm became Amjad’s wartime teacher.

One day, he spotted an English textbook for sale on the sidewalk, where he said vendors often sold books used as kindling. His mother wanted to use it to make a fire, but Nagm helped Amjad convince her to let him keep it. In the evening, the brother and sister sat together to review their homework. Amjad said he remains determined to study in the United States.

“I just read some passages with her and she helped me correct my pronunciation,” Amjad said. “She asked me about synonyms and antonyms for simple words we encountered.”

Nagmu is happy to do this, but she also has her own dreams. She hopes to attend online lectures at Naja University in the West Bank and complete her degree, or at least take an advanced English course.

She had considered applying her medical training to Rafah, but Gaza’s broken infrastructure made dental visits seem impossible.

“What they do here is pull teeth,” she said. “No electricity.”

Mohammed Shbair, the school principal in Khan Younis, said displaced people in Rafah sometimes use tents as makeshift school buildings, with volunteers providing classes to children in the camp.

This spring, he helped organize five days of basic instruction for volunteers in Rafah. But he said he thought the lessons would likely have little impact.

He often sees his former students selling food on the streets or waiting in long lines for bread or basic medicines. Seven months of war taught them survival skills rather than grammar and algebra.

Mr. Scheber and his children lived in a tent near the beach for several months, saying they were just trying to survive.

“Most of them spend their days searching for firewood for their families,” he said. “How can these students think of any kind of learning when they don’t even have the basics?”

Adam Serra Contributed reporting from Tel Aviv.

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