20 August 2014 | Issue No. 43
The new school year was to start on Sunday 24 August, with UNRWA expecting enrollment of over 235,000 students in its schools. With the resumption of hostilities and the breakdown of the Cairo talks between Israel and Palestine, a return to formal education is currently impossible. In line with global education practices and building on its experiences in Gaza and Syria whilst making use of pre-existing structures, such as the UNRWA TV and the Integrated Learning Programme which is based on computer labs in schools, UNRWA will put into practice an alternative education system. The UNRWA education infrastructure has been severely damaged and requires extensive rehabilitation and refurbishment of all school buildings. Schools currently used as shelters will require varying degrees of rehabilitation in order to be ready for normal schooling, at least some three weeks subsequent to the clearance of unexploded ordnance through UNMAS and IDPs moving out of the schools. UNRWA’s 8,000 teachers are, like all Palestinians, personally affected by the war and have lost loved ones, their home, shelter the displaced, or volunteer to help those in need. More than 900 education staff are working round the clock in the shelters and are in a state of emotional and physical exhaustion. The children, which are supposed to learn the Palestinian Authority curriculum and a dedicated Human Rights curriculum developed by UNRWA, have been severely affected by their experiences and as such need to be supported in the transition back to school. Discussions held with children and parents have revealed the profound impact of the conflict on the children’s wellbeing. The level of fear and anxiety will impact on their ability to resume normal schooling, which includes a demanding curriculum and normally frequent exams. Security remains a concern particularly with regards to the presence of explosive remnants of war and the life threatening risks they imply for children. Insecurity in their homes and precarious living conditions will need to be addressed.
Past 24 hours: Reportedly, since approximately 15:50hrs yesterday afternoon and until 08:00hrs this morning, there were 62 rockets and 5 mortar shells fired towards Israel. There were also reports that Israel fired 85 air-to-ground missiles, 20 navy shells and 67 tank shells into Gaza. 8 houses were reportedly bombarded.
If you would meet Dr. Mohammed El Aydi in his tiny office in Khan Younis, he would propably go out of his way to serve you the best food in the Gaza Strip. You would have to beg him to stick to tea and felafel whilst he would take the time to tell you all about UNRWA in Khan Younis, conflict resolution, social justice and community participation. He would be very interested in your views on solving community disputes or the electoral system in wherever you come from, and you could, if you’d like, ask him about sociologist x or the hairstyle in Gaza in the 1960s. He would be able to tell you all about it. Should you be lucky enough to meet him a second time in your life, he would still remember your name and would tell you how much he missed having you around.
Dr. El Aydi is one of five UNRWA Chief Area Officers in the Gaza Strip. He is responsibe for UNRWA operations in Khan Younis. There is no time and place now to speak about anything else than the war and how he and his team are doing everything they can to support those in need whilst being victims of the war themselves.
Had you visited him this week he would have taken you along to an UNRWA school in Khuza’a. With its palm fringed roads and villas, Khuza’a used to be one of the very few pleasant locations in the Gaza Strip. Close to the fence, the tiny town was occupied by Israel and shelled to ruins over the past month. The UNRWA school you would have visited, Elementary A & B Coed, is one of the Agency’s 59 school buildings that had to keep its doors closed to the displaced as Khuza’a is not safe.
A couple of days ago, the mine clearers searched for unexploded ordnance in what is left of the building and cleared it for UNRWA staff to enter. Dr. El Aydi would have told you he knows the school inside out. He used to come here as a small child with his father to eat water melon in the nearby field. His father wanted to show him the Eastern end of the 365 qkm coastal enclave, and then he would have shown you the fence just a couple of hundred meters away.
There is not much left of the school. An entire wing is missing and the traces of tanks go right through a former classroom. In the midst of the summer heat, amidst the rubble, and whilst staring at what is left of the classrooms, you would have seen a book on the floor, covered in dirt and broken glass. You would have picked it up. Dr. El Aydi would have told you this is the book of Roaa Nasser Qodah who was studying in the 5th grade in the school. He would have translated the Arabic poems, handwritten by an 11 year old, for you:
Hope is a wonderful friend that might disappear
But it will never betray
Happiness is inside your home
Do not search for it in the gardens of strangers
Dr. El Aydi would have told you he is going to keep the book, that he will search for the little girl and return it to her. He would have told you he will read out the poem once the school opens its doors again, in 1 or 2 years, or maybe more, as there is no construction material in Gaza. He would have told you that he will still be around because there is nowhere to go from here. You wouldn‘t have to ask any further, because by then you would have understood what living without freedom means.
SUMMARY OF MAJOR INCIDENTS
Reportedly, there were 62 rockets and 5 mortar shells fired towards Israel. There were also reports that 85 air-to-ground missiles were fired into Gaza in addition to 20 navy shells. 67 tank shells were fired from the fence into populated areas. Reportedly, 8 houses were bombarded.
Data on damage to UNRWA installations is based on preliminary information and subject to change based on further verification. UNRWA estimates that 109 installations have been damaged since 8 July 2014.
More information on the revised flash appeal can be found here.
The Kerem Shalom crossing was open.