Six years ago, Israeli occupation forces targeted the Islamic University of Gaza (IUG) in one of the deadliest military offensives against the two million Palestinians living within the besieged enclave. The conflict left 2,251 people dead, with more than 11,000 wounded, according to Palestinian and UN sources. A further half a million Palestinians were displaced. Six years on, the UN has complied an extensive report on the scale of destruction to Gaza’s higher education facilities during the 50-day onslaught which began 8 July 2014.
The occupied Gaza Strip
2 August 2014
At the height of the 2014 onslaught on Gaza, Israel shelled kindergartens, primary and secondary schools, UN run education facilities and several higher education centres. A UN report found that the centres of learning were directly targeted during the deadly attack on the besieged population. Over 2,251 Palestinians were killed, 500 of whom were children.
Israel’s military offensive on the Gaza Strip took place against the backdrop of a second Palestinian unity government being formed in early June by the Islamic Resistance Movement — Hamas — in the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Threatened by the reconciliation between the two main Palestinian factions, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that the PA had to choose between peace with Hamas or peace with Israel.
Ten days later, on 12 June, three Israeli settlers went missing in the West Bank, an incident for which Israel blamed Hamas, despite providing no evidence to back the allegation. Netanyahu also stated that the kidnapping proved that the unity pact between the Palestinian factions could not be endorsed. In the aftermath of the abduction, Israel launched a crackdown on alleged Hamas associates in the West Bank, triggering a cycle of events which led to the Zionist state launching a full scale military invasion of Gaza dubbed “Operative Protective Edge”.
What happened next?
The Islamic University of Gaza, which has nearly 20,000 students was targeted along with dozens of other higher education institutions (HEIs). A UN school was also targeted during the bombings prompting outrage from the international community – including the US, which said it was “appalled” by the “disgraceful” shelling of the UN run school. Sparking some of the harshest language ever to be directed against the Zionist state, Washington called the attack “totally unacceptable and totally indefensible”.
Student deaths, caused by disproportionate Israeli shelling, made up more than a quarter – or 27.4 per cent – of total civilian deaths incurred in Gaza. In total, 407 students from 20 out of 26 HEI’s were killed. While male students accounted for the highest number of deaths, a total of 38 female students also lost their lives, 15 of whom were studying at the IUG and ten at Al-Quds Open University. With 95 fatalities, IUG also suffered the heaviest male deaths; followed by Al-Aqsa (49 deaths) and Al-Quds Open University (44 deaths).
Of the 626 students that were injured, 286 suffered “shrapnel wounds, including fractures”. A further 235 incurred “shrapnel wounds, other wounds & fractures, including burns” according to the UN report.
Israel’s bombardment caused extensive damages to the homes of students. Pupils at 23 out of 26 HEIs had their homes destroyed. A total of 7,169 students – or 7.5 per cent of the student population at all HEIs – were affected in this manner. The worst affected were enrolled at Al-Azhar University, where 3,932 pupils – 66 per cent of all students at the institution – lost their homes.
Five IUG staff members made up a total of nine academics and administrative staff that were killed in four HEIs. Another 21 suffered injuries. The homes of 393 staff were destroyed in the bombings, including 31 that belonged to teachers at the IUG.
Large-scale damage and destruction to HEI buildings, facilities and equipment during the bombardment totalled more than $16 million. While the total cost of the damage and destruction to Gaza’s homes and infrastructure has been estimated at $7.8 billion.
The stark and shocking details of the destruction was uncovered in the UN report. It shows how HEIs were attacked by Israeli drone strikes, high explosive anti-tank weapons, and direct and indirect air strikes. Such indiscriminate attack, concluded the report, deliberately placed students and lecturers on the front line of the conflict and left many sites littered with explosive remnants of war. Given the level of damage at some sites, students and staff could face ongoing and serious risks to their safety.
The UN urged the international community to protect Gaza’s HEIs and safeguard the right to education for its besieged population guaranteed under international law.