Universities bombed and shuttered in Gaza conflict

‘Devastation and horror’ compound years of isolation and neglect, professor says

May 22, 2021
Security Fence at the border of the Gaza Strip
Source: iStock

A deadly conflict that erupted two weeks ago between Israel and Hamas has closed all seven universities in Gaza and caused damage to campuses in other areas.

Mosheer Amer, director of public relations and an English professor at the Islamic University of Gaza (IUG), confirmed to Times Higher Education that a number of buildings on the main street leading to its campus had been destroyed, while other buildings sustained damage.

The Kahil building, housing libraries and education centres affiliated with the university, was also levelled, news media reported.

“It’s been very distressing, due to the Israeli occupation’s onslaught on Gaza that has affected all sectors, including the educational sector, which had been already hampered by 14 years of suffocating siege on the Gaza Strip,” Professor Amer said. “The current Israeli attack, and the magnitude of devastation and horror it has caused, will further complicate this situation and will cause further disruptions at various levels.” 

He cited long-standing problems such as restrictions on student and faculty mobility, a lack of reliable electricity for online teaching, and poor economic conditions. Even before the siege, university staff, including Professor Amer, had been receiving only a fraction of their salaries.

Professor Amer said there was “much room” for the international community to help, including via research collaboration, student and staff exchange, joint delivery of courses, and material support such as software and computer laboratories.

IUG was not the only campus damaged. Israeli forces also used tear gas and sound bombs at an Al-Quds University campus in East Jerusalem in the West Bank, causing a fire that burned a building to the ground, reported Al-Fanar Media. 

The Federation of Unions of Palestinian University Professors and Employees said that some academics had been arrested.

A Palestinian PhD student with Israeli citizenship, who is studying in the US, told THE that “global and especially Western universities should absolutely be talking about what’s happening. Not only talk about it – they should be unequivocally condemning Israeli crimes and standing in solidarity with the Palestinian people.”

He said this was particularly true of Middle East studies departments, as “Palestine and the plight of Palestinians in the 20th century form a central axis in the research endeavours of most academic ME programmes”.

Foreign academics “visit our land, they interview us, they learn our language, they read our books, we host them and welcome them in our midst,” he said. “In a way, they made their careers off of us. It seems only fair that when we are being flagrantly massacred and brutalised, these same individuals should show support and be vocal.”

joyce.lau@timeshighereducation.com 

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Reader's comments (4)

What I am missing here is any critique to Hamas. I mean, don't you think that a terrorist, fundamentalist theocratic dictatorship whose main objective is the destruction of Israel may have something to do with the problems at Gaza's universities?
Dear Zevel, thank you for your comment. Our coverage focuses on universities. When places of learning are damaged or classes are disrupted, we try to speak to people on the ground or from that place. As someone who is not in or from the Middle East, I don't feel it's my place to critique either side, except to report on the higher education aspect, as told by students and professors. Thanks very much, Joyce
Dear Joyce, You know that there's no freedom of speech in Gaza, right? Someone criticizing Hamas or speaking well about Israel will find themselves out of job, or worse. I am not defending Israel, but come on...
Dear Zevel, I think what you are missing may be a dose of the truth. Israel's destruction of Palestinian universities is not "problems at Gaza's universities" as you attempt to make out. Democracies don't kill children in disproportionate aerial bombardments just because they can. Democracies don't flatten universities and healthcare facilities just because they can. Democracies don't destruct civilian infrastructure including basic water and electricity distribution networks just because they can. Oh, and democracies don't practice apartheid (including in education) either! Maybe you should look at B'Tselem's own report on Israeli apartheid. If you have the inclination, you can see the Human Rights Watch report too. "I am not defending [the right of Palestinians to self-determination], but come on..."

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