As the 456,000 schoolchildren in the Gaza Strip start their academic year, they face chronic shortages of everything from paper and textbooks to school bags and computers, the result of the Israeli blockade. At the same time, severely overcrowded classrooms are having to accommodate students whose schools were destroyed or damaged in the last siege.
The only supplies available are smuggled, through tunnels, from Egypt. But even when materials are available, many cannot afford them: 80 per cent of Gaza's 1.5 million people live below the poverty line. Gaza's ministry of education has instructed teachers not to expect pupils to have "too many textbooks", but Ahmed Abdelhameed, who has eight school-age children, says that "teachers still ask for the full quota of school supplies,
as if we were living in Sweden.
I can no longer understand why we need to suffer, why textbooks and pencils are not allowed. Does Israel see these as threatening weapons, too?"
The paper available is of poor quality, Abdelhameed says, and tears easily. Supplies run out fast, raising the price. "I am lucky to be able to afford notebooks for my kids," he says, "but I hear stories from my daughter about kids in her class having to use pieces of palm leaves as rollers and garbage bags as school bags."
In the last assault on Gaza, 18 schools were destroyed and at least 280 were damaged. Many are still in need of construction materials to complete repairs, say UN sources, and the education ministry reports that classes often consist of up to 55 students. "The blockade has caused untold suffering to children in Gaza," says Philippe Lazzarini, UN humanitarian co-ordinator of the occupied Palestinian territories. Dr Fadel Abu Hien, psychology professor at al-Aqsa University, says many students stop attending classes due to shortages of books, pens and paper. "Israel is using the control over Gaza's borders to cause psychological destruction among students who want to study and learn," he argues.
It is just another example of the frustration imposed on Palestinians under occupation.
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