The continued Israeli military occupation of the sovereign Palestinian Gaza Strip and West Bank has brought much despair to the territories’ civilian population over the last 40 years. Although the Gaza Strip and West Bank were technically ruled by Egypt and Jordan respectively prior to 1967, since Israel’s military victory during the Six-Day War, the Palestinians have been the silenced victims of Israeli military violence, social inequality, and apartheid-like practices. More specifically, the Israeli occupation has had devastating effects on Palestinian schoolchildren, adolescents, and college-bound young adults yearning to live a normal life.
On October 3rd, 2007, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected Khaled al-Mudallal’s petition to be allowed to leave occupied Gaza in order to return to Britain’s Bradford University. Al-Mudallal, a third-year student at Bradford, had returned to Gaza in June to visit his wife Duaa and was prevented from leaving after fighting broke out between Fatah and Hamas. Because al-Mudallal has been stripped of his right to return to Britain, he will lose his place at Bradford University and will be unable to further pursue his degree. Unfortunately, al-Mudallal’s experience is not unique. No buses have left Gaza since September 6th and nearly 5,000 Palestinians with legitimate work and study visas remain trapped (Independent, October 3rd, 2007).
Israel’s military occupation has had even worse effects on the education of Palestinian children within the territory. Unemployment, rampant poverty, disparity, and the constant threat of violence have set up students from all grades up for failure. UNRWA figures illustrate that in their schools, which cater to Gaza’s 1.1 million person refugee population, the exam failure rate for students in grades fourth through ninth range from 34.9 percent at grade 4 to 61.1 percent at grade 8 (Independent, October 6th, 2007). The failure rate for mathematics is even worse. More than 65 percent of the population between fourth and ninth grades fail math, with a 90 percent failure rate amongst sixth graders (Independent, October 6th, 2007).
As students at an institution of higher learning, we have an obligation to protect peoples’ fundamental right to education wherever it is challenged. No matter how one feels about the current situation in the Middle East, there are innocent parties suffering, unable to enjoy the basic rights and liberties that we take for granted. Inadequate education within the territories, specifically Gaza, is only one of the consequences of Israel’s military occupation. Gaza has literally become a 1.4 million person prison, completely cut off from the rest of the Middle East, let alone the world, and completely under Israeli domination. In Gaza, more than 75 percent of the population lives in decrepit refugee camps with inconsistent electricity, gas, and running water. Palestinian politicians are constantly subject to assassination and incarceration, no matter what political party they are affiliated with.
In the West Bank, the situation is further complicated by the presence of nearly 187,000 Israeli settlers. In order to protect and expand established settlements, Israel has placed more than 500 checkpoints throughout the territory that are manned by soldiers with the ability to arbitrarily halt Palestinian movement. In addition, the presence and continued construction of a concrete “separation barrier” throughout Bethlehem and Jerusalem cuts right through privately owned Palestinian land, segregating an impoverished population from a thriving “democracy.”
As the situation continues to worsen throughout the Occupied Territories, one has to wonder: when will the occupation end? When will we acknowledge that military occupation of a largely civilian population is just plain wrong? When will we as a scholarly community condemn Israel’s conduct within the territories? When will today’s Palestinian youth, who have known nothing but violence and death, be freed from the hell that has become their world? For the sake of Khaled al-Mudallal and the rest of the occupied Palestinian population, that time better be soon.