Palestine – Universities and schools destroyed

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By JULIO DA SILVEIRA MOREIRA*

We must fight so that researchers from Ukraine and Palestine are not treated with double standards

1.

This text is being written while dozens of traditional universities in the United States are occupied by student camps demanding an end to the Palestinian genocide, ruptures of university contracts with companies that support and sustain the genocide, and the freedom of thousands of arrested protesters. While, in these metropolises of the world empire, protesters fields are suffering police and administrative measures, gas bombs and widespread arrests, in Gaza almost all schools and all universities were destroyed in the first months of the Israeli attacks starting in October 2023.

A historic and fundamental movement is taking place in the United States, with the potential to transform university education and even interfere in the scenario of imperialist war in the Middle East. When students occupy the campus and challenge their university careers for reasons of international solidarity, it is worth reflecting on the role of universities and educational institutions in other countries, such as Brazil.

2.

Still in January 2024, the Palestinian Ministry of Education reported that 280 government schools and 65 schools administered by the UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) had already been destroyed or damaged by the Israeli assault. Several of them (such as Al Fakhoura, Al-Buraq and Shadia Abu Ghazzala) were attacked while serving as shelters for people who had already lost their homes. Pedagogical continuity is seriously compromised, not only by physical destruction, but by the forced dispersal of students and teachers. All universities in Gaza were destroyed. Just to illustrate, Al-Israa University was literally imploded with 315 mines, on January 17, 2024 (Al Jazeera.

Academic, scientific and intellectual figures and their families had been targeted in their homes without warning. Targets as of January included 17 individuals who held professorial degrees, 59 who held doctorates, and 18 who held master's degrees (EMHRM, 2024).

Al-Israa University campus implosion, January 17 (Al Jazeera, 2024).
Al-Azhar University before and after the ongoing Israeli aggression in the Gaza Strip (WRP, 2024).


As of April 17, the Palestinian Ministry of Education (see graph below) counted 6.237 students dead and another 10.300 others injured, as well as 296 teachers and administrative staff dead and 973 injured. This is only in the Gaza Strip, not counting the students, teachers and employees killed, injured or arrested in the same period, in the occupied West Bank. These numbers also do not reveal the exponential number of children, young people and adults deprived of the right to education due to the interruption of school and university activities: 620 thousand in Gaza alone.

Violations against education in Palestine, between October 7, 2023 and April 16, 2024 (PMoE, 2024).

The loss of such institutions results not only in the immediate interruption of education, but also in the prolongation of trauma and difficulty in long-term recovery. They are acts of epistemic violence that remove the ability of Palestinians to sustain and develop their own knowledge and culture.

For Elham Kateeb (apoud Jack, 2024), dean at Al-Quds University in East Jerusalem, “universities can play a crucial role in leading Palestinians towards their goals and in building the state”, as “this commitment is embedded in their missions foundations of education, research and community service”. Thus, “Palestinian universities have historically been pioneers in shaping national identity, promoting resilience and contributing to community development”, and this can only happen on a foundation of justice and freedom.

Entire communities have lost not only their schools and universities, but also access to a critical space for the formation of collective and individual identities, the development of skills and the transmission of cultural knowledge. Education is an act of resistance and reaffirmation of humanity against the forces of oppression. The destruction of such institutions is therefore a direct attack on the very essence of Palestinian identity and resistance.

3.

The preliminary report by the organization Librarians and Archivists with Palestine (LAP, 2024), documented extensive damage to cultural heritage in Gaza due to Israeli military actions, between October 2023 and January 2024. Among the losses, the total destruction stands out from the Gaza City Central Archives and the Omari Library and Mosque, including rare book collections. The Diana Tamari Sabbagh Library and the Islamic University of Gaza Library were also completely destroyed.

The report also mentions the destruction of the Al-Israa University National Library and Museum, which contained more than 3.000 archaeological artifacts. In addition to the material damage, several librarians and archivists lost their lives, highlighting the high human and cultural cost of the conflicts. These data represent only a fraction of the total damage, due to the difficulties in fully documenting the situation during the conflict.

Educational, historical, cultural and religious resources in the Gaza Strip have been systematically destroyed. The destruction includes most public buildings, hundreds of cultural landmarks and service facilities, as well as the extermination of people with high intellectual abilities and specializations, including doctors, academics, and experts in technology, programming and computer engineering, as well as headquarters of their companies.

The deliberate destruction of cultural heritage is recognized in International Law as a war crime, with several precedents in the International Criminal Court (Moreira, 2023; Cuno. Weiss, 2022), seeking accountability for the widespread attack on cultural assets essential to the identity and the history of people.

The 1949 Geneva Convention and its 1977 Additional Protocols explicitly prohibit intentional damage to cultural heritage by invading or occupying forces, including looting and the use of heritage in military action. These treaties also protect cultural heritage from attacks and reprisals, considering them civilian rather than military targets. Furthermore, additional protocols, such as the 1980 one, prohibit and sanction the use of mines and other devices at important cultural sites.

It is not just about eliminating individuals, but also destroying the cultural, educational and technological infrastructure that sustains this society, attacking its intellectual and cultural autonomy and trying to break the historical ties between the people and their land.

A war of colonial occupation is not only based on the physical elimination and direct domination of the colonized. In Latin America, we have been experiencing this for more than 500 years. In the Spanish “Conquest” against Mexican civilization, the fundamental element was the destruction of the codices (the parchments that recorded all the culture, history, language and myths of origin of the native people), places of worship and spiritual entities. Tenochtitlán, the original name of current Mexico City, was literally buried so that the Spanish city could be built on top.

But the Mexica's Templo Mayor lies literally beneath the colonizer's Government Palace, and the Metropolitan Cathedral of Mexico City was built on the ruins of the main place of worship of the goddess Tonantzin. It was no different in greater Cusco, seat of the Inca civilization, where the Spanish maintained the solid, ancient stone foundations to build the new colonial buildings. The ancient cities that had been abandoned before the arrival of the conquerors, such as Tikal, in present-day Guatemala, were left untouched, which shows that the colonizers moved towards the most populous and lively cities, which represented the bases and reproduction of the original culture.

Paraphrasing Enrique Dussel (1993), what, for Eurocentric philosophy, represented a discovery, from the perspective of the natives it was a cover-up, which has been happening since the Crusades and the Great Navigations, constitutive moments of the so-called civilization western, and which continues today in the occupied Palestinian territories. This is a particular dimension of genocide: epistemicide.

In the current dimension of information exchange, in which science is treated as a “narrative” and the media tell a single story, strictly following the editorial determinations of the centers of media capital, where selective qualifications of “terrorists” and agents of the empire to this day present themselves as sheriffs to “organize” the houses that they themselves have been destroying, the risk of epistemicide is even greater. In the idea that the history told is always the history of the victors, the destruction of Palestinian educational institutions aims to eliminate the possibilities of current and future unmasking of History, to eliminate evidence and even awareness of genocide.

4.

The Brazilian State has demonstrated itself resolutely and in solidarity in international institutions, against the genocide and in defense of the Palestinian State, in addition to concrete measures such as flights for repatriates and their families. There are many other concrete measures that can be taken, bearing in mind, above all, that cooperation between peoples is one of the principles of their international policy (art. 4 of the Federal Constitution). Cooperation actions in the areas of Education, Science and Technology can provide effective responses to epistemicide and the destruction of Palestinian schools and universities.

An example of these types of actions is the Program to Welcome Ukrainian Scientists, run by the Araucária Foundation to Support Scientific and Technological Development of the State of Paraná. The arrival of high-level researchers, displaced by the war in that country, to universities in Paraná, has been perceived as a unique opportunity to rebuild their lives with their families on Brazilian soil. The universities and society that receive them only stand to gain. We must fight so that researchers from Ukraine and Palestine are not treated with double standards.

*Julio da Silveira Moreira is a professor at the Federal University of Latin American Integration (UNILA).

References


AL JAZEERA. How Israel has destroyed Gaza's schools and universities. 24 Jan. 2024. Available at: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2024/1/24/how-israel-has-destroyed-gazas-schools-and-universities.

CUNO, James; WEISS, Thomas G. (ed.). Cultural Heritage and Mass Atrocities. Los Angeles: Getty Publications, 2022. Available at:  https://www.getty.edu/publications/cultural-heritage-massatrocities.

DUSSEL, Enrique. 1492: the concealment of the other: the origin of the myth of modernity: Frankfurt Conferences. Translated by Jaime A. Clasen. Petrópolis, RJ: Vozes, 1993.

EURO-MED HUMAN RIGHTS MONITOR (EMHRM). Israel kills dozens of academics, destroys every university in the Gaza Strip. 20 Jan. 2024. Available at: https://euromedmonitor.org/en/article/6108/Israel-kills-dozens-of-academics,-destroys-every-university-in-the-Gaza-Strip.

EURO-MED HUMAN RIGHTS MONITOR (EMHRM). Israel's demolition of educational institutions, cultural objects in Gaza is additional manifestation of genocide. 16 Feb. 2024. Available at: https://euromedmonitor.org/en/article/6163/Israel%E2%80%99s-demolition-of-educational-institutions,-cultural-objects-in-Gaza-is-additional-manifestation-of-genocide.

JACK, Patrick. Academia in Gaza 'has been destroyed' by Israeli 'educide'. Times Higher Education, 29 Jan. 2024. Available at: https://www.timeshighereducation.com.

LIBRARIAN AND ARCHIVISTS WITH PALESTINE (LAP). Israeli Damage to Archives, Libraries, and Museums in Gaza, October 2023–January 2024: A Preliminary Report from Librarians and Archivists with Palestine. Available in: https://librarianswithpalestine.org/gaza-report-2024/.

MOREIRA, Julio da Silveira. For Palestine: selected texts on International Law. Preface by Camilo Pérez-Bustillo. Toledo, PR: Instituto Quero Saber, 2023. Available at:  https://www.institutoquerosaber.org/editora72.

PALESTINIAN MINISTRY OF EDUCATION (PMoE). Violations against education in Palestine, October 7, 2023 to April 16, 2024. Available at: https://twitter.com/PalestineMoE.

WORKERS REVOLUTIONARY PARTY (WRP). Annihilation of Gaza Education: Israel is systematically erasing the entire education system!. The News Line, March 15 2024. Available at: https://wrp.org.uk/features/annihilation-of-gaza-education-israel-is-systematically-erasing-the-entire-education-system/.


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