PHOTOS: Amid rubble and trauma, Gaza goes back to school

With displaced families still living in some schools, and despite severe damage to classrooms, Gaza’s children return to school after a summer of Israeli bombardment.

Photos by: Anne Paq and Basel Yazouri/Activestills.org
Text by: Ryan Rodrick Beiler

The high school certificate of Adeel Balata lies in the ruins of the home of her father Abdelkarim Balata, which was destroyed in an Israeli strike that killed 11 members of the family, Jabalia Refugee Camp, September 14, 2014. Adeel (17), whose nickname was ‘Delo,’ was killed during the attack. She was a brilliant student and wanted to be a doctor, her family says. Among the victims was almost the entire family of Naim Balata, who was killed together with his wife and six of his children. Only Ala Balata, 18, survived.
The high school certificate of Adeel Balata lies in the ruins of the home of her father Abdelkarim Balata, which was destroyed in an Israeli strike that killed 11 members of the family, Jabalia Refugee Camp, September 14, 2014. Adeel (17), whose nickname was ‘Delo,’ was killed during the attack. She was a brilliant student and wanted to be a doctor, her family says. Among the victims was almost the entire family of Naim Balata, who was killed together with his wife and six of his children. Only Ala Balata, 18, survived.

Despite damaged classrooms and destroyed schools, Gaza’s school year began this week after delays due to the recent Israeli offensive known as Operation Protective Edge. According to Gaza Education Ministry official Ziad Thabet, the first weeks of classes will focus on recreational activities and psychological counseling to help children recover from the trauma sustained during this summer’s attacks.

During the seven weeks of military strikes, 29 schools were totally destroyed and about 232 damaged. According to the UN, Israel’s attacks killed least 2,131 Palestinians, including 501 children. Rockets launched from Gaza killed six civilians in Israel, including one child, and 66 Israeli soldiers died during the ground invasion. The destruction of homes in Gaza left some 110,000 people seeking emergency shelter, including some 64,000 Palestinians still being housed in about 20 UN schools.

This week also saw the release of a report by Human Rights Watch condemning Israeli attacks on three UN schools, which killed some 45 Palestinians, including 17 children. Fred Abrahams, special adviser at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement: “Israel has offered no convincing explanation for these attacks on schools where people had gone for protection, and the resulting carnage.”

HRW’s report came shortly after the Israeli military announced its own investigations into at least one attack on a UN school this summer. This, just days after human rights groups B’Tselem announced that it had refused to share information with an Israeli military investigation, declaring the army’s internal investigation system a “whitewash” and “a complete failure… marred by severe structural flaws that render [the military] incapable of conducting professional investigations.”

Throughout its offensives on Gaza in recent years, the Israeli military has claimed that activity by Palestinian militants in civilian areas justified strikes that resulted in civilian deaths. International humanitarian law (IHL), however, does not support the premise that two wrongs make a right.

“Israeli officials have argued that part of the harm to civilians was justified by the conduct of armed Palestinian groups, which included firing at Israel from locations adjacent to civilian homes and concealing explosives in civilian homes,” states a B’Tselem analysis of Israeli attacks on Gaza in 2012. “Nevertheless, although the conduct of the Palestinian groups undeniably creates additional difficulties for the Israeli military, their violations of IHL cannot serve as justification for IHL violations by the Israeli military.”

A classroom is damaged following the Israeli shelling of an UNRWA school where some 3,300 Palestinians were seeking shelter, Jabaliya, Gaza Strip, July 30, 2014. At least 20 people were killed in the attack, which injured more than 100.
A classroom is damaged following the Israeli shelling of an UNRWA school where some 3,300 Palestinians were seeking shelter, Jabaliya, Gaza Strip, July 30, 2014. At least 20 people were killed in the attack, which injured more than 100.

 

Palestinian students stand in a destroyed classroom in the Sobhi Abu Karsh school in Shujaiya neighborhood, Gaza City, September 15, 2014. The school year started after delays due to the latest Israeli offensive during which 29 schools were totally destroyed, and around 230 damaged.
Palestinian students stand in a destroyed classroom in the Sobhi Abu Karsh school in Shujaiya neighborhood, Gaza City, September 15, 2014. The school year started after delays due to the latest Israeli offensive during which 29 schools were totally destroyed, and around 230 damaged.

 

Palestinian students clean hallways on their second day of school in the damaged Sobhi Abu Karsh school, Shujaiya neighborhood, Gaza City, September 15, 2014.
Palestinian students clean hallways on their second day of school in the damaged Sobhi Abu Karsh school, Shujaiya neighborhood, Gaza City, September 15, 2014.

 

Boys walk to school on the first day of classes after Israeli attacks, Shujaiya neighborhood, Gaza City, September 15, 2014.
Boys walk to school on the first day of classes after Israeli attacks, Shujaiya neighborhood, Gaza City, September 15, 2014.

 

Boys line up in the morning to practice daily exercises at an UNRWA school in Shujaiya neighborhood, Gaza City, September 15, 2014. The first weeks of classes will be dedicated to recreational activities to help children overcome the trauma suffered during the the seven-week Israeli military offensive.
Boys line up in the morning to practice daily exercises at an UNRWA school in Shujaiya neighborhood, Gaza City, September 15, 2014. The first weeks of classes will be dedicated to recreational activities to help children overcome the trauma suffered during the the seven-week Israeli military offensive.

 

A Palestinian school student draws a home on fire during one of the activities conducted in the damaged Sobhi Abu Karsh school, Shujaiya neighborhood, Gaza City, September 15, 2014.
A Palestinian school student draws a home on fire during one of the activities conducted in the damaged Sobhi Abu Karsh school, Shujaiya neighborhood, Gaza City, September 15, 2014.

 

Wedhad, a Palestinian girl from Shujaiya, stands in front of the UNRWA school in the Al Zeitoun area of Gaza City, which is being used as temporary shelter for displaced Palestinians following the latest Israeli offensive, September 14, 2014. Wedhad said that she could not go to school as her school in Shujaiya was destroyed, and her mother is still looking for another school for her to register at.
Wedhad, a Palestinian girl from Shujaiya, stands in front of the UNRWA school in the Al Zeitoun area of Gaza City, which is being used as temporary shelter for displaced Palestinians following the latest Israeli offensive, September 14, 2014. Wedhad said that she could not go to school as her school in Shujaiya was destroyed, and her mother is still looking for another school for her to register at.

 

Palestinian children use water tanks to wash and drink from in an UNRWA school in the Al Zeitoun area of Gaza City which is being used as a temporary shelter for displaced Palestinians following the latest Israeli offensive, Gaza City, September 14, 2014.
Palestinian children use water tanks to wash and drink from in an UNRWA school in the Al Zeitoun area of Gaza City which is being used as a temporary shelter for displaced Palestinians following the latest Israeli offensive, Gaza City, September 14, 2014.

 

A Palestinian schoolgirl jumps on a trampoline after her first day of school, Gaza City, September 14, 2014.
A Palestinian schoolgirl jumps on a trampoline after her first day of school, Gaza City, September 14, 2014.

 

Palestinian students buy snacks after their first day of school, Gaza City, September 14, 2014.
Palestinian students buy snacks after their first day of school, Gaza City, September 14, 2014.

 

Palestinian students pass by destroyed buildings and homes in the Shujaiya neighborhood, Gaza City, September 15, 2014. Shujaiya was heavily attacked during the latest Israeli offensive, and some areas totally destroyed, leaving many Palestinians homeless.
Palestinian students pass by destroyed buildings and homes in the Shujaiya neighborhood, Gaza City, September 15, 2014. Shujaiya was heavily attacked during the latest Israeli offensive, and some areas totally destroyed, leaving many Palestinians homeless.

 

Classrooms in an UNRWA school are still inhabited by people whose houses were completely destroyed by Israeli attacks, Shujaiya neighborhood, Gaza City, September 15, 2014.
Classrooms in an UNRWA school are still inhabited by people whose houses were completely destroyed by Israeli attacks, Shujaiya neighborhood, Gaza City, September 15, 2014.

Related:
PHOTOS: Living in the ruins of a shattered Gaza neighborhood
In Gaza, justice delayed is justice denied
PHOTOS: Losing your home twice in one war