A significant LPHR event, ‘Legal Accountability following the UN Commission of Inquiry report on Gaza’, will take place this Tuesday. The event will see the former Chair of the Commission, Professor William Schabas, provide his commentary on the substance of the Commission’s report,which found that war crimes may have been committed by both the Israeli military and Palestinian militants during last summer’s Gaza conflict.
In the run-up to the event, and to build upon the ‘in-focus’ section of LPHR’s latest Child Rights Bulletin which addressed the accessibility of the right to education for Palestinian children under occupation, this blog will examine the impact on children’s education of Israel’s 2014 military offensive on Gaza.
Schools destroyed & education disrupted
327 schools were partially or completely damaged during Israel’s 2014 military offensive,1 of which at least 90 schools were destroyed.2 The shortage of school buildings in 2014 created a ‘major problem’ in the quality of education in Gaza, where the school system was already under strain.3 Additionally, internally displaced persons sheltering in school buildings delayed the start of the 2014-15 school year by several weeks, impairing the education of nearly half a million children.45 By the end of 2014, UNRWA school buildings continued to serve as shelters for 19,010 (IDPs).6
UN schools that were being used as emergency shelters by civilians were hit seven times by Israeli forces, with at least 44 killed and at least 227 injured.7 The injured included a disproportionate number of children or women.8 These grave incidents included:
- an UNRWA school in Beit Hanoun struck by Israeli munitions on 24 July 2014 , killing between 12 and 14 Palestinians, as they awaited evacuation in the playground.910
- an UNRWA school in Jabaliya struck by Israeli fire on 30 July 2014, killing between 17 and 18 Palestinians,11 mostly women and children,12 and wounding dozens.
- an UNRWA School in Rafah struck by Israeli munitions on 3 August 2014, killing 15 Palestinians,13 including five children between 3 to 15 years old.14
Following the attack on the UNRWA school in Rafah, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon critically stated:
“The attack is yet another gross violation of international humanitarian law, which clearly requires protection by both parties of Palestinian civilians, UN staff and UN premises, among other civilian facilities. United Nations shelters must be safe zones not combat zones. The Israel Defence Forces have been repeatedly informed of the location of these sites. This attack, along with other breaches of international law, must be swiftly investigated and those responsible held accountable. It is a moral outrage and a criminal act.”15
International humanitarian law requires military forces in areas where there are non-combatants to protect civilians and specifically to adhere to the legal principles of distinction and proportionality. When civilians are under UN protection, the safeguards are even more stringent due to the inviolability of UN premises. The shelling of schools additionally indicates a serious breach of Article 3 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in its failure to make the best interests of children a primary consideration, and of Article 6(1) of the CRC that states that every child has the inherent right to life.
The disruptive effect of the destruction and damage of schools on children’s access to education is transparent. There are, however, additional factors prevailing in Gaza that undermine children’s ability to recover from the violence and enjoy access to a normal education:
- Israel’s military offensive on Gaza left more than 54,000 children homeless.16 The illegal closure policy imposed on Gaza by Israel, which restricts the entry of necessary building materials, meant that as of June 2015, not a single home had been rebuilt.17 The result of destruction or damage of schools and homelessness is the loss of children’s protective environment.18
- The illegal closure policy has been the single greatest contributor to endemic and long-lasting household poverty in Gaza, according to Save the Children.19 Poverty may hinder children’s educational development by damaging their health.
- More than 1,000 children were permanently disabled during the 2014 military offensive. The illegal closure policy and repeated military offensives worsen poverty and undermines parents’ ability to afford the rehabilitation services required for disabled children to return to school.20
- An estimated 4,500 explosive remnants of war remain hidden among the rubble of destroyed buildings in Gaza, posing a threat to children journeying to school.2122 Unexploded ordnance also hinders access to education by impeding the work of humanitarian organizations in an area heavily dependent on aid: a quarter of a million Gazan children attend UNWRA schools.23
The impact of trauma on education
Children make up around half of Gaza’s population. During Israel’s military offensive on Gaza last summer, children were exposed to unparalleled levels of violence and destruction, with more than 550 children killed24 and over 3,000 injured. More than 1,500 children were orphaned.25 Following the 2014 military offensive, children in Gaza over the age of nine will have lived through three wars and a continuous implementation of an illegal closure policy.2627 It is estimated that the psychosocial stress caused by 2014’s violence left 425,000 children in need of psychosocial support.28 UNICEF’s 2015 target of providing 170,000 children in Gaza and the West Bank with protection and or psychosocial support, indicates that many have yet to receive the help they need.29
Traumatised children are unlikely to be able to fully function at school, especially in the context of scarce psychological services and worsening poverty.30 Save the Children reports that more than 50% of children in some areas do not want to go to school or have poor attendance, citing reasons such as being afraid to leave their homes or feeling unsafe in school buildings, some of which were damaged in the conflict.31 Children display hyper-vigilance, have nightmares and cognitive problems. Teachers highlight falling performance, aggression, and children’s feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness affecting their motivation.32 The manifestation of these trauma symptoms, caused by living under occupation, illegal closure and repeated large-scale military offensives, hinders children’s ability to learn and to fully realise their fundamental right to education.
Emma Fullerton – LPHR Student Director
21 See more at: http://www.handicap-international.org.uk/resources/latest_news/landmines_cluster_munitions/20150707-one-year-on-gaza-still-heavily-contaminate-by-bombs-in-the-rubble and http://www.unicef.org/oPt/real_lives_1206.html
22 Please see LPHR Child Rights Bulletin for 31 March-27 May for further details on UXOs: http://lphr.org.uk/latest-news/child-rights-bulletin-for-the-period-31-march-27-may-2015/
24 Al Mezan Center for Human Rights has a final casualty total of 556 children killed. The United Nations cites a casualty total of 551 children killed.
27 Prior to the 2014 and 2012 assaults on Gaza, a study in the European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry Journal suggested that up to 70% of children were suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/hammad-moses-khan/palestinian-youth-and-the_b_5566404.html and http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18365135