CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION
Friday, February 6, 2009
By MATTHEW KALMAN
Palestinian colleges in Gaza have resumed examinations and started repairing more than $20-million in damage to buildings, equipment, and infrastructure caused by Israeli bombing raids during the recent invasion of the tiny coastal territory.
The colleges in the Gaza Strip were preparing for first-semester examinations when Israel launched its assault on December 27, following the collapse of a fragile six-month truce. "Operation Cast Lead," as it was called by Israel, ended on January 18 after thousands of aerial bombing raids and a ground invasion in which many educational facilities were damaged.
The Palestinian university hit hardest was the Islamic University of Gaza, which, with 20,000 students, is also the largest higher-education institution in Gaza. The university, which was founded by Hamas and maintains close ties with that group, was specifically targeted in Israeli airstrikes that destroyed two blocks containing 50 science and engineering laboratories and caused widespread destruction throughout the campus. University officials deny Israeli assertions that the laboratories were used as research facilities to develop Hamas weapons.
Six members of the university's teaching staff were killed during the Israeli campaign, including one who was targeted as a leading figure in the Hamas military wing, the Qassam Brigades (The Chronicle, January 7).
The university resumed exams on a limited schedule this week and plans to hold a full exam timetable for the first semester beginning on Saturday. The delayed spring semester will begin on February 28.
Kamalain Sha'ath, president of the Islamic University, told The Chronicle that damage to buildings, equipment, and infrastructure was expected to cost $14-million in repairs. He said the university had started a fund-raising campaign to cover that amount and an additional $10-million in lost tuition, which averages $500 per student per semester.
"The students in Gaza are poor, so we allow them to register for the first semester and then try to collect the tuition afterward," said Mr. Sha'ath. "Now we have reached the end of the first semester, we find that 40 percent of tuition hasn't been paid and we cannot ask the students because they don't have it.
"In normal times, we don't allow them to register for the next semester unless the fees owing are paid. This time, we will allow them to register without paying. Also, we expect that even for next semester, only 20 to 30 percent of students will be able to pay the fees."
Another institution, Al-Azhar University, was not specifically targeted by Israel, but repairs to damage there will still cost more than $6-million, the university's president, Jawad Wadi, told The Chronicle.
"We had a farm and our faculty of agriculture in Beit Hanoun, which Israel completely destroyed. The cost of rebuilding the farm and the faculty will be about $5.8-million," said Mr. Wadi. "At the main building in Gaza City, there was extensive damage to doors, windows, aluminum, and computers, which will cost about $450,000 to repair."
The university resumed its laboratory examinations this week and plans to start final exams for the first semester on February 7. Full classes will resume on March 8.
Mr. Wadi said that nearly half of the 12,000 students were unable to pay their tuition on time, leaving the university with a $5.6-million deficit from unpaid fees.
Al-Aqsa University, a public institution sponsored by the Palestinian Authority government in Ramallah, suffered about $1.4-million worth of damage to five of its buildings in Khan Yunis and Gaza City. A new building in Khan Yunis intended to serve as a community college was destroyed, as were seven staff apartments. The library on the main campus in Gaza City was badly damaged by Israeli tank fire.
Ali Abu Zuhri, president of the university, told The Chronicle that 14 Al-Aqsa students and one member of the staff had been killed. Exams will resume on Saturday, and the second semester will begin on March 7. Mr. Abu Zuhri said that more than 50 percent of the 14,000 students enrolled for the first semester had been unable to pay tuition.
The university has appealed to the United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees to help repair the damage, said Mr. Abu Zuhri. "We are also asking our friends to help students who are unable to pay tuition," he said. "So far, we have received sponsorship for about 100 students from friends in the Gulf, but there are 7,000 more who need assistance."
Damage to buildings and equipment at the University College of Applied Sciences totaled $690,000. Although the campus escaped the worst of the bombardment in comparison to other colleges, most of the windows were shattered, and there were large holes punched in the walls by Israeli shells, which also damaged furniture and equipment. In an interview with The Chronicle, Dean Yahya R. Sarraj described the Israeli assault as "barbaric." He said that exams would resume this weekend and the second semester would begin on February 21.
Al-Quds Open University appears to have suffered collateral damage from Israeli missiles. Nedal Tayeh, a spokesman for the university, said 85 percent of the university's windows were broken, and its administration offices were badly damaged. He said breakage occurred to air-conditioning units, fans, computers, and communications and multimedia equipment, and he estimated the total cost of repairs at about $211,000.