Local students killed, university damaged by airstrike

Three Palestinian students have been reported killed and one university in Gaza has been severely damaged in the escalating conflict in Israel and Palestine, which by Tuesday morning, 10 October, had seen 900 people killed in the fighting in Israel and 700 in Gaza. Thousands have been injured on both sides.

Meanwhile, universities in Israel and the Gaza Strip have announced their temporary closure and universities in the West Bank have shifted to distance education.

As reported by University World News, separately, 11 international students have also been reported killed.

In the occupied West Bank three universities announced that a student had been killed.

Birzeit University announced the death of Muhammad Awad Jarboua, a graduate of the Bachelor of Banking and Financial Sciences programme, saying that he was shot by Israelis near the town of Al-Laban Al-Gharbi.

Palestine Technical University Kadoorie announced the death of a student, Labib Muhammad Labib Dhamidi, as a result of an Israeli attack.

In the occupied West Bank, Palestine Ahliya University announced the killing of the physical therapy student Ahmed Ashraf Khalaf Zaqiq (the son of Professor Ashraf Zaqiq) who was hit by bullets on 10 October in the town of Beit Ummar, north of Hebron.

Fighting began with military incursion

The fighting began when the military forces of Hamas, the de facto political authority in the Gaza Strip, broke through the Israeli border at multiple points, attacking towns and villages and sending 2,500 rockets into Southern Israel. Some 260 bodies have been recovered from a music festival in Israel 3km from the border with the Gaza Strip, according to Israeli rescue service Zaka.

Dozens of Israelis, possibly as many as 100, according to the United Nations, were reported to have been taken hostage, but this figure has not been verified. They reportedly include women, children and elderly people, as well as soldiers.

In response, Israel declared war on Hamas and launched massive air strikes on Gaza, one of the most densely populated places in the world, causing large numbers of civilian casualties. Israeli land forces are preparing for a full-scale ground assault with the aim of reducing Hamas’ hideouts to “rubble”, according to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Islamic University of Gaza issued a statement on 10 October saying: “Large parts of the buildings of the Islamic University of Gaza were subjected to major damage and severe material losses” as a result of Israeli airstrikes on Gaza City on 9 October.

“The building of the College of Information Technology, the building of the Deanship of Community Service and Continuing Education, and the building of the university’s College of Science were all exposed to damage,” read the statement.

Israel had bombed several ministries, headquarters and government institutions adjacent to the university on Monday, causing severe damage to the surrounding area in which the university is located.

In its statement, the university called on all institutions, organisations and international bodies “to intervene quickly, and to work hard to protect the institutions that serve all the Palestinian people from these attacks” and “work immediately to guarantee the right of students to safe education”.

During past Israeli military operations in Gaza, education institutions, which tend to be large public buildings, have been used to shelter displaced families, and many schools and universities have suffered direct hits or blast damage during Israeli air strikes, as reported by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack*.

University closures in Israel and Gaza

The Association of University Heads in Israel announced the postponement of the start of the academic year, according to Yedioth Ahronoth, an Israeli daily newspaper, in an article published on 10 October in Tel Aviv.

“The State of Israel has been under a murderous attack since yesterday morning. Many male and female students and faculty members have been drafted into reserve service,” the statement said.

“After discussion and assessment of the situation, it was decided that the winter semester will open in all research universities in the week starting on 22 October,” the statement said.

Universities affected by the delay are the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Ben Gurion University in the Negev, Tel Aviv University, Bar-Ilan University, the Open University, Ariel University, Weizmann Institute of Science, and the Technion.

A total of eight universities located in the Gaza Strip have issued statements announcing their closure and the suspension of studies and exams. These include the University College of Applied Sciences–Gaza; the Islamic University of Gaza; Al-Aqsa University; Al-Azhar University–Gaza; the University of Palestine; Gaza University; Al-Quds Open University; and Israa University–Gaza.

“Due to the current circumstances, the university announces the suspension of administrative and academic work for the safety of staff and students,” the universities said on their official Facebook pages.

In the West Bank, the main Palestinian territory occupied by Israel, Palestinain higher education institutions have switched from in-person to distance education.

These include An-Najah National University, Bethlehem University, Hebron University, Palestine Technical University Kadoorie, Al-Istiqlal University, Palestine Ahliya University, and Modern University College.

Birzeit University issued a statement saying: “In view of the continuing and escalating occupation attacks on our people, and because of the security developments and expected risks, and in order to preserve the safety of the university family, the University Council decided to switch to distance education starting 9 October.

“For administrative and technical employees, they can work remotely, according to the nature of the work, noting that the university’s doors will be open to members of the academic and administrative bodies who wish to attend and work from the university according to their desires, needs and interest.”

Condemnation of attacks

In a press conference on 9 October, UN Secretary-General António Guterres condemned the Hamas attacks on Israeli towns and villages and indiscriminate rocket attacks that had reached the cities of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

He said he was also deeply alarmed by reports of there being over 500 Palestinians – including women and children – killed in Gaza and over 3,000 injured.

He said he was “deeply disturbed” by Israel’s announcement of a complete siege of the Gaza Strip, with no electricity, food or fuel allowed in, creating an even more dire humanitarian situation for Gazans, 80% of whom already rely on humanitarian aid due to the various economic restrictions that have been imposed on Gaza for well over a decade.

The latest escalation of conflict comes in the context of decades of failure to find a diplomatic solution to the continuing Israeli military occupation of Palestinian territory, and expansion of illegal Israeli settlements, including the establishment of Ariel University in one of them.

The unequal treatment of Palestinians in their own territory and continuing restriction of their human rights are a continuing source of tension.

Analysts say Hamas, which continues to deny Israel’s right to exist, had become alarmed at the recent uptick in normalisation of ties between Israel and Arab states despite a lack of progress in ending the occupation.

In 2020 normalisation agreements were signed between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco. In late September, the BBC reported Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince as saying “everyday we get closer” to normalising ties with Israel.

UN: ‘End the vicious circle of bloodshed’

Guterres said: “This most recent violence does not come in a vacuum. The reality is that it grows out of a long-standing conflict, with a 56-year long occupation and no political end in sight.

“It’s time to end this vicious circle of bloodshed, hatred and polarisation. Israel must see its legitimate needs for security materialised and Palestinians must see a clear perspective for the establishment of their own state realised.”

He said: “Only a negotiated peace that fulfils the legitimate national aspirations of Palestinians and Israelis, together with their security alike – the long-held vision of a two-state solution, in line with United Nations resolutions, international law and previous agreements – can bring long-term stability to the people of this land and the wider Middle East region.

* Brendan O’Malley was lead researcher of Education under Attack 2014, published by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack and author of Education under Attack 2010 and Education Under Attack 2007 published by UNESCO.