Israel bombs Gaza university, alleging use by military
The IDF press statement said it had “struck an important Hamas operational, political and military centre in Gaza – the Islamic University”.
The video shows four buildings being hit by what appear to be consecutive targeted air to ground missiles which exploded on impact. AFP later reported that a university official confirmed that “some of the buildings were completely destroyed”, according to an MSN report.
The IDF alleged: “The university was being used as a Hamas training camp for military intelligence operatives, as well as for the development and production of weapons.”
The IDF said that Hamas “used university conferences in order to raise funds for terrorism” and that the university “maintained close ties with the senior leadership of Hamas”.
The Palestinian Ministry of Higher Education and Research issued a statement on 11 October condemning direct attack on the buildings and facilities of two universities, the Islamic University and the Al-Azhar University, also located in the Gaza Strip.
“This in turn caused serious damage to the infrastructure of the two universities,” it said. University World News has no further details on the attack on Al-Azhar University.
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”.
The Islamic University of Gaza is a member of several regional and international associations and networks of higher education, including the International Association of Universities, the Mediterranean Universities Union, the Association of Arab Universities, the Federation of the Universities of the Islamic World and the Global University Network for Innovation.
Academic death toll rises
Meanwhile, the toll of deaths of Palestinian students and academics is rising.
The General Union of Palestinian Students-Malaysia branch on 8 October announced the death of Dr Mohamed Jamil Al-Zaanin, a doctoral graduate at the University of Islamic Sciences Malaysia, who was killed during an air strike while on vacation in the Gaza Strip with his wife, also a PhD student, and four children; and Suleiman Jihad Suleiman Abu Anza, a student at Al-Bukhari University in Malaysia, who was also on holiday in Gaza.
Palestine Technical College in Deir El-Balah, Gaza Strip, announced the killing of student Magid Al-Salebi and graduate Kosay Zakout.
Earlier three Palestinian students of West Bank universities and 11 international students were reported killed in escalating conflict, which by Thursday morning had seen 1,200 people killed in Israel and more than 1,300 in Gaza, according to the BBC. Thousands of people 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.
In the occupied West Bank three universities announced that a student had been killed at each institution.
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.
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.
Potential war crimes
There has been debate in Western media about whether the intense bombardment of Gaza in order to “reduce Hamas hideouts to rubble”, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Nethanyahu described the mission, and the blockade on food, water and food entering the strip, is a legitimate act of defence or a potential war crime due to the disproportionate risk to civilians.
Under international humanitarian law, or the ‘laws of war’, ‘civilian objects’ such as educational sites cannot be targeted for attack unless they have been made a legitimate military target, for example, if education buildings are being used to base troops or as a site from which to launch rocket attacks.
In addition, attacks must not cause excessive or disproportionate loss to civilians in direct relation to the direct military advantage anticipated; and the weapons and methods must not cause an unreasonable amount of suffering to human beings.
Violation of these rules fall into the most serious category of war crime.
These rules apply to the political leaders and commanders who sanction the operations, whether they are carried out by state forces or non-state armed groups, as well as to the individual combatants who carry out the orders.
Hamas’ targeted killing of hundreds of civilians in southern Israel on Saturday, which included the killing of hundreds of people attending a music festival and the killing of many civilians, including women, children and babies, in their homes in a series of kibbutzim (small collective communities) close to the border, along with the seizure of civilian hostages, will inevitably draw investigations into potential war crimes.
The Israeli air offensive against Hamas in Gaza, which includes mass destruction of civilian buildings, causing many hundreds of civilian deaths, as well as the blocking of food, fuel and water into Gaza, together with a full ground assault, may also raise questions about breaches of international humanitarian law.
The UN has warned that any siege that “endangers the lives of civilians by depriving them of goods essential for their survival is prohibited under international humanitarian law”, Channel 4 reported.
It also said Israel must note that the duty to “take constant care to spare the civilian population and civilian objects remains applicable throughout the attacks”.
This story is an updated version of the article “Local students killed, university damaged by air strike”, posted on 10 October 2023.
* 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.