The three Israeli wars that have been launched on the Gaza Strip since 2008 have had both a physical and psychological impact on Gaza’s universities.
The land, sea and air blockade that has been in place since 2006 has also had negative consequences for Gaza’s universities.
A quality higher education in this context is perceived as a luxury, not as a right, especially as universities always seem to be working under emergency conditions.
Those responsible for improving the system and services at Gaza’s universities are often viewed as either heroes or victims—either trying to steer the education ship from sinking, even though they might not be specialists, or suffering mismanagement in the collapsing political context in which higher-education institutions operate.
These two scenarios downplay the value of scientific inquiry, undermine institutional accountability to the Palestinian public, and demotivate people from calling for reform to improve their university experiences and prospects.
Decades of Occupation
The Gaza Strip region has witnessed successive patterns of occupation over the centuries. It was controlled by the Ottomans from 1516 to 1917, by the British from 1917 to 1948, by the Egyptians from 1948 to 1967, and by the Israeli occupation since 1967. Every new historical and political era has promoted new educational agendas and challenges.
Eventually, the establishment of Palestinian universities was necessary as a source of empowerment for Palestinian youth, seeking to build a generation of Palestinians who were academically and professionally qualified while advancing the cause of Palestinian unity.
In fact, Palestinians are reported to have higher educational attainment than students of other Arab countries.
Universities can also act as a place where critical scholarship and dialogue are encouraged. Hence, the quality of higher education at Gaza’s universities is either crucial in contributing to the better future which Palestinians hope to create or a barrier to it.
During the course of my Ph.D. research, which focused on the higher-education experience under occupation, lecturers and students in the Gaza Strip explained why improving higher education was not a priority for them.
One lecturer, anonymized as “Mr. Abdel Rahman UB,” summed it up by saying, “We have enough trouble inside the Gaza Strip [such as frequent wars and electricity cuts], but in addition to that, there is the occupation’s expansion into the West Bank. And then there is the issue of whom we can confront to improve the situation. The university administration? This would result in strikes and the suspension of studies, which will reflect negatively on students’ level of scientific achievement.”
Students also seemed grateful for whatever higher-education opportunities they could get in Gaza. The majority were convinced that any educational problems at their universities were the “natural” result of the Israeli occupation, not something that they should blame the Ministry of Education and Higher Education or their university administration for. Compared with the other political, economic and social problems that they face on a daily basis, any complaints about the quality of their higher-education experience can seem trivial.