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554 Palestinian University Students Killed or Detained in 44 Days

“This is the first work in my new collection to document Palestine in my own way,” Nesma Abu Shaira, a Palestinian visual artist, wrote in a post on Instagram on July 19. Her drawing showed a young Palestinian woman wearing traditional clothes and carrying a clay pot.

Abu Shaira, a lecturer at Faculty of Fine Arts of Al-Aqsa University, in Gaza, often supported her country’s quest to recover its lands through her participation in artistic and cultural events.

In another Instagram post, on June 27, Abu Shaira said she sought to build a generation of artists, sharing the works of female students in the “Character and Background Design” course in the Department of Fine Arts and Graphic Design. She wrote: “I am very proud of my student artists. I can imagine them having a bright, promising future.”

She did not live to achieve her wishes.

554 Palestinian University Students Killed or Detained in 44 Days
Distribution of known cases of student and employee deaths in Gaza and the West Bank between October 7 and November 20, 2023.

Abu Shaira, 36, was killed in an Israeli bombing of her home in Gaza City, where she was born, lived and studied. “The Israeli occupation has broken the artist Nesma’s paintbrush,” the Palestine’s Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research said In a Facebook post.

Heavy Toll on Higher Education

Abu Shaira is not the only victim of the Israel-Hamas war in the Palestinian higher education sector.

According to a preliminary report prepared by the ministry, a copy of which was received by Al-Fanar Media, the number of higher-education staff members and students killed reached 451 as of November 20. The victims included 436 students and 15 workers, nearly all of whom were in the Gaza Strip. Fourteen buildings belonging to higher-education institutions in Gaza and the West Bank have been damaged or destroyed, the report says.

The report documents deaths, injuries, detainments, and damage caused by Israeli aggression between October 7 and November 20, four days before the start of a truce that endured for seven days. The Israeli military resumed its bombardment of the Gaza Strip on December 1, accusing Hamas of first violating the truce.

The report says Israeli aggression has disrupted the entire educational process at 19 higher-education institutions in the Gaza Strip, depriving more than 88,000 students of education for 18 days in a row. It has also disrupted face-to-face education in all 34 higher-education institutions in the West Bank, attended by over 138,800 students. The institutions stopped classroom instruction, given the difficulty and danger to students and employees travelling to campuses, due to the occupation’s barriers and its attacks.

554 Palestinian University Students Killed or Detained in 44 Days
Distribution of known cases of student and employee arrests in the West Bank between October 7 and November 20, 2023.

As of November 23, more than 14,800 people in Gaza had been killed, according to government officials in the Strip, and another 35,000 have been injured.

According to ministry’s report, 60 percent of the housing units and other structures in the Gaza Strip, including 262 educational institutions, have been demolished, and more than 1.5 million Palestinians have been displaced.

In the West Bank, 217 Palestinians have been killed, 2,850 wounded, and more than 100 detained, said the report.

554 Palestinian University Students Killed or Detained in 44 Days
Details of the material damages to the buildings of higher education institutions as a result of the Israeli aggression in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The ministry added that “there are thousands of wounded, including hundreds of students and employees in higher-education institutions, as a result of the ongoing devastating aggression and bombing on the Gaza Strip.” It also said that the health system in Gaza faces difficulty in counting and classifying these cases, and it is impossible to obtain accurate statistics about the numbers of wounded among students and employees. Monitoring systems of higher-education institutions there are basically broken, it said.

Detainees and Destroyed Buildings

Palestinian university students are among those who have been detained. The report stated that 118 students and six employees were detained in the West Bank. They are from various institutions, including the Palestine Ahliya University, Bethlehem University, Dar Al-Kalima University, Birzeit University, Al-Quds University, An-Najah University, Hebron University, Nablus TEVET University, Palestine Polytechnic University, Al-Istiqlal University, and Al-Quds Open University. Birzeit University had the greatest number of detained students, at 31.

Details of the material damages to the buildings of higher education institutions as a result of the Israeli aggression in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The report said that an Israeli bomb destroyed the building of an Al-Quds Open University branch in northern Gaza, while bombardments of the area around the university’s branch in Gaza City led to its demolition.

Three buildings belonging to the Islamic University of Gaza were also destroyed. They were the Faculty of Information Technology, the Faculty of Science, and the Deanship of Community Service. Other buildings were seriously damaged due to Israeli bombing.

Several buildings of Al-Azhar University in Gaza’s Al-Mughraqa campus, south of Gaza City, also suffered extensive damage from Israeli bombardment. The Al-Azhar Religious Institute building was seriously damaged, as were the buildings of the College of Arts, the College of Education, the College of Sharia, the College of Law, the College of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine, the Student Activities Building, and a celebration hall.

Attacks on Campuses in West Bank

The ministry also reported several attacks on higher-education institutions in the West Bank.

Israeli security forces raided Palestine Technical University-Kadoorie’s campus and opened fire on the university’s building, causing damage to its facilities, the report said.

Israeli troops also broke into Birzeit University’s campus, vandalising the contents of the Student Council office, and targeted Al-Quds Open University branch in Tubas, opening fire on its facilities and damaging them.

The ministry said that “the Israeli occupation’s deliberate destruction, invasion, and tampering with the contents of educational buildings and facilities in Palestine, whether by bombing or otherwise, is a violation of the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention on the protection of civilians during times of war.”

It quoted Article 48 of Protocol I to the convention, which states: “In order to ensure respect for and protection of the civilian population and civilian objects, the Parties to the conflict shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives and accordingly shall direct their operations only against military objectives.”

Number of registered students and employees in higher education institutions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The ministry said Israel’s actions also constitute a violation of Article 27 of the Hague Convention of 1907, which states: “In sieges and bombardments all necessary steps should be taken to spare as far as possible edifices devoted to religion, art, science, and charity, hospitals, and places where the sick and wounded are collected, provided they are not used at the same time for military purposes.”

The ministry’s report also documented over 80 instances of arbitrary measures taken against students at universities and colleges in the occupied Palestinian territories. One example it gave was the decision of the University of Haifa to expel seven students over their social media posts supporting the Palestinian cause.

The ministry said the expulsions constitute a clear violation of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of borders.”

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