Gaza’s schools reopen, but fear remains

January 25th, 2009 - 1:58 pm ICT by IANS  

Gaza, Jan 25 (DPA) Across the Gaza Strip Saturday, Palestinian children walked to and from school for the first time since Israel’s three-week offensive which wrecked havoc across the enclave and killed over 1,300 people.Three boys in the second grade, Muhammed, Ramzi and Abed, played in front of the United Nations’ school for refugees, which they attend, glad to see each for the first time in a month.

“I am happy to be back with my friends,” said Ramzi, wearing his bright blue school shirt and hugging his two buddies around the shoulders.

They were about to go into class at around noon. In the densely populated Gaza Strip most schools run on a two-shift system, with some children starting in the early morning and studying until lunch, to be replaced by a second group which stays until the late afternoon.

“It’s good for the children to be back at school, they need it after this war, to be normal a little,” said Nahda, walking her two daughters and a neighbour’s child back from the morning shift.

Over half of the Gaza Strip’s 1.5 million Palestinian residents are under the age of 18.

But not all children were in class.

The private American School, called an “institute of learning and humanity” by the UN’s humanitarian chief John Holmes, was destroyed in an airstrike. Parents there were in talks with the administration and each other, trying to figure out what to do.

“I want my son to study and have a routine. I am very worried,” said one father of a young pupil at the institute.

Other schools were also damaged or destroyed, leaving the children without anywhere to go and with little to do. Many wandered the streets, some searching through the rubble left by the offensive for entertainment.

Over 400 children were killed from the end of December until a ceasefire was declared six days ago.

“I was completely shocked when I went back to school this morning and discovered that my classmate Christine al-Torok was killed during the war,” said Dona Matta, 16, a member of the enclave’s small Christian community, who attends the Holy Family School.

For some, the trauma of the war runs deep and is not likely to soon fade.

Mohammed Abu Jabala attends the al Fakhoura school in Jabalya, where over 40 civilians were killed by an Israeli tank shell while taking refuge in the UN run facility.

“I can still see the marks of the bombs on the walls of the school. It was very difficult and hard, not only for me, but also for all our classmates and children who came back to school,” said the 15-year-old.

Four of his classmates were killed and 10 others were still hospitalised, suffering from wounds sustained during airstrikes and ground operations.

At Rafah, near the Egyptian border, an area which sustained some of the heaviest aerial bombardment, one group of children huddled with their parents, around the rubble of their destroyed home.

“No, they are not back at school yet, maybe in a few days,” said Nahle, holding her young daughter close. The girl, aged 11, would only mutter a few words, occasionally breaking out into tears and then stopping, retreating into her silence.

Children in the destroyed apartments around her ducked into the destroyed buildings, sometimes pulling out a possession of theirs and running to show their parents.

For some, the shellings of UN schools, which served as shelters, gave the feeling that the facilities were not safe. Other parents were simply afraid to part with their children, after three weeks of intense fear and stress which they experienced together, said a local aid worker, who was not authorized to talk with the press.

Other children, whose families whose homes were destroyed and were living with friends or relatives, will have to be registered in new schools before they can resume studies, a process which may take some time.

Majda’s family, from the Zeitoun area, where tanks left devastation, was busy moving into their new residence Saturday, a rented home in Gaza City.

Her children, who had been sleeping on their grandmother’s floor for the last two weeks, would have to wait until they were resettled before the parents could begin to consider what to do for their education.

“Gaza exists and Israel exists and the conflict will keep going on even if there is a ceasefire. This conflict will only end when peace between us and Israel is reached,” Lara Abu Ramadan, a high school student.

But with disaster all around them, some children cannot think of such a day.

“I hate Israel for what it did to us. I think no one would forgive Israel for the crimes it committed against us,” Abu Jabala, from the Fakhoura school, said.

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