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From the field

Testimony: Siege prevents reconstruction of schoolhouse partially destroyed in Operation Cast Lead, February 2010

Saed a-Sultan, principal

Saed a-Sultan

In August 2009 I became the principal of the Abu J'afer al-Mansur Elementary and Middle School for Boys, which is comprised of grades six to nine. The school was built in 1994, when the Palestinian Authority came to Gaza, and has 24 classrooms, a principal's office, a teachers' room, a science lab, a computer lab, a library, and a gym.

The school was hit by gunfire and shelling during the war, and soldiers also held detainees in it. Also, Israeli bulldozers destroyed part of the school's walls and damaged the electricity, water, and telephone infrastructure. The building is in terrible shape. The classrooms, bathrooms, lab, library, furniture, windows, and doors were all damaged by the gunfire and shelling. The building doesn't look like a school, it looks like a wreck.

Front of the school in Beit Lahiya. Photo: Muhammad Sabah, B'Tselem, 14 Feb. ‘10
Front of the school in Beit Lahiya. Photo: Muhammad Sabah, B'Tselem, 14 Feb. ‘10/>

When I began working at the school, its poor condition was very hard for me. I didn't know what to do with the destroyed rooms, which had no chairs, tables, or closets, and the teacher's room that was ruined. Since seven rooms were completely destroyed, we had to divide the children among the other classrooms, so there are now 47-50 pupils in each one, compared to no more than 37 previously. The high number of pupils in each room affects their ability to concentrate and learn.

Classroom damaged in Operation Cast Lead, still not repaired. Photo: Muhammad Sabah, B'Tselem, 14 Feb. ‘10/>

The classrooms that were not totally destroyed are in bad shape. There are not enough tables and chairs, and the doors and window panes are gone. We sealed the windows with nylon, but nylon doesn't last for long and is not a substitute for glass in any case. The noise from outside makes it hard for the pupils to hear the teacher, and the wind and cold penetrate the room. In addition, sometimes there are electricity blackouts, just like in the rest of the Gaza Strip. The classrooms go dark, and the children find it hard to see the blackboard. The pupils have trouble concentrating in conditions like this, with the overcrowding, the noise, and the poor lighting.

All these things also affect the atmosphere in the school. There isn't much we can do to make it easier for the pupils and to make learning a pleasant experience for them. In the schoolyard, everywhere you look you see destruction and marks from the shooting and shelling, which constantly reminds the pupils of the war and the harsh things they saw. Some of the pupils were injured in the war, others lost family and friends, and the homes of some of them were destroyed or damaged. Some of them fled from their homes to stay with relatives or to schools, and lived under severe conditions. They are still carrying these experiences and memories with them, especially when they find themselves in an environment in which signs of the war are visible everywhere.

Due to the siege, there are no building materials, so it is impossible to improve the situation and repair the school. Israel is denying our pupils the right to study like children all over the world do and to enjoy a normal life.

Saed Muhammad Ahmad a-Sultan, 31, is principal of the Abu J'afer al-Mansur Middle School for Boys, in Beit Lahiya, the northern Gaza Strip. He gave his testimony to Muhammad Sabah at the school on 14 February 2010.