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Gaza high school students miss final exams as war rages

By Thomson Reuters Jun 25, 2024 | 9:13 AM

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Mohammed Salem

GAZA (Reuters) – Majd Hamad, 18, dreams of becoming a doctor but the war in Gaza has left his textbooks buried under rubble amid relentless Israeli bombardment and has forced him, along with thousands of other young Palestinians, to miss his final high school exams.

“I was displaced from my house, and there were many books in there. I was hoping to get high grades (to get into university), but my house was destroyed and my books remain under the rubble,” said Hamad.

Ironically, Hamad and his family are now living in a classroom at a school designated as a shelter after being forced early in the war to flee their home in Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip and move to Khan Younis in the south.

“I’m sad that I missed this school year. Sad because I would have been taking exams in this classroom where I currently live. I was hoping to get high grades and to graduate from this class and become a doctor,” Hamad told Reuters.

“The war has destroyed many of our dreams, destroyed the dreams of many young people who were aiming high. It has left us with no energy or morale,” said Hamad.

Palestinian officials say it is the first time in decades that high school exams are going ahead this month without the participation of students in Gaza.

Some 40,000 high school students in Gaza would normally be taking their final exams this month. A further 10,000 are doing so in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the diaspora, and they would usually all take the exams at the same time.

Life for Hamad and his family, as for most of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents, has instead become a daily struggle to survive amid Israel’s military onslaught, the spread of hunger and shortages of basis items. He spends his days collecting water to drink and cleaning the classroom that is now home.

‘BOOKS, NOT BOMBS’

Gaza’s Education Ministry said in a statement that 450 high school students had been killed since the war erupted last October. Other Palestinian data showed more than 350 teachers and academics have been killed, while all 12 of Gaza’s higher education institutions have been destroyed or damaged.

The current war began on Oct. 7 when fighters from Hamas, the Islamist group which has been running Gaza, attacked Israel, killing 1,200 people and taking 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies. The ensuing Israeli offensive has so far killed more than 37,600 Palestinians, Gaza health officials say, and laid waste to most of the tiny, densely-populated enclave.

An estimated 1,090 Gaza high school students will sit exams on Saturday in Cairo after they and their families managed to cross into Egypt before Israeli forces shut the border in May.

“Books, not bombs” read a banner held by one high school student during a gathering in Gaza last Saturday.

Back in Khan Younis, Hamad’s mother Noha said they had hoped the war would end quickly and that he could return to his studies.

“But the war has gone on for a long time, it’s destroyed us… I imagined that Majd would graduate from this class and (eventually) become a doctor. He would graduate and we would be happy for him, but this class has now become a shelter for us,” she said.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Mohammed Salem; Editing by Michael Georgy and Gareth Jones)