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UCU statement on education in Gaza

21 November 2023

The 15 November vote in the Westminster Parliament, which failed to back calls for a ceasefire in Gaza, was a shocking failure by Westminster politicians to support the protection of civilian life and respond to the growing calls across the UK for a swift and peaceful resolution to the conflict in the Middle East.

The attacks by Hamas in Israel on the 7 October, and the subsequent Israeli military assault on Gaza, has led to a devastating loss of life. The latest figures reported by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs confirm that more than 10,000 Palestinians, including 4000 children, have been killed in Gaza the past month, and the Israeli government reports that 1200 Israelis were killed in the Hamas attacks.  

Dozens of those killed in the 7 October attack in Israel were educators and students in colleges and universities. In Palestine, authorities have confirmed 439 higher education students and employees have been killed, while the General Union of Palestinian Teachers (GUPT) and the Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees (PFUUPE), who like UCU are members of Education International, have reported at least 130 teachers killed.  

On both sides, education staff and students have been killed alongside their families, and many more have lost loved ones and friends. Our thoughts and solidarity go to all those affected. 

The education infrastructure in the occupied Palestinian territory has also been badly impacted as a result of the war. The Palestinian Ministry of Higher Education reports that buildings at the Islamic University of Gaza, Al-Azhar University, the North Gaza and Tubas branches of Al-Quds Open University, and the buildings of An-Najah National University located at Palestine Technical University Kadoorie have been completely or partially destroyed by Israeli military strikes. Thousands of Palestinian students in Gaza have had their education completely disrupted.   

At the same time, students in the West Bank are facing an escalation of Israeli military and settler violence. More than 170 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank during the past month, and over 2500 Palestinians have been injured. Israeli human rights organisation B'Tselem has reported that settler attacks have forced 963 Palestinians out of West Bank homes since the violence started. Displacement, movement restrictions, and increased violence are also hindering access to higher education in the West Bank. 

In this context, we need to support our colleagues in the region in seeking a peace that protects civilian life. That is why UCU joins with many others in Palestine, Israel, the UK and beyond to reiterate the demands for an immediate ceasefire, the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages, unrestricted access to humanitarian aid, and the lifting of the siege of Gaza.  

In the longer term, we are also calling on the UK government and the international community to ensure that education buildings in Palestine are rebuilt and that Palestinian education institutions, teachers, students, and researchers are provided with assistance and support in ensuring access to education.

Last updated: 24 November 2023