GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — On June 8, the Gaza Ministry of Education and Higher Education’s summer camps, dubbed “Jerusalem in our Eyes,” were launched in the Gaza Strip, targeting primary school students. These camps aim to provide psychological and educational support for children, and provide emotional release for students who were traumatized during the recent escalation in the enclave.
According to ministry figures obtained by Al-Monitor, over 50,000 students enrolled in the camps held in 150 centers across Gaza.
During the recent escalation that lasted from May 10-21, Israel threatened to bomb Al-Buraq Elementary School, west of Gaza City — but ended up refraining from doing so. Today, children play in its courtyard with their sports coach, while others have their faces painted with the Palestinian flag by their art teacher, as these camps aim to strengthen national identity among students. The conflict took place after Hamas objected to Israel's actions in Jerusalem, including the planned eviction of residents of Sheikh Jarrah and the Israeli raid on the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
In one of the classrooms, the students' voices were echoing loudly that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Palestine, accompanied by the civics teacher.
Abdel Qader Abu Ali, director of the Ministry of Education’s directorate in western Gaza, told Al-Monitor that the goal of these camps is to provide psychological relief and entertain students who suffered fear and terror. More than 200 Gazans were killed, including children, and many homes, buildings and other facilities were destroyed by Israeli bombardment.
These camps will also contribute to refining the children’s creative, social and patriotic personality, and promoting their talents, he noted.
He explained that the camps include four sections, which are psychological support, arts and drawing, sports and games and the promotion of values and national identity among students. He added that a specialized teacher has been assigned to each section, pointing out that the ministry had to end the school year early May 17 in light of the war.
Speaking about the reason for enrolling children between the ages of 7 and 11, Abu Ali said that this age group was exposed to a lot of psychological pressure and that a child that is not even 11 years old cannot bear the violent sounds of bombing and the scenes of destruction and death, noting that a support team is available to provide psychological services to students.
“The government schools [in western Gaza] lost 15 of their students, while 100 others were wounded, and many students lost their entire families,” he continued.
Abu Ali pointed out that all COVID-19 precautionary measures are being implemented in the camps, with a maximum number of 60 students per day in each camp, divided into four groups. There are six sessions of two days each.
He added that the project will run for two weeks, from June 8 to June 21.
Safaa Jarada, the director of Al-Buraq Elementary School, told Al-Monitor that there was a big demand for the camps, which could not accommodate all students since the ministry specified that each camp could only receive a maximum of 360 students in total to respect social distancing because of the coronavirus pandemic. She said the ministry advised the camps to refer students to less crowded summer camps or even for new ones to opened in other schools. “We will not turn away any students who wish to join the camp, because what they have been exposed to as children is too much to bear,” she added.
She said the participation of female teachers has a very positive impact on the students, who come to the camp from 8 a.m. until noon during weekdays, except on Fridays, noting that the ministry sent four guides for the four sections, each of which accommodates 15 students per day.
“Religious and national education teachers are in charge of the values and national identity courses, and they seek to instill religious values and the sense of national belonging in students,” she continued.
Jarada explained that the artistic section links art to the homeland, as students are taught about Palestinian cities through drawings. She noted that girls wear a uniform that symbolizes the Palestinian flag, with a red ribbon in their hair, a white scarf on their neck, a short green dress and black pants and shoes.
She said the sports segment aims to help students vent and unload through games and physical movement, while the psychological support section is the prerogative of the psychological counselor who supports students in their emotional release.
For his part, Ahmed Ayesh, director-general of public relations and international cooperation at the Ministry of Education, told Al-Monitor that there are 150,000 students registered in the ministry’s schools but only 50,000 were registered in the camps in light of the coronavirus precautionary measures.
He noted that the ministry is trying to establish more summer camps to accommodate all the students wishing to benefit from the psychological and educational support they need in light of everything they just went through, adding that a new camp for another age group will be formed soon.
Ayesh stressed that the ministry's local and international partners provided the necessary financial support for the establishment of these camps, pointing out that they cost over $100,000.
He added that according to the ministry’s latest statistics, 77 students died in the recent war on Gaza, including 26 enrolled in schools affiliated with the ministry, 19 from schools affiliated with the UN agency for Palestinian refugees and one from a private school. A total of 31 higher education students were killed.
Ayesh said more than 100 schools were damaged or destroyed last month. He said the ministry did not hold the camps in damaged schools because it wanted to provide the appropriate environment for psychological support for students, away from all scenes of destruction.