Akram Assad,
director, holds shrapnel found in the school after an attack

 

Shuhada Khuza’a
 is a secondary school that lies 500 meters
from the border between  Khan Yunis, in
the southern part of the Gaza Strip, and Israel.  This school was established in 2002 and serves
the entire population of the small farming village of Khuza’a.   

 

Due to its
proximity to the ‘buffer zone’, the school is subject to frequent shootings from
tanks and shelling from drones.  The
‘buffer zone’ is a military no-go area which was unilaterally imposed by Israel in 2007.  It extends along the entire
northern and eastern perimeter of the Gaza Strip adjacent to Israel, but inside
Palestinian territory.  In 2009, Israel announced that the ‘buffer zone’
would extend 300 meters into Gaza, but the precise area designated by Israel as a ‘buffer zone’ is unknown
and,
in reality, it can extend as far as 1,500 meters.  The establishment of the ‘buffer zone’
is illegal under international law.
 
The buffer zone is often enforced using live fire, which results in the
loss of Palestinian lives, land and property.  An example of this enforcement
is the 5 automatic Israeli sniper
towers near Shuhada Khuza’a which shoot at anyone who ventures into the 300 meters.

 

Akram Assad has
been the director of Shuhada Khuza’a  for
2 years and can easily describe the kind of conditions that his 300 students
face on a daily basis: “There have been so many attacks on this school,
sometimes even twice in one month.  No
prior warning is usually given, even though some of the attacks happen when
school is in session. On 14 June 2012,
for instance, the school was shelled just a bit after the children left. Most often, the attacks come from
tanks shooting shells, but sometimes we have drone attacks after school hours.  When the shooting begins, we make the students
lie on the ground in their classrooms or gather them in one place and wait for
the shooting to stop.  We have no way to
leave or escape once an attack begins.  Once,
the tanks came up to the school and we all stayed behind for 2 hours after
school, because even the ICRC could not coordinate for us to leave.”

 

Destruction in
Shuhada Khuza’a

 

The constant
attacks have had a negative effect on the teachers and students of Shuhada Khuza’a:
“The children are always nervous and feel scared.  These psychological problems are reflected in their
poor grades and discipline issues.  In
the morning, if they see tanks around the buffer zone, they simply do not show
up for school that day.  The teachers are
also scared, so how can they be expected to help the children?  It is obviously very hard to learn or teach
under these conditions.”

 

Some of the
structures in the school remain unrepaired from previous attacks. This can be
attributed to the closure of the Gaza Strip and the subsequent ban on imports, which
has resulted in the limited availability and prohibitively high prices of
building materials.  The computer classroom,
for instance, has a gaping hole in one of its walls resulting from a previous
attack.  Further to this, bullet holes in
some of the windows and corridors serve as evidence of repeated attacks on the
school. One of the buildings is considerably damaged, and has metal rods
protruding from a section of the wall:  “A
fletchete  bomb was dropped on the school
one night and the shrapnel chipped some of the walls.  We have yet to receive help to reconstruct the
damaged structures.  Sometimes, when the
buildings get damaged, we form committees, approach businessmen or ask the
children’s parents to contribute towards repairs.”

 

 

Ammunition
collected in Shuhada Khuza’a after one of the attacks

 

For some of the
students, the attacks and their effects are not only limited to their school
life: “During ‘Operation Cast Lead’ in 2009, 4 of our students died and 9
students were orphaned.  A sizeable
number of our current students have had their homes destroyed completely or
partially by Israel’s forces.  When they go home, they cannot even study
or do their homework.  They have serious
psychological problems and we try to keep them close to their teachers, so that
they can receive counseling and assistance with their studies.  We also try to engage them in sports such as
football, as a way of helping them to forget about their problems.”

 

Irrespective of
the significant challenges, Akram hopes that the situation and learning
conditions will improve in Shuhada Khuza’a school: “I do not know if these
attacks are meant to incite fear in the children or make us leave the area.  This school is the only secondary school in
Khuza’a and next year we will have even more students.  It is dangerous here and there is no safe
place to hide from the attacks.  We just
wish and hope for the same things as schools in other countries.  In particular, we need a room for the
psychology teacher, because it is one of our priorities to address the
psychological problems that these children have.  We also hope that this area will be peaceful one
day.”

 

Under Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, the destruction of
private property is prohibited unless rendered absolutely necessary by military
operations.
  Further,
according to the second paragraph of Article 8 (b)(i) and (ii) of the Rome
Statute of the International Criminal Court, both “intentionally directing
attacks against the civilian population as such or against individual civilians
not taking direct part in hostilities” and “intentionally directing attacks
against civilian objects, that is, objects which are not military objectives”
constitute war crimes.