After conflict, Gaza children go back to school

Palestinian students line-up in the courtyard of a United Nations school in Gaza City on September 14, 2014 on the first day of the new school year.

Palestinian students line-up in the courtyard of a United Nations school in Gaza City on September 14, 2014 on the first day of the new school year.

Around half a million children in Gaza began their new school year on Sunday, after a three-week delay caused by Israeli strikes on the strip, killing more than 2,100 Palestinians and caused massive damage to the city’s infrastructure.

Sunday’s return was mainly for 230,000 pupils attending public schools, said Gaza education ministry official Ziad Thabet, as quoted by the Associated Press.

Some 200,000 will be going to U.N.-run schools while tens of thousands are enrolled in private institutions, he added.

The delay has been caused by the damage to schools and the use of several U.N. school buildings for housing displaced Palestinians during the 50-day Israeli war on Gaza. The U.N. Palestinian refugee agency estimated that about 50,000 people are still housed in U.N. schools.

In the early hours of Sunday, residents said the city’s streets were crowded with children dressed in school uniform, many accompanied by parents or older siblings.

Heba al-Alami, a Gaza resident, said markets were congested last week as families went to purchase school items for their children.

“This year, like every year, the markets were so lively…but despite this, a great pain is still hidden in our hearts,” Alami told Al Arabiya News.

Happy to be back

“Most families are happy that their children are back to school and that they are kind of returning to their normal life,” she said.

According to Gaza’s education ministry official, the first week in government schools will be given over to providing psychological counseling and recreational activities to pupils, as an attempt to help the war-weary children return to learning.

“No matter what happens, our lives will go on,” said Reda al-Zahaar, a teacher from Gaza.

Zahaar told Al Arabiya News the first week at her children’s school was dedicated to art and sporting activities. Her children, despite spending a traumatic summer vacation due to the conflict, were excited about going back to school, she said.

“People know that life has to go on and return back to normal,” Zahaar said.

Zahaar said she was affected by pictures being shared on social media of students that have been killed by Israeli missiles.

“On their first day, my children were sharing stories with their classmates about what happened in the summer,” she said.

“We are seeing pictures shared from schools that say: ‘here was the place of this martyred student,’” she added.

Around 26 Gaza schools were destroyed during the war, and another 232 sustained damage, Thabet was quoted by AP as saying.

The Gaza war – the third in just over five years – left more than 2,100 Palestinians dead, the majority civilians, including hundreds of children, according to Palestinian and U.N. officials.

The fighting ended with an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire on 26 August.

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