Gaza: UNESCO calls for an immediate halt to strikes against schools

UNESCO expresses deep concern about the impact of ongoing hostilities in the Gaza Strip on students and education professionals, emphasizing the need to protect educational establishments.

By Francesca Merlo

In the face of the ongoing bombings in the Gaza Strip, UNESCO has underscored its deep concern about the impact on students and education professionals, stating, “the Organization calls for the protection of educational establishments, which often serve as shelters for the population, and recalls that targeting them or using them for military purposes constitute violations of international law.”

Escalation since 7 October

These concerns, expressed in a statement on the UNESCO website, have been raised in response to the recent developments in the region and in particular, the terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians perpetrated by Hamas on 7 October, and the Israeli military response. UNESCO notes that, “today, more than 625,000 pupils and more than 22,500 teachers in the area are in an extremely vulnerable situation.”

The damage to vital infrastructure

The educational infrastructure has suffered immensely during these hostilities, with UNESCO highlighting that, “since 7 October, more than 200 schools have been damaged – around 40% of the total number of schools in the Gaza Strip – about forty of them very seriously, according to UNICEF data.”

UNESCO underlines its commitment to upholding international humanitarian law by referencing Resolution 2601, adopted in 2021 by the United Nations Security Council, which “strongly condemns the continued attacks as well as threats of attacks that are in contravention of international humanitarian law against schools and civilians connected with schools, including children and teachers, and urges all parties to armed conflict to immediately cease such attacks and threats of attacks and to refrain from actions that impede access to education.”

The resolution further points out that it “condemns the military use of schools in contravention of international law, and recognizes that use by armed forces and armed groups may render schools legitimate targets of attack, thus endangering children’s and teachers’ safety as well as their education.”

Aid workers amongst those killed

The impact of the ongoing crisis is devastating, and UNESCO acknowledges the significant loss experienced by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). It is noted that, among the many civilian victims in Gaza are 53 employees of UNRWA, the main provider of education in the Gaza Strip. “The vast majority of these staff were teachers and educators. UNESCO and its staff join their families, friends, and colleagues in mourning.”

UNRWA is instrumental in the region’s education system, with, “183 schools under its responsibility in Gaza, which welcomed nearly 300,000 pupils at the start of the last school year. Many of these educational establishments have now been converted into shelters for the population.” UNESCO acknowledges the vital role of UNRWA’s dedicated staff, who are on the front line, delivering essential services to support schoolchildren, education professionals, and all those affected by the crisis. It is emphasised that they must be able to continue their work and be protected from the fighting.

As the situation in Gaza continues to evolve, UNESCO reiterates its call for the immediate cessation of strikes against schools and the safeguarding of education in line with international law. In the words of UNESCO, the right to education is a fundamental human right, and it must be preserved for the sake of the region’s children and the future of the Gaza Strip.