‘They destroyed our lives’
Palestinian, about his experiences during the 1967 war and how, he says, the ensuing occupation has led to the deterioration of education in Gaza.
The war started on a Monday at 10 am. I was a school supervisor at the time and the head of the Rafah educational department. I remember we were handing out and supervising the ninth grade exams.
We heard the first bullets echoing from the east. We never expected this to happen because we thought we had the Egyptian forces behind us. But sadly, it turned out very differently.
The occupation forces first entered Gaza from the east. Most people thought the Israeli troops were Iraqis. The Arab media was obfuscating the reality – they were saying things like: “The Arab armies have reached Beer il Sabi.” [It was] all lies.
A tank battalion was deployed inside Rafah and one boy tried to shoot at one of the tanks. He was gunned down immediately. He had never seen a tank in his life.
Then, a checkpoint was set up near Khan Yunis further north. We weren’t sure what to expect – some people even brought them food and water.
Then the occupying troops surrounded the Shaboora camp in Rafah and hit it hard. We saw them coming.
I was part of the Palestinian Civil Defence at the time.
There was scattered resistance inside of Rafah, but it was limited in scope and lacked weapons. We heard lots of gunfire. Many young men were slaughtered as a result of taking part in the resistance. Many of the fighters were later exiled to Sinai.
And soon, the house demolitions began. Entire families were forced out of their homes and their houses were destroyed to pave the way for wide roads suitable for their military vehicles.
Shaboura camp, on Rafah’s outskirsts, was hit particularly hard. The Israelis reached this camp and demolished a series of homes there because they said it was a centre of resistance.
After this, the resistance died down. They had no weapons and no outside support. Then the Israeli troops and administrators tried to calm things down so they could win people over and assure them that there was some stability.
They changed the currency that we were using. Curfews were imposed at night and during the day. Residents were asked to raise white flags on top of their rooftops.
The Palestinian flag – or any reference to Palestine – was banned. Breaking this law would land you in military courts and, ultimately, prison.
They tried to reopen schools, but they were in bad shape.
But most significant of all, they tried to change our syllabi to the Israeli curriculum.
The head of education at the time, Bashir il-Rayyis, refused to do so and the teachers went on strike.
He insisted on maintaining the Egyptian curriculums and they did, they kept them until 1994. But they only used it selectively.
Anything to do with Palestine or references to Palestinian history or culture, and even certain Quranic verses were tossed out in their entirety by the Israeli occupation forces.
Teachers were subject to military trials and detention if they didn’t abide by the Israeli rules. The level of education greatly deteriorated.
The curriculum also needed to be updated and we were not allowed to do so under Israeli orders. It was an attempt to dumb down the Palestinian population. So people around us change, times change, and we stay in cocoons.
Egyptian curriculums changed in Egypt itself, but the Israelis refused to allow to change the curriculums the Palestinians were using.
The [Israeli] occupation resulted in the deterioration of our education system for 30 years, as well as of our culture and civilisation.
They forced a curriculum change and began to set guidelines for the kinds of teachers that were allowed to teach us.
Ultimately, the point was to dumb down the Palestinian residents.
Then, [Israel] opened the way for Palestinian labourers. Students began to leave school, and, due to poverty and rising unemployment, began working in Israel.
As a result, we began to see new things. Hebrew began to spread by way of the labourers as well as a new culture and mannerisms we were not accustomed to.
Slowly, the resistance began to resurface, but only as individual units.
They begin to hit Israeli areas. So Israeli forces hit back hard at the refugee camps – under the guise of wanting to pave large roads in the camps. They hit Brazil neighbourhood here in Rafah, demolished dozens of homes, and forced its residents out.
In short, they destroyed our lives.