Picture this: its 7:15am, 40-60 children are crammed into a single classroom ready for a new day of learning. Many of them have no exercise books, textbooks or even pencils. This scene repeats itself at 12:15pm, when the “second shift” starts in the same classroom, at the same school, with the same overcrowding and the same shortages (no, this is not Israel in the 1950’s; this is the Gaza Strip in 2009).

A total of 451,704 students went back to school two weeks ago in the Gaza Strip. The new school year promised more of the same struggle to cope, even at school, with the outcomes of the war and the closure imposed by Israel on the Gaza Strip for the past 27 months. For over two years, Israel has refused to allow paper to be imported into the Gaza Strip (except to the UNRWA schools) since paper is not considered “essential for the basic existence of the population.”

The education system, already weakened by the closure, sustained a severe blow when 280 schools and kindergartens were damaged during the war, including 18 schools that were completely destroyed. And there is no possibility of rebuilding them, since cement and building materials are also unnecessary for the “basic existence of the population.” Some 12,000 students who attended the destroyed schools were forced to look for new schools and this has led to an increase in the number of students at other schools, to more than 60 pupils in some classes. At present, almost 90% of the 221 schools operated by the UNRWA in Gaza and more than 80% of the 383 state schools are forced to operate in “shifts” in order to cope with the large number of students.

In the northern Gaza Strip alone, the destruction of 15 schools left 9,000 students without a place to study. Some 4,000 of them were placed in just 2 schools.

At the top of the list of goods that Israel won’t allow into the Gaza Strip are construction materials which can be used to repair the heavy damage sustained during the war and to rebuild the schools that were damaged and destroyed. As billions of dollars earmarked for the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip remain unspent due to Israel’s policies, Israel has chosen a strange way to “teach Gaza a lesson.”