‘The war blew our minds’ Special Education student teachers talk about the war on Gaza and people with disabilities

War on Gaza and the situation in the West Bank. What do special education student teachers think? 

Highlights from online discussion, 22 November 2023 

News on Day 47. A temporary truce has been brokered by Qatar between Israel and Hamas, involving the exchange of hostages and detainees set for Thursday 22 November, 10am. 

As the temporary truce was negotiated in November 2023, we met online with special education student teachers from the Faculty of Education at Birzeit University to discuss the war situation and its impact on their studies. The meeting was based on the need to open up a space for students to articulate their thoughts, worries, and anxieties and how these relate with their learning. The discussion was organized by the responsible lecturer of special education at the Faculty of Education in Birzeit University in the West Bank and volunteers from Teachers without Borders (TwB) were present. 

Here are some thoughts shared in the meeting: 

We can now understand the impact on children and how they can develop psychological problems or other special needs, like children with Down syndrome. So, basically, the current situation is eye-opening for special education students, 

… one of the participating students says. 

Unfortunately, we cannot go to the university, the situation is very bad. The Israeli ban moving between cities and villages, so it is both hard and dangerous to [go around]. This year our studies require in-person learning more than last year. Our classes are more practical now than before, so our learning faces many challenges. Our chance to learn better is restricted,

… another student explains. 

Distance education certainly limits those challenges, but it is not the same as learning face-to-face. It is not the same as interacting with the teachers in actual classrooms. Interaction with the teachers on campus helps clarify things, adds one TwB volunteer. 

… adds one TwB volunteer. 

I couldn’t help but thinking the people with disabilities ever since the war started. It blew our minds how everything happened. But how about them? What do they think? How do they manage to do anything? If we are sad, and grieving for our losses, how about them?, 

… one of the students ponders. 

We are all feeling paralyzed. It’s impossible for us to even accept the idea of children being violated, being injured, being [killed]. They took from them something, in a way or another. We are all speechless, and paralyzed, not being able to do anything!, 

… a TwB exclaims.

According to a position paper issued by Stars of Hope* in December 2023, this war has resulted in wide-scale destruction of civil facilities and infrastructure and in the murders of a huge number of civilian Palestinians. The position paper sees these as deliberate efforts by the occupation forces to make the Strip “unlivable” now and in the future. Senior UN officials, rapporteurs of various UN committees, and senior human rights experts have described what is happening as war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity. 

The position paper goes on to present some data that the Social and Economic Policies Monitor (AlMarsad) and the Stars of Hope Society for the Empowerment of Women with Disabilities have collected through a special operation monitoring the effects of war and the aggression on persons with disabilities in Gaza Strip. While the initial goal was to contact 100 male and female participants, 36 individuals finally responded. Problems in participation were due to the disconnection of telecommunication services and internet connection, the displacement of residents, and the difficult and stressful life conditions inside shelters. The analysis of responses so far indicates that:

  • • 77.8% of the participants are persons with disabilities who have been displaced from their homes, with some of them being displaced more than once, while some were faced with displacement 6 times.
  • • 19.4% have seen their homes down to total destruction.
  • • 27.8% had their houses partially destroyed during Israeli airstrikes.

These percentages reflect the erosion of the basic components of the lives of persons with disabilities, and their long-term and huge effect in the future, even if the war ends now, the position paper points out. As the survey participants have emphasized, this comes to add to health effects being the result of lack of access to medicine, treatments, food, and drinking water. 

Stars of Hope Society is a lead organization for women with all types of disabilities in Palestine. It is a woman-centered organization, which works on a collective model. Women with disabilities run the organization, aiming to help and empower other women with disabilities. 

The video story ‘All kids deserve a safe space’ is part of coursework for special education studies taught by Dr Bihan Qaimari. The video was created by students Aseel Taweel, Noura Abulfi & Mira Basha.

All kids deserve a safe place

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