Mona Zaqout sat in her living room within the besieged Gaza Strip together with her eyes glued to her cell phone. She was ready to obtain the outcomes of her closing faculty yr examinations, identified within the area as “Tawjihi”.
Beside her was her 18-year-old brother Ahmed, who’s a yr older and was additionally anticipating his outcomes. They had been surrounded by members of the family who eagerly refreshed their telephones and laptops to learn out the outcomes.
As they trickled in, Ahmed’s appeared first. He had scored 98.four %, prompting loud cheers and applause from his kinfolk.
Moments later, Mona screamed in disbelief when her mom learn out her rating – a whopping 98.7 %.
The pair couldn’t imagine they scored so properly, given the circumstances they’d endured within the months main as much as their closing exams that started on June 24 and ended on July 12.
They sat by way of a sequence of assessments solely weeks after a lethal Israeli bombardment marketing campaign ripped by way of the already ravaged Gaza Strip. The 11-day offensive, which started on May 10 and killed not less than 260 Palestinians, together with 66 youngsters, was probably the most intense Israeli assaults on Gaza, and focused a variety of civilian constructions.
On the Israeli facet, 13 individuals had been killed by rocket hearth launched from the enclave by Palestinian teams.
Like 1000’s of others, Mona and Ahmed studied tirelessly, understanding that the outcomes would decide your entire monitor of their greater schooling.
Students within the area usually put together for these exams from the start of the educational yr, however these Al Jazeera spoke to expressed how exceptionally exhausting it was given the obstacles they confronted as Palestinians particularly.
Nearly 83,000 college students sat this yr’s exams throughout the occupied Palestinian territories, in accordance with figures launched by the schooling ministry, which put the go proportion at 71.
At least 4 college students had been killed all through the assault, whereas 70 others sustained accidents. They are scheduled to retake the exams at a later date, in accordance with authorities in Gaza.
‘Maybe I wouldn’t die’
Citing faculty closures because of the coronavirus pandemic, rising tensions in occupied East Jerusalem, and the Israeli assault on Gaza which lasted from May 10 to 21, Mona and Ahmed described the months main as much as the exams because the “toughest to date”.
“The psychological pressure was unlike any other,” Mona advised Al Jazeera. “During the 11-day war, every time I would hear the sound of an air strike, I would curl up and cry,” she stated.
Days into the assault, the 17-year-old tried to “adjust to the situation” and are available to phrases with the sounds of falling missiles. She would try to check, however instantly overlook all the pieces she had been studying.
At the time, Ahmed felt simply as helpless, describing the 11 days as a “nightmare”. For 5 consecutive days, he lived in utter fear and stated he merely couldn’t examine. He later tried to learn for 2 hours a day regardless of the continual sound of explosions.
When requested what pushed him to check amid the offensive, Ahmed stated, “I thought to myself: maybe I wouldn’t die, and in case I don’t I have to be prepared.”
Prior to the assault, college students throughout the Strip had been going to highschool simply 3 times every week as a part of a blended studying programme in place to curb the unfold of the coronavirus. For the rest of the 2 days, they must be part of courses nearly.
According to Gaza-based secondary faculty trainer Khaled al-Ailah, instructing remotely was among the many most tough challenges of this yr.
“Much of the teachers are not trained to teach remotely, and many do not have access to electronics and computers,” the geography trainer stated.
“And of course, the most obvious reason as to why this has been a challenging learning model is that many Palestinian families enduring poor living conditions do not even have access to the internet,” al-Ailah famous.
Despite the tough instances that Palestinians in Gaza have skilled collectively, lecturers – who are sometimes seen as steerage counsellors – have additionally needed to keep a powerful and unaffected entrance when coping with their college students, he added.
Those who go the infamously tough exams normally have a good time with fireworks, events, and are showered with presents and conventional sweets.
Sara al-Zebda’s home was flooded with kunafa – conventional Middle Eastern dessert – and flowers after scoring 95.three %. It was a dream come true, contemplating the younger girl had misplaced her brother in addition to her father in an Israeli air assault again in May.
“I was utterly devastated. I couldn’t study, I couldn’t do anything for weeks,” al-Zebda advised Al Jazeera, describing the darkest moments of her life.
She recalled the day she last saw her father, and saw him leave the house knowing that there might be a chance he would not return.
“The sounds of the air strikes were on repeat … It wasn’t long till my family and I heard the news of their deaths,” al-Zebda, who had a particularly close relationship with her slain brother Usama, said.
“My brother Usama was the one who used to encourage me to be the best version of myself. He wasn’t just a brother – he was my best friend and my backbone,” she said.
It took al-Zebda about a month to realise she still needed to revise for the final exams. Reading through her notes, she recognised Usama’s handwriting from when he would help her study physics and maths.
“Seeing his handwriting and reading what he left me with really guided me when I was at my worst,” she said.
Others, like Ahmed Nusair, lost all of their study material during the offensive. His home was targeted on the eve of the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Fitr.
Wreckage and rubble have become a normal scene in Gaza, which has been under a crippling Israeli siege since 2007.
The attacks in May destroyed 2,000 residential units that are now unfit for housing, and partially destroyed at least another 22,000 housing units, forcing tens of thousands of Palestinians to take shelter elsewhere.
Some 74 public buildings, including local municipalities, were also destroyed, according to figures released by the information ministry run by Hamas, the group that rules the Gaza Strip.
“I remember the ceiling falling on us,” Nusair advised Al Jazeera, recalling the second his home was struck. “We all quickly scattered and started running but with nowhere to go.”
“Next thing I know we are at the hospital with my sister who sustained injuries,” he stated. “We sought shelter throughout the 11 days of bombardment, and when they announced the truce, the first thing I thought of was: I need material to study for my final exams.”
Upon his return to his partially destroyed home, Nusair hoped to salvage books, notepads, or “anything at all” to assist him get by way of exams.
With simply three weeks left till exams, “everything was gone”, he stated, including that he was happy to have scored 66.four %.
He had already missed a variety of faculty time when he was contaminated with COVID-19 earlier this yr, and later, when faculties shut down due to the pandemic.
The well being ministry ultimately turned his faculty right into a quarantine facility, and moved Nusair’s class to a unique faculty with new directors and lecturers.
“We craved consistency and stability,” he stated. “It was simply too disruptive for us as Tawjihi students.”
Additional reporting by Hosam Salem in Gaza.