The German media is not overloaded with news, information and facts concerning violent attacks on educational institutions in the Middle East. The most recent articles in German newspapers are from 2013 and deal mainly with the Syrian crisis. Within the topic of Syria the media actually reports on attacks on universities.
The online newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine said in one of their reports: “Dead people after attack at university of Damascus”. This aims to inform that the Syrian conflict reached the capital Damascus long ago. After pointing out the number of dead students, 15 in total, the article blames the Arab League, which supposedly encourages any possible confrontation within the country. Two thirds of the article reports on international relations between Syria and countries such as Russia, which criticised the actions of the Arab League, and Turkey that deports refugees after riots. Conclusively the actual topic referring to the attack on Damascus’ university is embedded in the general Syrian crisis and, perhaps, would not have been reported without a powerful event such as the on-going crisis and the revolution.
Further research about the attacks on educational institutions in the Middle East lead away from articles to websites such as Human Rights Watch. The announcements on this website in November 2013 focus on stopping the military use of schools in conflict areas. The announcement by the non-governmental organisation published a video on this topic in six different languages. The video shows in what way children are seriously affected by the military use of their schools. The message on the homepage elaborates that the occupants turn the schools into prisons, training camps and depots for weapons. The video and announcement was published on the International Day of Children Rights.
A small poll among some German students who spent considerable time in one or more Middle Eastern countries say that the topic in Germany is under-represented. One of them is Alex, a German student in political science, who has been to the Middle East three times already. Two times in Israel for a student exchange in 2007 and 2008, the third time Alex stayed for half a year to study in Israel’s city Haifa in 2012/2013. During his third stay he also visited parts of Egypt and Jordan. Friends told him about the rocket attacks in 2006. “The university in Haifa lies on a 470 metre high hill and on not cloudy days you can actually see the Lebanon. As I was told you could recognise the rockets very early when you had been round the university round this time”, Alex says. These rockets did not reach the university but in the past it has been evacuated and the lecture program has been stopped. While the situation is almost ‘normal’ for the Israeli students most of the foreign students are face a scary situation and many of them return to their home countries. There is no university in Israel where you are safe in terms of rocket attacks.
During Alex’ semester abroad the operation “Pillar of Defence” took place. In November 2012 the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) launched a campaign going against terror targets in Gaza. It was claimed the IDF were responding to increased rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip. The intention was to destroy any terror organisations in the Gaza Strip, the second goal was to defend the Israeli civilians who were mainly living under fire. Alex tells that he and others realised people have been more tense during this time as numerous people thought another invasion of the Gaza strip was imminent. “During this time several Israeli students have been drawn in by the military, which established a circle around the Gaza strip. The people were afraid of attacks and after a bus attack in Tel Aviv the fears proved to be true. For the very first time, Hamas held rockets of a range that were able to reach Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Therefore the universities of these two cities sounded the highest alarm.”
Several people started to demonstrate for the attacks of Hamas. “Even at my university”, Alex remembers. “It is embarrassing that also German were among the objectors.” Only one day later counter demonstrations took place which were meant to support the civilians of the South and to express solidarity.
Alex says that the Palestinians tend to build and place their rocket positions in Gaza in civil institutions, often in educational institutions such as schools. By these actions they intend to protect themselves from attacks by the Israeli military. “Mostly the people are safe inside schools or universities as the IDF is keen to avoid civilian victims.”
However, the topic only attracts a small amount of attention. In Alex’s opinion the focus is more on the “military-strategic events than the conflict itself and how the population deals with the attacks”.
The above mentioned articles in German media are not the sole ones but they give an insight to the attitude within the media. The reports, news and information concerning attacks aimed at educational institutions in the Middle East remain under-reported and are often only covered as part of a wider crisis.
By Maria Wokurka
Picture credit: Michael Privorotsky