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  • Writer's pictureAfonso Ivens-Ferraz

Symbol of Dutch-Palestinian Solidarity Caught in Crossfire

Updated: Feb 6

A school in Gaza, funded in part by the municipality of Groningen, has been destroyed by Israeli air strikes.

Bombed site in Gaza © Public Domain

Early last week, it was reported that the school has been largely destroyed, according to its former dean. The site on which the building stood, located in the Gazan city of Jabalya, is now being used by the Israeli army as a military facility.

Originally built in 2005, the building was designed by a local architect, Henk Scholten, and was funded by the municipality of Groningen, which contributed an approximate sum of 90.000 euros, alongside other Dutch municipalities.

As a youth center which later became a school, the building remained a symbol of solidarity and collaboration between Palestinians in Gaza and Dutch civil society.

The Groningen-Palestinian connection

Until the war between Israel and Hamas erupted after the events of October 7th, the Groningen-Jabalya Foundation, led by Bert Giskes, had been sustaining this collaborative relationship between the two parties.

The foundation had been coordinating a theater initiative where Dutch actors provided theater workshops to local youths in Jabalya.

In an interview with The Groninger this past December, Giskes explained that this project was interrupted by the conflict, with many people fleeing the area out of fear for their safety.

One of the actors was Mads Timmermans, who has been to Jabalya on a number of occasions, has maintained contact with their pupils.

Over the past months, Timmermans has shared messages exchanged with students on social media, who detail horrendous encounters with death and extreme violence in their surroundings. In one of the conversations shared, a student tells him:

“It is possible that every day and every minute this will be the last message I send to you. At any moment, a missile could demolish my house above my head.”

The Groninger has not been able to verify the existence of these conversations, and is working with information obtained via screenshots of social media chats.

Similarly, Giskes, after hearing about the school's destruction, tells The Groninger that while he is saddened by these latest developments, he believes there are more pressing issues unfolding in Gaza.

“Of course, it’s bad but … it’s a building. I feel much worse for the people dying and suffering,” he says.

Still, Giskes mentions that the youth center-turned school, which was operated by Nama’s College for Science and Technology, played an important role. It became one of the few institutions that offered technical higher-education degrees in the Gaza strip.

Several students have reportedly earned their diplomas with a scholarship financed by the municipality of Groningen, who contributed an additional 65.000 euros in 2012.

What’s next?

At the present day, the Ministry of Health in Gaza has recorded over 25.000 deaths. As the conflict continues, Giskes is doubtful about what the future may bring for Palestinians in the Gaza strip and, consequently, what this will mean for Groningen-Gaza relations.

“We have to wait for the future and support them according to what the situation demands,” he said in December.

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