Glasgow University students walk out to demand a ceasefire. Credit: Athina Bohner

“The war has consumed my entire life”: University of Glasgow students call for a ceasefire as the humanitarian crisis in Gaza worsens

As the humanitarian crisis in Gaza continues to worsen, The Glasgow Guardian speaks to a number of Palestinian students in Glasgow.

On 7 October 2023, militant group Hamas attacked Israel, killing around 1,200 people and kidnapping 240 hostages. The unprecedented October 7 attack marks the bloodiest day in Israel’s history with the majority of hostages remaining in Hamas captivity. Human rights organisations, including Amnesty International, have called for the immediate release of all civilians held hostage. In response to the October 7 attack, Israel declared war on Hamas, resulting in a large-scale land, sea, and air attack on the densely-populated Gaza Strip.

As of 22 November 2023, the death toll in Gaza has surpassed 14,000 and over 1.7 million people in Gaza have been internally displaced. The UN Secretary-General António Guterres has described the situation in Gaza as “a graveyard for children”, with over 40% of those killed being children. International NGOs, including the British Red Cross, are warning of a humanitarian catastrophe, as people in Gaza are facing a severe shortage of food, clean water, and medical care.

Speaking to The Glasgow Guardian, a number of Palestinian students at the University of Glasgow expressed feeling stressed, heartbroken, and devastated. Yaffa* said: “We’re on our phones all the time, watching the news. We really don’t know what to do.” Omar, 20, another Glasgow University student whose family background is Palestinian, told The Glasgow Guardian: “the war has consumed my entire life.” Every few hours, he checks the social media accounts of journalists reporting from Gaza, although at least 45 journalists have been killed in Gaza since 7 October.

Other Palestinians at Glasgow echoed this sense of helplessness and recounted feelings of survivor’s guilt. Yaffa told The Glasgow Guardian: “I feel so guilty that I’m here studying at a prestigious university, safe and sound in my own home, while [the students in Gaza] can’t.” According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), over 50% of Gaza’s education facilities have been hit by Israeli airstrikes, resulting in 625,000 students without access to education.

The latest OCHA figures also show that only one hospital is operational in Gaza City and Gaza North, with the average waiting time to receive a half portion of bread estimated at 4 to 6 hours. On 10 November, the head of the World Health Organisation told the UN Security Council that a child is killed every 10 minutes in Gaza. Beesan, from Palestine, whose immediate family lives in Glasgow, says: “I worry for my cousins and I worry for the children of Gaza who are much stronger than they have to be.” 

Glasgow University students from Palestine are also experiencing difficulties focusing on their studies. Omar, a fourth-year student, has fallen behind on coursework for the first time since starting his degree, remarking: “If I had exams this semester, I would probably have to repeat the year”. Yaffa is also struggling academically, but feels that the war is reminding her not to take education for granted. She told The Glasgow Guardian: “I feel like it’s a privilege to be here, because the only difference between me and the people in Gaza is the route my parents took.”

Since October 7, organisations have recorded a concerning rise in antisemitism and Islamophobia. Recent figures show that antisemitic hate crimes in London are up by 1,350%, while Islamophobic incidents have increased by 600% in the UK. Although most of the Palestinian students interviewed feel safe on campus, one female student said that since the beginning of the war, “it’s been more stressful to exist publicly.” The student, who wears a hijab, missed almost 2 weeks of classes because she felt anxiety about leaving her home. She told The Glasgow Guardian: “It wasn’t until some of my professors reached out in support, that’s when I started feeling more comfortable coming back on campus and engaging in my labs.”

Over the past month, pro-Palestine demonstrators have taken to the streets of Glasgow, with hundreds calling for a ceasefire. Weekly student walk-outs are also taking place on campus, as well as sit-in actions at Queen Street station and Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. Palestinian students at the University of Glasgow are “thankful for the sense of community”, but feel that the University isn’t being supportive enough. On 7 November—exactly one month after the outbreak of war—the University called for “the immediate release of all hostages and a humanitarian ceasefire” in an email to the student body.

Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf, has been vocal in calling for a ceasefire, in addition to pledging £750,000 in humanitarian aid from the Scottish Government, as well as urging the UK Government to create a resettlement scheme for refugees from Gaza and recognise the state of Palestine. The Scottish Government’s response to the Israel-Gaza war makes Omar “very proud to be in Scotland”. He added that: “People really do make Glasgow, because I’ve never felt more welcome here than anywhere in my life.” Due to its history of displacement, there are over 14 million Palestinians around the world, with the majority residing in Arab countries, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.

As part of the Palestinian Society at Glasgow University, Beesan hopes to celebrate Palestinian culture on campus. Despite the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza, she told The Glasgow Guardian: “When I think of Palestine, I think of the oranges, the olive trees, the watermelons, the kids, and the neighbourhoods.” Similarly to the other Palestinian students interviewed, Yaffa is grateful that her family in the West Bank is safe. She said: “I really don’t know how this war can come to an end, but I hope it does soon, because any more casualties would be devastating.”

* Name has been changed at the interviewee’s request.

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