SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: January 17, 2024

Attack Types: Other

Institution(s):Al-Israa University

Region & Country:Western Asia | Palestine (OPT)

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On January 17, 2024, Israeli military forces detonated hundreds of landmines inside of Al-Israa University, destroying it. According to media reports, Al-Israa was the last standing university in Gaza.

Prior to destroying the university, the Israeli military had reportedly occupied Al-Israa since early November, using it as a military base and a detention and interrogation center. Israeli forces claimed Hamas fighters had used the university as a hide-out.

On January 18, nearly 70 days after Israeli forces first occupied it, videos were circulated on social media showing drone footage of a large detonation destroying the university. The destroyed buildings included the graduate and undergraduate colleges, the university’s training hospital – the only university hospital in the Gaza Strip – as well as medical, engineering, and nursing labs, media training studios, the law college’s court hall, the university’s mosque, and a national museum established by the university, which contained more than 3,000 rare archaeological artifacts.

The shelling took place three and a half months after Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, 2023; an attack during which over 1,200 Israelis and foreign nationals were killed and more than 200 abducted. As of mid- February 2024, the Israeli military’s subsequent bombardment of the Gaza Strip has reportedly killed more than 29,000 Palestinians. Israeli munitions have damaged or destroyed nearly all of Gaza’s higher education institutions, often in multiple attacks. These include: the Islamic University of Gaza (see report), the University College of Applied Sciences (see report), Al-Azhar University (see report), the University College of Applied Sciences and Technology (see report), the Palestine Technical College (see report), and Al-Quds Open University (see report).

Scholars at Risk is concerned about attacks on universities and allegations of military occupation or use of university facilities. Parties to a conflict may only attack legitimate military targets; where a party suspects that a civilian facility—such as a university building—is being used for military purposes, that party has a duty to take every action practicable to verify that this suspicion is correct before initiating an attack. In the event of such an attack, parties must take all practicable precautions to avoid or minimize damage to civilian facilities. Likewise, parties must refrain from using higher education facilities for military purposes during active conflict. Further, parties must refrain from launching attacks which may be expected to cause disproportionate damage to civilian facilities.