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Israel-Palestine war: Palestine's top student killed by Israeli air strikes

Al-Shaima Saidam, highest grade earner in Palestine's high school exams, has been killed with members of her family by strikes on a refugee camp
Al-Shaima Saidam
Al-Shaima Akram Saidam (X)

Israeli air strikes on Al Nuseirat refugee camp in the Gaza Strip earlier this week killed Al-Shaima Akram Saidam, the top student in Palestine’s high school examination of 2023, along with several members of her family, according to local media.

The intense air strikes on the camp, home to Palestinians displaced by previous wars, are part of Israel’s wider bombing of Gaza in the current Israel-Palestine war. Footage shows flattened buildings and severe damage to the camp.

Back in July, Saidam’s home was filled with drums and loud ululations of women as her family and neighbours gathered to celebrate her achievement, an average of 99.6 percent in the general secondary education examination.

“Even during [Israeli] aggressions, I never stopped studying,” Saidam told Palestinian outlets at the time, after putting down the flowers gifted to her.

In Palestine and Jordan, the education system requires high school students to take a series of tests known as Tawjihi at the conclusion of their final school year. The grades achieved in these exams determine students' admission to their preferred university degree programmes.

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Saidam mentioned that she adhered to a stringent schedule during her final academic year to achieve her desired result, maintaining a disciplined sleep pattern, even if it meant occasionally staying up late to complete her studies.

“It was very stressful, of course,” Saidam said. “I used to say, ‘I hope I just pass,’ but I [reached] this average, thank God.”

Israeli bombing of the Gaza Strip this month has killed at least 2,808 Palestinians so far, including more than 1,000 children, according to international NGO Defence for Children.

With Israel cutting off food, water, electricity and internet from the enclave, Unicef has called for an “immediate humanitarian truce” for the sake of children and their families.

Even before the current Israel-Palestine war, residents in Gaza struggled through regular power cuts and difficult living conditions imposed by the Israeli blockade. Saidam’s father, speaking in July over the sounds of upbeat music and cheers, said these conditions did not affect her performance.

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“The issue of electricity is not new to us, it has always been like this,” he said. “There are alternatives, batteries, [uninterruptible power supply], there are alternatives today, thank God.”

Saidam was supposed to continue her education at the Islamic University of Gaza, where she was hoping to pursue a degree in English translation. The same university was targeted by an Israeli air strike and destroyed last week.

The renewed fighting between Israel and armed Palestinian factions began on 7 October, when Hamas launched a surprise land, sea and aerial attack on southern Israel from Gaza.

The offensive killed more than 1,400 Israelis, with an estimated 230 more taken as hostages in Gaza.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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