Amidst a burgeoning pandemic and a deepening economic crisis, Palestinians in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip celebrated the release of high school matriculation exam scores on Saturday.
“My happiness, and my family’s happiness, is indescribable,” East Jerusalem student Sarah Idrees, who scored fourth out of tens of thousands of Palestinian students, told the Ma’an News Agency.
Families shopped for sweets to honor the newly-minted graduates and hosted receptions at their homes for friends and relatives. Revelers launched copious amounts of fireworks, sparking hundreds of complaints about noise.
ِThe Palestinian Authority Education Ministry sent out the test scores by text message at 8 a.m. on Saturday.
Almost immediately, waves of fireworks and celebratory gunshots swept the West Bank and East Jerusalem, prompting a wave of calls by Jerusalem residence to police. So many fireworks were launched in Nablus and Ramallah that their smoke trails hung over the cities in thick clouds.
By Saturday night, Israeli police had arrested 41 residents of East Jerusalem for illegal use of fireworks. (East Jerusalem is under Israeli government jurisdiction, but many schools teach the Palestinian school program). Nonetheless, sparklers continued to burst overheard across the city skyline well into the night, accompanied by gunshots.
Gaza-based terror group Hamas issued warnings about the practice of shooting in the air in celebration in the days leading up to the release of the exam scores. The Hamas Interior Ministry warned that violators would be penalized.
Hamas hailed the policy as a success in a statement, saying that “only 18 shots were fired in the area in the whole Gaza Strip… with no recorded injuries or harm done.”
The matriculation exam, or tawjihi, is divided into two tracks: liberal arts and sciences. The test determines the path one’s studies take, with a good score in the scientific track a prerequisite for the highly coveted and exclusive spots in medical, dental and engineering schools.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Palestinian students have not had a normal school day since March.
Schools were briefly opened only to allow graduating seniors to take the matriculation exams, with social distancing procedures. In areas under lockdown, exceptions were made for students taking exams to go to school.
“As students around the world are being deprived of education, we have persevered to hold the matriculation exam on time in accordance with health guidelines,” PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said during a visit to a school holding tawjihi exams in late May.
This year’s exam results saw a marked triumph for Palestinian women. Females took the top 13 spots in the Palestinian territories in liberal arts and two-thirds of the top ten in the sciences, including first place.
الأولى على مدينة القدس في الفرع الأدبي في مدينة سارة زهير إدريس بمعدل 99.1 % pic.twitter.com/owbtnC0Xjw
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Salsabil Beshawy, who took second place in the sciences, told the PA official news agency WAFA that graduating during a pandemic had strengthened her desire to pursue a career in medicine.
“All of it, the frustration and the exhaustion and being cut off from going to school and taking exams remotely — all of it has made me more committed to realizing my dream of studying medicine and becoming an active part of the fight against these diseases,” said Beshawy, who lives in Nablus and scored 99.6 out of a possible 100 on the exam.
Those who flunked or who otherwise wish to improve their scores will be able to take the tests again during a second round of exams in early August.