Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Gaza's race car students “inspirational”
By Stuart Littlewood
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, February 27, 2011
“We didn’t give up. As Palestinians, we look for plan B all
Stuart Littlewood tells the remarkable story of
Palestinian students from Gaza who are competing in an international
competition to design and build a racing car, which thanks to the medieval
Israeli siege they are doing using domestic water pipes and parts
scavenged from disused vehicles.
Imagine a handful of
engineering students imprisoned in the tiny Gaza enclave taking on the
cream of Europe's technical universities in a competition to build a race
car and compete with it.
They did it last year. And they’re
planning to do it again this year – at least that’s what their students’
union tells me, and I’ve been trying to get confirmation.
Formula Student (FS) is a challenge to
university students around the world to design and build a single-seat
racing car, which they must then put through its paces at the Silverstone
Circuit in the UK in a series of static and dynamic tests.
is to inspire young people and boost skills in advanced engineering. In
Europe the competition is run by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE).
America has a similar student competition run by the Society of Automotive
Students have to pretend they’ve been engaged by a
manufacturing firm to produce a prototype car for evaluation. In addition
to technical skills, the exercise teaches management, marketing and people
skills. The motor sport industry regards this as an ideal standard of
achievement for students making the transition from college to workplace.
Last year’s Class 1 winner was the University of Stuttgart. Stuttgart,
of course, is home to Mercedes-Benz and Porsche, and the University is
renowned for its advanced automotive engineering. Gottlieb Daimler himself
was a student there, and Wilhelm Maybach received an honorary doctorate
from the University at the age of 70 – names to conjure with!
gives some idea of what the Gaza lads, who are starting in Class 2, will
eventually be up against. Peter Leipold, 26, Chief Executive of the
winning Rennteam Stuttgart, said:
Formula Student gives you
the chance to learn much more than you ever could through studying,
internships and diplomas. You have to deal with ideas and concepts,
design, manufacturing, costing, materials, testing, logistics –
there’s such a huge range of work you have to do. I don’t think
there’s any other competition in the world in which you can learn so
Construction of the car itself has to conform to nearly 30 pages of
stringent rules and regulations. A four-stroke piston engine no larger
than 610cc must be used, but this is enough to catapult the car from 0 to
60mph in just a few seconds. Electric only or hybrid vehicles are also
Blockaded and starved of resources
Further rules cover judging. The cars are judged in a
series of tests such as technical inspection, cost and sustainability,
presentation and engineering design, solo performance trials and high
performance track endurance.
The rules even cover "unsportsmanlike
The competition has been running in the UK since 1998 and
Silverstone has been the venue since 2007. Nowadays Silverstone, besides
being the home of Formula One racing, incorporates a technology park and
is a very different world from the old aerodrome circuit many of us
remember from the 1950s and 1960s.
The Khan Younis
Training Centre (KYTC), located near Rafah, at the southern end of the
Gaza Strip, was set up by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency
(UNRWA) in 2007 to provide training for Gazan refugees and to inject
skilled labour into the local economy. One of the programmes it offers is
Autotronics, which includes diagnosis, maintenance and repair of
automotive systems, injection and ignition systems, and electronics and
“It really is inspirational to see a team working so
hard with the odds stacked against them like this. Formula
Student is a massive challenge in its own right, but to be
working with almost entirely recycled parts in one of the
most deprived areas in the world is remarkable. “
Dr Colin Brown, Director of Engineering at IMechE
Ever since Hamas won the 2006 elections in Palestine and enforced their
right to govern the Gaza Strip this tiny coastal enclave has been
viciously blockaded by Israel, turning it into a prison. Nothing gets in
or out without Israel's say-so. Although the siege is illegal under
international law, the international community does nothing. In 2009
KYTC’s first Autotronics class, frustrated at the lack of workshop
materials for hands-on automotive experience, set about building a race
car from recycled parts. The following year the students decided to go
further and build a car to the exacting standards of Europe's Formula
Student contest. Eleven students eventually travelled to the UK last June
with their high-octane creation.
Entered in Class 2, the team won third prize for their business plan
and came ninth with their financial report. But they were docked a huge
number penalty points for missing the deadline for their design and
specification report. This was because Israel’s illegal blockade prevented
special parts from Italy reaching them. The team had to improvise with
recycled items from Gaza. Had they been awarded just an average score for
the design and specification section they’d have finished in the top half
of the results table along with Bath, Budapest, Brunel and Edinburgh.
Dr Colin Brown, Director of Engineering at IMechE, said:
A chassis made of domestic water pipes and powered by an old
It really is inspirational
to see a team working so hard with the odds stacked against them like
this. Formula Student is a massive challenge in its own right, but to
be working with almost entirely recycled parts in one of the most
deprived areas in the world is remarkable.
epitomise the spirit and inventiveness of those who take part in
Who are these remarkable youngsters and who
encouraged them to get involved? UNRWA says:
The 11 youngsters that
make up the Formula Student team are following a course in autotronics,
designed to give a solid practical grounding in automobile
engineering. In educational terms, it equates to an A Level or
Ordinary National Certificate (ONC). Many are from a background that
the United Nations describes as “abject poverty”, which means families
who do not have the financial resources to provide for the very basic
necessities such as food, clothing, and hygiene…
The principal of the KYTC, Dr Ghassan Abu-Orf, was aware of the
then-fledgling Formula Student competition while teaching at the
University of Sunderland in the UK. When he returned to Gaza, he reckoned
that building such a car locally would be an ideal project for his pupils.
According to Emel, the Muslim lifestyle magazine,
once the team had made the
plans for the car and identified the necessary parts they needed, they
set about contacting various suppliers around the world to see where
they could be acquired from. After many companies turned them down,
the students found an Italian company that was willing to work with
them. But even after the parts were sent, the Israeli authorities
refused to let them enter the Gaza Strip.
“We didn’t give up,” a member of the team told Emel. “As Palestinians,
we look for plan B all the time.”
So the students checked old cars
and machinery in the Gaza Strip and salvaged the parts they needed. The
engine came from a used Honda motorcycle and the chassis was fabricated
with domestic hot water pipes. “Unfortunately we didn’t have the tools,
machines and parts necessary to give us the best possible results —
technology in Gaza is still quite primitive and out of date in comparison
with international standards. But our mission was different, and remains
Sahar Mousa, writing in Rotterdam4gaza, said:
Complacency of Palestinian officials
For us the Formula Student
competition is more than a prize, its more than a competition to win,
it’s not related to being famous or to get any material reward. When
we think about the competition we think about Palestine, we think
about the Palestinian people wherever they are, we think about a
message we need to send for the world. We need to tell everybody that
we are a part of this world and we deserve our place in this world. We
are able to be active and Palestinian Youth are able to create,
innovate, and compete.
Yes we can make it, we are strong enough
to do it, because it’s for Palestine and it’s for every Palestinian.
Sadly, I’m posting
this article without any contributions from the main players – the General
Union of Palestinian Students UK who hosted the Gaza team while in
Britain, the Palestinian embassy in London and the team itself. The
reason? After several requests the union said it was “too busy” to give me
the team’s contact details.
The embassy has not, as far as I know,
issued any press releases or briefings, although it did reproduce a
Daily Telegraph report on its website last June. I have written twice
asking the ambassador’s office for information and contact details only to
be ignored. After combing the internet I found a general email address for
KYTC. Two emails have been sent but not acknowledged.
amazing story is scraped together from other sources. Had I known about it
last summer, I’d have been at Silverstone cheering the lads on.
What I’d now like to know is:
- While in the UK the team visited Parliament and presumably other
places besides Silverstone. Did they manage to establish any helpful
links to the performance car industry (constructors and R&D) or liaise
with likeminded education and training establishments?
- Have they arranged a programme yet for their 2012 visit?
- For 2012 what changes are they making? Will it be the same car
modified or an entirely new one? The same team or a new one?
- These were among the questions sent to the principal, although he
might not have received them. I also asked for pictures. Again
The 2012 event is only three month away. If the KYTC lads read this and
wish to update me on their preparations I’ll be happy to do a follow-up.
But I hope they appreciate that writers and reporters need to wrap up
their stories and move on. If unable to get a timely reply or make proper
contact they soon lose interest.
As for the Palestinian embassy in
London, its prime task is surely to represent all Palestinians in a good
light, showcase their achievements and help open doors to opportunities.
This year, if indeed these remarkable youngsters are coming back, let us
hope the ambassador and his staff are on the ball and actively engaged.