“Back to School” ads seem to go hand in hand with the end of summer. As our children in Canada prepare for another year of learning, parents and caregivers are urged to take advantage of sales on everything from pencils to packs. Anticipation builds as the start of school approaches once again.
But the children in Palestine face a different reality ~ anticipation and apprehension. Most parents and caregivers would not have the available funds to purchase new clothes or backpacks. And for many children, the realities of even getting to school are frightening and dangerous, not to mention arduous and time consuming. The school day can be interrupted by armed soldiers and tear gas. Some children do not know if they will even have a school to attend.
Last September our Bethlehem team accompanied the children of Tuqu` village as they made their way past armed soldiers, armoured humvees, and military jeeps to reach their schools. The village of Tuqu’, 12 km SE of Bethlehem, is situated in Area B, but the 3 schools that we monitored twice a week last fall are on the outskirts of the village, straddling a busy settler bypass road in Area C. (See my earlier blog ~ The A, B, Cs of Occupation.) This means that the Palestinians have no control over the road in terms of signage or speed. It also means that the Israeli military cruise up and down the road at will, regularly stationing themselves in front of a private home next to 2 of the schools, both when the children are arriving and when they are leaving.
We found that military incursions into the schools are not uncommon. Soldiers peer into classroom windows, fire tear gas, detonate sound bombs, and regularly patrol the village, arresting young boys in the middle of the night who have allegedly been seen “throwing stones.” Soldiers occasionally shoot live ammunition; many young boys have been injured and several have died. On November 19 last fall, soldiers fired live ammunition at stone throwing teen boys who posed no threat, seriously injuring 17 year old Muhammad al-Badan. Many children suffer from psychological trauma.
The illegal settlers that the army is mandated to protect from the stone throwing youth live in two illegal settlements near Tuqu’ ~ Tekoa’ and Nokdim (Noqedim) ~ both built on private Palestinian land belonging to villagers of Tuqu’. It is an area of high tension. Local sources on the ground this winter and spring have witnessed on-going and continued conflict.
I am also remembering our young friends in the village of Al-Nu’man who are virtually imprisoned in a village of about 125 residents. With the exception of internationals, no one is allowed to visit. The village has its own checkpoint where the children are required to pass twice daily, showing their documents to armed soldiers and potentially having their small backpacks subjected to search on their way to and from school. A travesty!
And then there are the children of Bethlehem and several surrounding villages who attend the school administered by the Salesian sisters in the beautiful Cremisan valley. On April 14, the nuns lost their case against the route of the separation wall when, after 7 years of proceedings, the Israeli Special Appeals Committee for Land Seizure ruled that the convent/school would be on the “Palestinian side,” separated from its lands in the Cremisan valley as well as from its related monastery on the “Israeli side.” The separation wall will, when completed, surround the school on 3 sides, making it into a virtual prison situated in a military zone. It is worth noting that the separation wall was declared illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004.
Perhaps the most overlooked and unrecognized of all are the Bedouin citizens of Israel. As part of the Prawer Plan, Israel is seeking to forcibly remove more than 40,000 Bedouin from their ancestral lands in what Jewish Voices for Peace is calling “a massive violation of human rights.” In this context, I think of the children we visited from the Jahalin tribe in the eastern desert on the outskirts of Jerusalem whose “Tyre (tire) School” is still under threat of demolition even though the courts granted a temporary reprieve last year. Will these children have a school to which they can go next week or the week after?
Should not all children have the right to a quality, safe education? ~ As long as Israel continues to illegally occupy Palestinian lands and lives, Palestinian children face an occupied education ~ As global citizens, is it not up to us to do all in our power to end this madness ~ for the sake of the children?
Note: For more information, please see the recent joint publication (EAPPI/WCC and UNICEF), Education under Occupation, which chronicles our field experiences last fall.