By EA Rajesh, Hebron team,
I woke up at 6 am. It’s Sunday morning. Today a new school week starts. I ask the taxi driver to drop me off at Al Qarantina Street in the Tel Rumeida area of Hebron. From here I have to pass an open area of land with olive trees and a Muslim cemetery. This is the safest way to reach Cordoba school, where I give almost daily protective presence to schoolchildren with EAPPI.
Established in 1971, Cordoba school is located H2 – the Israeli controlled zone – just across from the Israeli settlements of Beit Hadassah and Beit Romano. Today the school has 16 teachers all of whom are women. Cordoba’s148 students are divided into 9 classes. In Cordoba school girls and boys are in mixed classes up to 6th grade and it has single sex classes for girls up to 9th grade. In the past, teachers and children have had frequent problems with settler violence and harassment and the school has been vandalised on a number of occasion. For example settlers attempted to burn down the school twice in 2007 and in 2008. Settlers also uprooted trees that the students planted in front of the school in August 2010 and in December 2011 a 12-year-old settler child tried to attack a Palestinian student of the same age with a knife at the bottom of the school stairs.
This makes EAPPI’s presence important, as it overall gives confidence and a sense of security to the children on their way to and from school and may prevent settler attacks and harassment.
In the last week of October 2015 four Palestinians were killed in H2 close to Cordoba school, including a young man just below the school stairs. On the 29th of October the Israeli army declared the whole of Tel Rumeida and Shuhada Street a closed military zone, meaning that only residents whos names had been recorded on a soldier’s checklist were allowed to enter (in some cases even residents of Shuhada Street were denied entry). This restriction on movement lasted until 19 November. Shuhada Street was previously the main street and economic centre of Hebron but has turned into a ghost town after being closed by the Israeli authorities in 1997. This is the main road through which the students and teachers access Cordoba school.
EAs monitor ‘the school run’ to Cordoba school on an ongoing basis. This means being present at schools and taking steps to ensuring children reach school safely. This involves accompanying children as they walk to school in militarized areas recording the numbers of school children and teachers passing the checkpoints as well as reporting any delays or difficulties they face. Since we arrived we have observed numerous restriction on children’s rights to access education such as delays at check points, bag checks, body search, child detentions and arrests among others.
Normally we (EAs) stand at checkpoint 56 and at checkpoint 55 on Shuhada Street but after it was declared a closed military zone we were no longer allowed to enter the street. This meant that we could not offer protective presence to students and teachers passing the checkpoints. This inhibited our ability to monitor and report on the humanitarian impact of this movement restriction.
This morning we had the opportunity to meet the principal Nora Nasar and some of the students who attend Cordoba school. Nora tells us, that both students and teachers are more scared and therefore walk together in groups when going to and from school. “I am afraid of settlers and scared of soldiers. They try to scare us by pointing their guns at us and stamping their feet. Settlers also drive very fast past us,” says 10-year-old Qusai. The children are particularly afraid of settler attacks, as 11-year-old Munib expresses: “I am afraid of settlers and being kidnapped by them”.
As a consequence of this tense situation, the children’s performance in school is negatively affected. According to Nora, the children are more sensitive to loud or sudden sounds and get lower marks as they have lower levels of concentration. In addition, the children face several psychosocial problems like low self-esteem, nightmares, lack of sleep and bedwetting. Every time an incident like a shooting happens, school attendance is reduced as the children become more afraid, and the school is forced to close earlier than normal resulting in several classes being cancelled.
Despite these challenges, the teachers are trying to encourage the children and the school counsellor empowers students to cope with the daily struggles they face. As Nora says: “We continue our education no matter what. The love of learning kills the fear.” On the 19 November the closed military zone in H2 and the related movement restrictions were lifted. EAPPI and other international human rights monitors continue to accompany children to school in Hebron in order to ensure their right to safe access to education despite occupation.
Please take action to help enhance Palestinian school children’s access to education by clicking on the box below:
Since April 2012, EAPPI, in cooperation with international organisations, has monitored access to education for children in the West Bank. In 2015, Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) are providing protective presence and accompaniment to some 3,500 students and 300 teachers by monitoring nine schools as well as six checkpoints that children pass on a daily basis on their way to and from school. The presence of EAs deters soldiers and settlers from harassing children and help children to reach school safely.
EAPPI Fact sheet: Creating a safe environment despite occupation