By EA Katherine, Bethlehem Team.
Among the group of teachers sitting in the sun before lessons start, Khalid Zboun is clearly the head teacher. All the teachers are drinking tea, the fuel of teaching, but Khalid is drinking his from a pint mug that wouldn’t look out of place in a British pub. He needs to drink tea in such quantities because being head teacher of Al Khadr Boys’ Secondary School, near Bethlehem, is a tough job. He knows neither the time nor the place that the Israel military will come.
The reality of education under occupation
The previous Sunday EAs watched his children arrive at the school past an Israeli armoured vehicle and four armed soldiers without incident. But at around 9AM a soldier fired a teargas canister into the school. There was no obvious reason. Those who asked the soldiers why they did this had a stun grenade shot at their feet. This was followed by more teargas canisters being fired into the playground.
On Monday the children arrived at school without incident and managed two lessons before teargas was again fired into the school. We see Khalid on Tuesday, where he shows us the CCTV footage of children running in panic in the midst of clouds of gas. We walk the precarious emergency route they took to evacuate the school. He explains that as head teacher he is expected to be at the front protecting his children when incidents like that happen, and he ended up receiving hospital treatment for teargas inhalation.
Khalid takes us into a classroom to see the advanced science stream. The teacher is writing complex formulas on the blackboard. The soldiers and their armoured vehicle are clearly visible about 10 metres from the classroom window.
Sunday again and we watch the children arrive past the soldiers in their usual place without incident. But there is a strike, and the children soon file back out again to spent the day with nothing much to do. In the evening media reports emerge of two people being shot by soldiers in Al Khadr. We visit the next day and piece together what happened. At around 2.30pm a seventeen year old boy was shot in the back near the school, the bullet just missing his heart as it exited. The Israeli army tried to arrest him on arrival at the hospital, and when they couldn’t they fired live ammunition and teargas into the crowd that had gathered, hitting in the chest a dentist who had come out from his surgery across the street. Both are expected to make a good recovery; the director of the hospital explained that they have a lot of experience of treating gunshot wounds.
Wednesday, and the teachers drinking tea in the sun at the Boys’ Secondary School are more relaxed than usual as the soldiers are not parked by the school. We walk to the girls’ school next door and find the soldiers’ armoured vehicle parked at the end of the school drive. The girls have to pass within a metre to get to school.
The schools, which date from 1932, overlook a major road that is now used by Israelis to access illegal settlements in occupied Palestine. The Israeli army says their presence is necessary to stop children throwing stones at cars on the roads and that the children also throw stones at them.
Attacks on schools are a grave violation of the rights of the child. Attacks on schools have been identified by the United Nations Security Council as a grave violation of child rights, in recognition that they are illegal under article 50 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and that they affect a child’s right to education enshrined in article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 28 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
EAPPI and other organisations are calling upon the Israeli authorities to fulfil their responsibility as outlined by international law and enable safe access to education for the children at Al Khadr and others in similar situations in occupied Palestine. Every child deserves to access school and be and feel safe when they do so.
Click here to see the range of actions you can take to support children, including a letter you can send to your elected representative.
This blog originally posted on www.eyewitnessblogs.com which is updated regularly with stories from the field written by Ecumenical Accompaniers from the UK/Ireland.