“I want to be a physics professor.” ~Obadah Al Khateeb, Age 17

In Palestine, the obstacles to receiving an education are numerous. Checkpoints, military presence, settler attacks, treacherous roads, closed military zones, demolition orders, and violent clashes are only a few.  But students & teachers persevere daily in their journey to receive quality education.  We bring these faces to life and share their hopes, challenges, and dreams.

Helge Kjollesdal.Obadah Al Khateeb. Burin School. 31.08.14

Obadah Al Khateeb (17), 11th grade from the Burin School. Photo EAPPI/H. Kjollesdal.

What are you looking forward to this year?

I wish to improve my English and my skills in mathematics an physics.

What are your biggest challenges in going to school?

I have no major difficulties with the subjects. The challenges come with interruptions because of a tense security situation. We also need better facilities and equipment. It’s a challenge that we lack many things that could enhance the quality of the education.

What would you like to be in the future.

I hope to become a professor of physics in the university. I like physics very much and hope that teaching this subject later on also can contribute to strengthen the education in the schools within this field.

What is needed for education to thrive in Palestine.

First of all the teachers and parents need to motivate the students to love education. Many don’t see the value of going to school. We must have a better curriculum in English. The one we have now is not challenging enough. In order to get a better understanding of the sciences we need to do more experiments in laboratories. We often lack the equipment that is needed.

*Read more testimonies from this year’s Back to School series.
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*Check out last year’s photo essay: Visualizing Back to School in Palestine.

Planting olive trees: a nonviolent act of perseverance and steadfastness

by Ken, Yanoun team

 

Planting olive trees is an important part of spring for the 80,000 families in Palestine who depend on the olive harvest for income. Photo EAPPI/J. Byrne.

Planting olive trees is an important part of spring for the 80,000 families in Palestine who depend on the olive harvest for income. Photo EAPPI/J. Byrne.

It’s 9:00 am on a warm sunny morning in Burin. The weather is unusually mild for the time of year and the farmers are complaining about the scarcity of rainfall.  We’ve been asked to accompany the villagers while planting new olive trees to replace the ones Israeli settlers from the Yizhar settlement destroyed. Our transport arrives: a tractor and trailer containing about 50 olive tree saplings. The many passengers make room for us as we climb aboard and, precariously balanced, we set off on a 2 kilometre long journey across the valley and up a steep incline to arrive at a ploughed field just 300 metres from the fence surrounding the settlement.

Mamoun, from the rural development association in Burin and also one of the coordinators of this event, shows me the blackened remains of olive trees burned by Israeli settlers in an adjacent field. He believes in a conspiracy theory that I’ve heard before: that this arson is not a random act but part of a coordinated attempt to undermine the Palestinian rural economy.  He explains that “they know what they are doing. There is some genius thinking for them”. He also cautions us that farmers are often “beaten” in this area, especially if they get too close to the fence.

There is more to this event than just planting trees: it is both a memorial and a political statement. Attached to the saplings are photographs of Palestinian nationals. Some are long-term prisoners in Israeli jails; others have died in resisting the occupation. One photograph is of a local boy, aged about 10, who recently died of a brain tumour in spite of eventually receiving expert Israeli medical care. I realise that the man standing stoically alone in front of the tree is the boy’s father. At the risk of intruding on his private grief, I offer my condolences on his loss and a prayer for him. He thanks me for my concern in a most dignified way but then continues his vigil.

Planting trees is hard, sweaty and tiring work and our team pitches in. At a scheduled break I search for a stone to sit on, mindful of an earlier conversation with Mamoun about the local flora and fauna in which he mentioned that there were “many snakes” including a “Palestinian cobra”. Mamoun senses my anxiety: “don’t worry”, he says, “it’s winter and they’re sleeping”.

I ask Mamoun about his organization. He explains that it’s primarily concerned with improving agricultural productivity, and especially in helping farmers to become self-sufficient despite the diminishing amount of land accessible to them. It also organizes a women’s handicraft cooperative, promoting health education, and setting up a savings scheme to help parents pay for their children’s university education. All this depends on volunteer help without external funding.

This initiative seems to worry the Israeli military intelligence, as if being a community activist is somehow subversive. Mamoun’s office has been subjected to no less than six night-time raids by the army. He and, by association, his family are on a ‘black list’. When his 64 year old father enquired as to why his application for a permit to work in Israel had been rejected the answer was “ask your son”!

The planting ends ceremonially with the unfurling of a ‘solidarity’ banner and the obligatory taking of photographs. Everyone is in a jubilant mood. The trees have been planted without provoking a reaction by the settlers, and the army has kept its distance even though it has captured everything on video from beginning to end.

Mamoun sums up the feeling of the workers when he says “for every one tree they [the Israeli settlers] destroy, we will plant ten trees more”.

I’m convinced that against all the odds this continuing emphasis on nonviolent resistance will eventually win the day for the Palestinians as it did for Gandhi in India and Mandela in South Africa.

Thomas Friedman, writing in the New York Times, about what he calls a ‘third intifada’ believes that “it is the one that Israel always feared most – not an intifada with stones or suicide bombers, but one propelled by non-violent resistance and economic boycott”.

The final word naturally belongs to Mamoun: he warmly thanks our team “for your support and for showing solidarity with us”, and the other workers beam in agreement.

The girl who climbed to the top of the world

The situation at Burin secondary school in the Nablus district is escalating, adversely affecting the students access to education. The presence of Israeli soldiers and settlers often result in clashes with the school boys. Despite all, one girl stands out as an inspiring model with hope for the future.

In Burin, the school begins with the national anthem as in all Palestinian schools. Photo EAPPI/T. Kopra.

In Burin, the school begins with the national anthem as in all Palestinian schools. Photo EAPPI/T. Kopra.

by Taika, Yanoun team

One of the most rewarding and important tasks for Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) is to do “school runs” that enable Palestinian children to arrive safely at school each morning. School runs are a part of an Access to Education initiative supported by UNICEF which aims to guarantee children’s access to education despite the hardships of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. One of the schools we visit weekly is the Burin secondary school. 285 students study here, 25 of them are female.

A provocative presence

In recent weeks the situation between the students and the soldiers outside the school grounds, only some 50 metres away, escalated several times. Israeli soldiers park their jeeps behind the school each day claiming to protect the Israeli settlers using Road 60, about 200 metres away from the school. Settlers from the Yizhar settlement, located on a hill top behind the school, and soldiers often accuse students from Burin of throwing stones at their cars. At times the soldiers get out of their jeep and walk very close to the school yard during the lunch break. Sometimes the head of security of the Yizhar settlement accompanies them.

The Israeli soldiers are often accompanied by the security staff of the close by Yizhar settlement in their white jeeps. Photo EAPPI/T. Kopra.

The Israeli soldiers are often accompanied by the security staff of the close by Yizhar settlement in their white jeeps. Photo EAPPI/T. Kopra.

The presence of the settlers particuarly provokes the students who start shouting and gather at the school fence. Sometimes the boys throw stones, which causes the soldiers to respond with tear gas and sound bombs. Sometimes the soldiers also enter the school yard to intimidate the students, or set up a flying checkpoint just outside the school gate when it’s time for the students to go home. They detain the boys and check their hands in order to find out if they have thrown rocks. They also search their school bags and keep them waiting for long time before they can go home.

“The best way to fight the occupation is to get an education.”

Incidents like this have a huge effect on the education of the students in Burin secondary school. Hyped-up by their encounters with the soldiers, the students are not able to concentrate on their studies in the classroom. Teachers at Burin secondary school tell us it has become increasingly difficult to control the students or to get them to pay attention during the lessons. This particularly affects the boys.

“The boys want to fight the occupation, they want to fight the soldiers”, says Ghassan, a local activist, who graduated from the Burin secondary school some years ago. “They don’t understand that the best way to fight the occupation is to get an education,” he sighs.

She climbed Kilimanjaro

Yasmeen al Najjar is one of the first palestinian women to climb Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. "I can't climb to the hills here in Burin because of the soldiers and the settlers, but I can climb a mountain in Africa," she explains. "It shouldn't be like this." Photo EAPPI/T. Kopra.

Yasmeen al Najjar is one of the first palestinian women to climb Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. “I can’t climb to the hills here in Burin because of the soldiers and the settlers, but I can climb a mountain in Africa,” she explains. “It shouldn’t be like this.” Photo EAPPI/T. Kopra.

In the midst of the chaotic everyday life of Burin school, we meet one of the most inspiring people that we have met during our time in Yanoun. 17-year-old Yasmeen Al Najjar, a student, just returned from a trip in Africa. This bright young woman climbed Kilimanjaro in Tanzania in just eight days. A remarkable achievement for anyone, let alone for a young woman who wears a prosthesis on her left leg. Yasmeen took part in an expedition as a member of Palestinian Child Relief, an organization focusing on helping handicapped children in Palestine. Now the whole school looks up to her. We meet her on a morning when she received an award for her remarkable achievement.

When we ask her, what does she think of the soldiers parked outside of her school every day, she emphasizes that all children have the right to study in peace. She feels that the Palestinian students are not in an equal position with their peers in Israel or in other countries.

Israel signed and ratified the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, which expects all signatories to “take all feasible measures to ensure protection and care of children who are affected by an armed conflict” (Article 38/4). As an occupying power, Israel must guarantee equal educational rights to Palestinian children. 

Despite the harsh reality in Burin school and the students’s deteriorating chances to focus on their studies, Yasmeen is confident when we ask what she aspires to do in the future. She wants to study abroad and become a medical engineer who develops better prosthesis for children who are born without a limb or have lost one in an accident. When we tell her how much we admire her courage to climb to Kilimanjaro, she responds with a warm smile and reassurance: “You can also do it.”