Visualizing back to school in Palestine: A Photo Essay

Burdened smiles

by Luther and Esther, Bethlehem team

Dawn broke as the little children of Tuqu’ village—their backpacks a little too big for them—made their way to the first day of classes for the new school year. Their faces lit up when they saw the EAs, smiling and greeting them good morning. “What’s your name?” some of them asked, laughing and giggling. The children were at their best being what they are—children, quite unmindful of the troubles of their land.

Schoolchildren from Tuqu'. Photo EAPPI/E. Kilchherr

Schoolchildren from Tuqu’. Photo EAPPI/E. Kilchherr

As class time approached, the six- to fourteen-year-olds silently passed the two heavily armed soldiers in front of the school—the reason for the EAs’ presence. The two young men in uniforms, armed with rifles and binoculars, were there for the security of the State of Israel.

Just a few kilometers away, school was also beginning, but trouble was brewing. That afternoon, a number of young residents at the ‘Ayda Refugee Camp joined a demonstration about the recent deaths of three Palestinians in Qalandiya at the hands of the Israeli military. Eventually, stones were thrown as a manifestation of the anger and frustration of a young generation. The soldiers responded with a resolute clampdown on the stone-throwers, some of them as young as 11. The Israeli army fired teargas and stun grenades in an attempt to defuse the spontaneous outburst of emotion.

Youth at 'Ayda Camp during an encounter with the Israeli army. Photo EAPPI/E. Kilchherr

Youth at ‘Ayda Camp during an encounter with the Israeli army. Photo EAPPI/E. Kilchherr

A teargas canister hit one 11-year-old boy on his forehead. Two ambulances also entered the camp, a sign that some had been seriously injured. This is a far cry from the picture of happy school children the EAs saw earlier that day. In the encounter with the Israeli military, the Palestinian youth of ‘Ayda Camp were forced to confront a reality that has no place for something as trivial as homework.

To the northeast, in Khan al Ahmar in East Jerusalem, again, we see a completely different picture. Israeli settlements close off a Bedouin encampment in the Judean desert from the rest of society. The Israeli government’s restrictions on the Bedouins – severe restrictions on running water or electricity and prevention of constructing new buildings – force the Bedouin to live in grinding poverty.

Bedouin child at Khan al Ahmar. Photo EAPPI/E. Kilchherr

Bedouin child at Khan al Ahmar. Photo EAPPI/E. Kilchherr

There is a school in the encampment, signifying that the Bedouins place a value on education—but even that is denied to them. The Israeli government has issued demolition and stop work orders making it virtually impossible for the Bedouin to set up the necessary infrastructure for a functioning education system.

These different pictures of schoolchildren show the various ways the Israeli occupation shapes and limits the daily lives and future prospects of the people of Palestine, particularly the youth. Nevertheless, the smiles of Palestinian children not only reflect a temporary respite from their country’s predicament, but also a future for a troubled land. The laughter that has not yet died in their hearts echoes the same hope, the same innocence, the same enjoyment of life every child possesses, whether in Palestine, in Israel, or in any other part of the world.

EA Blog: Access to Education… Through a Tunnel

by Maureen, Jayyus Team

“Everyone has the right to education.”  Article 26 (1), Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948  (ratified by Israel.)

International humanitarian law and international human rights law are central to the work of EAPPI.  One of our tasks is to monitor children’s access to education.  We stand at checkpoints or gates where children have to cross on their way to and from school.  We watch to see that soldiers behave appropriately towards them.  Where it’s necessary, EAs walk with children through checkpoints.  But I recently came across a new problem for children in simply getting to school.

Last week I was with our EAPPI team in Jerusalem for a few days.  We visited Ka’abne, a small Bedouin village of about sixty people, near Adam settlement, not far from A Ram, between Jerusalem and Ramallah.  We went because we had heard that they had received a stop work order; if they took no action, this could quickly be followed by a demolition order, and then by the demolition of the tent in which some of them were living.

As we spoke to the adults, the children were playing round about us.  It was natural to ask about their school.  Mohammed, the man who had received the stop work order, told us that his children, like the other kids in the village, go to a school on the other side of a busy main road, which cars speed along.  We watched the traffic on the road; it would be dangerous for an adult to attempt to cross it, let alone a child.

‘How do the children go to school?’ we asked.  ‘They go through the tunnel,’ Mohammed said.  He and his brother told us that the tunnel was only 60cm high.  To be honest, I was sceptical.  That seemed very little.  So we went to have a look.

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With Mohammed at the entrance to the tunnel. Photo: EAPPI/K. Dimond

As you can see from the photos, the tunnel is very small indeed.  Going through it, the children have to crouch all the way along.  With a school rucksack on your back it must be really difficult.  My fellow EA, Keith, and I reckoned that the tunnel was about twelve metres long.

It’s not just the size that’s a problem.  It’s really more of a culvert than a tunnel.  When it rains, the tunnel has several inches of water in it.  One of the children told me that his teacher had sent him home from school one day because his trousers were so wet.  The children said that in the summer there are snakes, which is especially frightening for the little ones.

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Coming through the tunnel. Photo: EAPPI

The children were full of fun, and a couple of the boys grinned as I was hauled out and up from inspecting the tunnel.  Mohammed’s son, Abdullah, told us that his ambition is to be a lawyer.  He said that he likes school.  ‘But I don’t like the tunnel,’ he said.

The Fourth Geneva Convention 1949 explicitly states that an Occupying Power assumes responsibility for ensuring the provision of services to the population of the territory it is occupying.

The children I met in this small community, like children everywhere, have the right to education.  Don’t they have a right to better access too?   And doesn’t Israel have a responsibility to ensure that access?

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Abdullah, one of the children who goes through the tunnel each day to and from school. Photo: EAPPI