‘Urif school clash between Israeli settlers & military and Palestinian youth

by Yanoun team

On November 18, a group of Israeli settlers came near the school in ‘Urif and began to throw stones. Later, the Israeli military arrive and shoot tear gas into the school yard. EAs were there to catch it all on film for you.

‘Urif boys school suffers from frequent settler harassment and violence from the Israeli military. This is just one example of struggles children in Palestine face in Accessing Education.

*Read about our Access to Education project.

Hebron’s Cruel Reality: Child Detentions

by Hebron team

Mohammad Tareq and Mohammad Bahaa Al-Jabari, age 8 and 9, were detained on 24 September. Photo EAPPI/T. Fjeldmann.

Mohammad Tareq and Mohammad Bahaa Al-Jabari, age 8 and 9, were detained on 24 September. Photo EAPPI/T. Fjeldmann.

As an EAPPI accompanier in the West Bank city of Hebron, you quickly get used to many occurrences that never would be tolerated in your home country.  Perhaps the hardest thing to get used to is the arrest and detention of children. During our two months here, the EAPPI Hebron team has witnessed several child detentions – we have also heard about numerous other such incidents from fellow international human rights monitors stationed in the city.

Children are most often detained on their way to and from school, but are also taken from their homes in the middle of the night. Mohammad Tareq and Mohammad Bahaa Al-Jabari are 8 and 9 years old. We watched them being detained close to their school on Wednesday, 24 September.

“We were just running and playing, chasing each other around, when the soldiers came for us. They probably thought we were running away from them.”

On the same day, we also witnessed the Israeli military driving past and stopping the boys outside a shop close to the same school. We know from testimonies of soldiers serving in Hebron that their key task is to make their presence known – stopping children on the way home from school is just one example of this duty.

“They were throwing stones, so now we have to take them to the police station. There their parents can pay a fine to get them released,” – a soldier told the observers upon arrival to the site of the detention.

According to the boys, the soldiers had also been rough in their treatment.

“A soldier grabbed my face tightly when he wanted me to confess to throwing stones,” one of the boys described.

The boys were taken away in an army vehicle to a police station close to the Ibrahimi Mosque, accompanied by one of the boys’ father. According to the boys, the father wasn’t allowed to speak to them. The boys were found innocent and released a couple of hours later, without the parents needing to pay a fine.

Picture of  12-year-old Yousef Hajajreh, who was arrested on 8 September. Photo EAPPI/N. Forsstroem.

Picture of 12-year-old Yousef Hajajreh, who was arrested on 8 September. Photo EAPPI/N. Forsstroem.

In a separate incident on the 8 September, EAs in Hebron watched when the Israeli army detained a number of young children during clashes involving tear-gas and sound-grenades next to the Salaymeh checkpoint. Children from six schools pass this checkpoint in the mornings and afternoons. According to observers who came to the site before EAPPI, the soldiers simply grabbed children at random – one of the children was Oday Rajabi, aged 7. At this checkpoint, tear-gas is an almost daily occurrence, which continuously disturbs students’ lessons and stops them from even getting to school

Only as a last resort

The detention of children is strictly regulated in international law. In spite of this, Israeli authorities routinely arrest children, and is the only country in the world that systematically tries children in military courts, according to a 2013 UNICEF. In Hebron, at least 41 children and 5 teachers were arrested in 2013 by Israeli forces [PDF – Page 6] on their way to or from school in H2, and in July 2014 as many as 192 children were detained by the Israeli military.

Consistent with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, children should be restrained only if they pose an imminent threat to themselves or to others, when all other means have been exhausted, and only for as long as is strictly necessary.

Longlasting trauma

Detention is a traumatic experience for children, regardless of its duration, according to a report from Save the Children in 2012. The research shows that detention has an affect on the psycho-social well being of the child, as well as the parents. This can go on to have a profound impact on the child’s future, especially on their education and career.

*Read more about the affects of the Israeli occupation on Children.

Thinking of the Children

Thoughts from an EA after Omar, a 12 year old boy, was detained by the Israeli military.

by Jenn, Jayyus team

Omar’s story

On Monday the 10th of March, in Azzun, a town located in the north of the West Bank, over 10 military jeeps and over 20 soldiers came to detain and arrest a 12 year old boy.

After dark, in his own home, the soldiers came and took Omar’s 29 year old brother. However, the soldiers soon realised that they had the wrong family member and instead they re-entered the home. This time looking for Omar. The soldiers started asking and shouting for Omar, shouting at the women and children present, telling them that they would not leave the home until they had Omar. It took awhile to convince them that the 12 year old who had at first opened the door was the person they were looking for.

After accepting that the young boy was who they sought they told his mother to grab a jumper for him and he was led outside of his home in his slippers to were the soldiers still held his brother.

Here, Omar was asked to try on some shoes they had taken from the home. The shoes fit Omar. After this Omar’s brother was released and Omar was led away. Only his father was allowed to accompany him as he was escorted on foot to a road 10 minutes away just beyond the town of Azzun. Here, in the dark, Omar was asked to climb over the roadside barrier and down a roadside embankment and into an olive grove in order to match his footprint against a footprint in the soil of the olive grove. Escorted at this point by only three soldiers, into the dark field, myself and my colleague followed.

During our interview with Omar, he demonstrates how he was blindfolded by the Israeli soldiers en route to his interrogation. Photo EAPPI/R. Ribeiro.

During our interview with Omar, he demonstrates how he was blindfolded by the Israeli soldiers en route to his interrogation. Photo EAPPI/R. Ribeiro.

Omar’s footprint, belonging to a pair of Vans and displaying the common diamond pattern of the brand, matched one of numerous footprints criss-crossing the olive grove. This olive grove was to the side of a road leading to the settlement of Ma’ale Shomeron. His charge, throwing stones at the cars of settlers. Stone throwing is a dangerous action and also one hard to prove and a footprint in a local olive grove is hardly damning evidence. It is a serious charge but most definitely not a charge necessitating the intimidating presence and inquiry of over 20 military personnel and vehicles.

Omar was arrested by the Israeli Army in a night operation that unfortunately is far from uncommon, the large number of military present and the timing after dark adds to the already traumatic experience of child arrests. Unusually the Israeli Army allowed Omar’s father to accompany him and gladly we learned that Omar was allowed to return home in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

For security?

It is not unreasonable to ask how the presence of 10 Jeeps and a couple of dozen soldiers, arriving and shouting at a family home at night while armed with automatic weapons and tear gas might contribute to the security of Israel.

I asked a soldier at the start what was going on, he replied in one word “Terrorist”. Israel has a duty to defend its citizens against terrorism. However, there is no one standard and accepted international definition of terrorism and the question should be raised if it is appropriate to label possible stone throwing by a 12 year old boy as a terrorist act? A report by the former Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Martin Scheinin recommended that ” the detention or imprisonment of a child be used as a measure of last resort” and raised concerns about Israel’s vague definitions in counter-terrorism legislation.

When I later challenged the legality of their actions and the importance of child protection another soldier replied “We are the law in this area”. In this they identify their role as the occupying force that has the responsibility to ensure law and order in occupied territory. Israel has signed the International Convention on the Rights of the Child and a 2013 UNICEF report made 38 recommendations about the Israeli contravention of the rights of minors when arrested and detained.

In October 2013 Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that progress towards the ending of these contraventions had been limited. This eyewitness account from Azzun backs up this assertion.

According to local contacts, in Azzun alone in 2013, 175 people were arrested. In 2014 so far the number has reached 35, 13 of these have been under 18 years of age. This is one village and this example is a mild version of something that happens frequently in villages in the West Bank. As a tactic to ensure law and order aimed at enhancing the security of Israeli civilians, arresting and imprisoning boys and the creation of a climate of  hostility does seem to work against prospects for future peace.

According to Defence for Children International every year between 500-700 hundred Palestinian children between the ages of 12-17 years are detained or arrested and prosecuted in military courts, most accused of the same crime as Omar – stone throwing.

The emotional effects of child detention

We visited Omar at his home two days after his arrest. He spoke quietly and in few words as he told us his story. Omar told us that following his arrest he was blindfolded and his hands were bound by the Israeli authorities. He is withdrawn in his speech and and it is only with encouragement from his older brother that he continues his story. He tells us that he was interrogated in a small room, that the door was open and that he could see his father. He also tells us about how while he was interrogated he was screamed at and that he felt intimidated and scared. He is still scared. Omar was lucky, he was released without charge in the early hours of Tuesday morning and will spend no time in prison. However, hundreds of other Palestinian children may face the same trauma and the possibility of incarceration unless the Israeli authorities take the necessary steps  to implement all of UNICEF’s 38 recommendations to ensure the welfare and protection of children in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international laws, norms and standards.

*This blog was first published on one of our EAs blogs: Operation Observation: A Pacifist in Palestine.

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.”

How can you understand the Israeli/Palestinian conflict without seeing it for yourself?

EAPPI’s interactive booth in Korea brings the realities of life under occupation to life

EAPPI staff, former EAs and local partners attended the World Council of Churches (WCC) 10th General Assembly in Busan, Korea from October 30 to November 8.  The booth, featured a photo exhibit and short films of EAPPI’s work and the situation in Palestine.

A banner of the separation wall hung over the entrance to EAPPI's booth at the WCC 10th General Assembly. Photo EAPPI.

A banner of the separation wall hung over the entrance to EAPPI’s booth at the WCC 10th General Assembly. Photo EAPPI.

The separation wall in Korea

Participants had to show their IDs before entering through the separation wall. Photo EAPPI.

Participants had to show their IDs before entering through the separation wall. Photo EAPPI.

Before entering, however, participants had to go through a façade designed as the separation wall, where participants could write message of peace and add their own graffiti.  A soldier (a former EAPPI observer) guarded the entrance, asking to check participant’s ID’s.

“Are you Palestinian,” he asked. If not, he would allow them in. If so, he would not.

Every evening in the booth, participants could join for tea time.  “We served sweet mint tea and cookies and discussed issues like ‘Palestinian children and the right to education,’ the ‘arbitrary use of violence against Palestinian children,’ ethical pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and access to worship.

Access to education

"Are you Palestinian," the soldier asked.  If so, you could not enter the booth.  A reflection of the restrictions on movement that Palestinians face every day. Photo EAPPI.

“Are you Palestinian,” the soldier asked. If so, you could not enter the booth. A reflection of the restrictions on movement that Palestinians face every day. Photo EAPPI.

“We sought to build awareness about the issue of ‘access to education’ to WCC member churches and ecumenical programs,” explained Nader, EAPPI Advocacy officer. “We wanted to mobilize them to take actions to improve Palestinian schoolchildren’s access to schools.

Anne-Marie, EAPPI’s Program Associate in Geneva recounted:

“Many people, who didn’t know much about the conflict were shocked, especially issues such as kids being threatened on their way to school and impunity for settler violence.”

The main event focused on access to education. Adli Daama, Learning for Development Officer at UNICEF, discussed the overall context of education under occupation, while Rafeeq Zeineldeen teacher from Qabalan school near Nablus, focused on his school’s experience and the affects of occupation on his students.  In addition, two former EAs discussed their experience in the West Bank and how people on the ground are affected.

Tearing down the wall

On the last day, many people gathered at the EAPPI both, where Manuel Quintero, EAPPI’s International Program Coordinator and Rifat Kassis, head of Defence for Children International in Palestine, talked about the illegality of the separation barrier under international law.  At the end, everybody chanted, ‘The wall must fall. The wall must fall.’ Nader retold, “and we symbolically tore down the wall.”

“EAPPI’s participation at the WCC assembly succeeded in bringing the attention of many churches around the world to the struggles of Palestinians,” said Yusef Daher, Executive Secretary of the Jerusalem Inter-Church Centre. “As Palestinian Christians, we saw the most enthusiasm we’ve seen in any large event, especially from churches in the global south, such as Korean and India, and we hope to see them involved in EAPPI’s work soon.”