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.”