Through a woman’s eyes: life under military occupation

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By EA Carolina, Bethlehem team.

I arrived in Duheisha Refugee Camp, in Bethlehem, at dawn and I knocked an unknown door. I was looking for Samira*, all I knew about her was that she is a well known and respected member of the Duheisha community and that she would be able to tell me her story in reasonably good English.

“All the words on the dictionary couldn’t explain about our feelings, our suffering.” Said Samira, when we eventually settled down to talk.

08-11-2016 Ad-Duheisha Camp, Bethlehem. Inside the camp, the walls tell us stories. The graffiti in the left shows Handala's family, a well known Palestinian character. EAPPI Elina.jpg

08-11-2016 Ad-Duheisha Camp, Bethlehem. 08-11-2016 Ad-Duheisha Camp, Bethlehem. Inside the camp, the graffiti on the walls tell their stories. EAPPI/Elina.

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Open Letter to world leaders from a Bishop in Jerusalem and a refugee

1 September, Jerusalem

Dear leaders of the world and people of good conscience,

Bishop Dr. Munib A. Younan, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land

I write to you from Jerusalem to address the very serious refugee situation affecting countries across the Middle East and now Europe. I myself am a refugee, as well as a bishop. Both my faith and my history oblige me to speak up for these women, men, and children who are washing up on beaches, are found decomposing in trucks on the highway, are crossing borders of barbed wire, and are barely surviving in makeshift camps.

The last weeks have seen not only an increase in the numbers of these refugees, but also an increase in tragic outcomes for many. This is a shameful situation, and one which the international community cannot ignore. It must be remembered that refugees are not vacationers. They did not leave their homes because they were looking for adventure. They are displaced as a result of poverty, violence, terror, and political conflict. Frustration and fear lead them to risk their lives and their life-savings in search of safe havens where they can live and raise families in peace. We must remember that these are not “waves” or “masses” or “hordes”—these are human beings who deserve dignity and respect.

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“I am afraid that there will be more harassment from Israeli settlers after the war in Gaza.” ~Mohammad, teacher at Imneizil school

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 in our Final post in our Back to school 2014 series.

Mohammad Ed’ass, English teacher at Imneizil school. Photo EAPPI/E. Maga-Cabillas.

Mohammad Ed’ass, English teacher at Imneizil school. Photo EAPPI/E. Maga-Cabillas.

What are you looking forward to this year?

I fear that the future will be very difficult. The war in Gaza and the peace accord would make Israeli settlers and Israeli army more aggressive, and the Palestinian people will suffer.   The school is located very near to the Beit Yatir Settlement with only a barbed wire fence separating it from the school. It is also close to Beit Yatir checkpoint where some children are passing through every day. I see now more difficulties coming, financially and politically. And our freedom in moving forward for the future will be restricted even more than before.

What are your biggest challenges in going to school?

I am living far from the school. Every day, I expect difficulties or bad things to happen. For instance, I expect that there will be more verbal harassment from Israeli settlers.

What is needed for education to thrive in Palestine?

There must be some changes to the educational system in Palestine, like the curriculum. There are too many courses for the students. I would like to suggest only to focus on three areas such as: Arabic, English and an open course, which is the choice of the teacher, what he thinks is needed for the class. To give you an example, we, the teachers need more knowledge in information technology and we need more education in pedagogical skills. We need to upgrade our skills in general, equipping both the teachers as well as the students.

*Read more testimonies from this year’s Back to School series.
*Share the series on facebook with your friends.

*Check out last year’s photo essay: Visualizing Back to School in Palestine.

“Teaching is hard enough, but when Israeli soldiers come close to the school, things are made worse.” ~Isaac, teacher Al Khader Junior school

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.

Isaac Al Khadi, a teacher at Al Khader Junior School. Photo EAPPI.

Isaac Al Khadi, a teacher at Al Khader Junior School. Photo EAPPI.

Isaac is a teacher in the junior school of Al Khader. The school is located on the edge of the village beside a section of the separation wall. This has been a site of frequent clashes between the boys from the neighboring secondary school and soldiers. The road to both schools is littered with spent tear gas grenades.

Isaac told us he was worried about the children and their future. He says many of them don’t value education and don’t see a future for themselves; very few of them see education as a priority. Isaac feels that’s things are made worse by the Israeli army when they come close to the schools. Teaching is hard enough but when they come it just gets worse. However, since it is a new school year, he is hopeful that things will get better.

Isaac believes that the educational system and that the curriculum in Palestine are not up to scratch and need to be changed. He told us that he has little confidence in the minister for education. He is not proud to say he is a teacher and feels that he should be able to say he is proud of being a teacher since it is such an important job. Isaac knows he could be proud of his profession if the system was run better.

*Read more testimonies from this year’s Back to School series.
*Share the series on facebook with your friends.

*Check out last year’s photo essay: Visualizing Back to School in Palestine.

“I want to teach children. I love to teach!” ~Kawthar, Al Quds University in Yatta

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.

Kawthar Al-Nawajah is a student at Al Quds University, Yatta Branch. Photo EAPPI/E. Maga-Cabillas.

Kawthar Al-Nawajah (17) is a student at Al Quds University, Yatta Branch. Photo EAPPI/E. Maga-Cabillas.

What are you looking forward to this year?

I want to learn more about the history of my country and its geography. I want to have more trust in myself and become more confident in facing the future. I want to have a better future after the war and hope life be restored, especially for those people in Gaza. I really want the people to live a life with dignity.

What are your biggest challenges in going to school?

Our house is very far from school. I always take a taxi in going to school which is expensive.

What would you like to be in the future?

I want to be a teacher. I love to teach. I want to teach the children. I want to help them become literate especially on information technology like computer literacy, communication skills and to update them on different technology.

What is needed for education to thrive in Palestine?

Our education system needs to be improved. More schools are needed to accommodate new students. Schools must have better facilities with more rooms. Most classrooms are overcrowded accommodating more than fifty or almost a hundred students without proper ventilation, no lights and lack of chairs and other facilities

Teachers should be trained more to become better in their fields of specialization. They should learn more skills especially in communication and develop methods of teaching for better education. Teachers must also be fit and computer literate.

I am looking forward that there will be more scholarships and other financial assistance to help children go to school and finish their studies, like after high school they can study at college. Others did not finish high school because of poverty.

*Read more testimonies from this year’s Back to School series.
*Share the series on facebook with your friends.

*Check out last year’s photo essay: Visualizing Back to School in Palestine.

“The political situation is a reason for problems, but it is not the only reason, and we need to realize this.” ~Sameh, English teacher, As Sawiya School

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.

Sameh Shahrouj, Age 24. An English Teacher at As Sawiya School. Photo EAPPI/H. Kjollesdal.

Sameh Shahrouj, Age 24. An English Teacher at As Sawiya School. Photo EAPPI/H. Kjollesdal.

What are you looking forward to this school year?

I am looking forward to teaching the students the new curriculum and building strong bases in English through new methods, like mixing games with abstract material. I want to focus on their personalities [the students], because nobody cares about the students personalities, even in his or her house.

What are your biggest challenges in going to school?

There are a few…

  • The location of the school is far from my nearest bus stop
  • The number of students in each class is too big. So it is difficult to control them.
  • Most importantly. Students don’t like the English language. So it is very hard to convince my students that this is the most important language in the world. So you have to find interesting ways to teach.

What is needed for education to thrive in Palestine?

It needs many things…

The mentality of the teachers needs to change. We need to change this traditional mentality. They don’t want to use technology. Instead of using technology, they are destroying it. The main problem is that the parents don’t care about their children, so they send them to school just to get rid of them. A student is lucky if his friend’s parents care. The popular perspective for students now is to drift away from school to go work in Israel so they can earn money and buy designer labels. So focusing on the teachers, the parents and the whole system is needed. Some statistics I have read say the problem is in the curriculum, or in the teachers, or in the parents. I think the problem is within them all.

I don’t like to focus on the political situation because it is used as an excuse. We have a saying like ‘putting all your clothes on one iron rod’; we find an excuse and blame it on something else. The political situation is a reason for problems, but it is not the only reason, and we need to realize this.

*Read more testimonies from this year’s Back to School series.
*Share the series on facebook with your friends.

*Check out last year’s photo essay: Visualizing Back to School in Palestine.

“The only thing we have is education.” ~Nawal, headmistress of Al Jiftlik Secondary School

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.

Nawal Kanori, headmistress of the Coed secondary school in Al Jiftlik, Jordan Valley.  Photo EAPPI/B. Saltnes.

Nawal Kanori, headmistress of the Coed secondary school in Al Jiftlik, Jordan Valley. Photo EAPPI/B. Saltnes.

What are you looking forward to this year?

I am looking forward to working hard with new graduate students to give them opportunities. 3 days ago I met with 36 girls and asked them, what do you want, how can we improve the situation with education. I am committed to improving the education here, you see the only thing we have is education. It is the most important thing to lead us to a better future. I am looking for good chances for the graduates. I want scholarships for my excellent students. I want to connect them to the outside world.

What are your biggest challenges in the children going to school?

The main road in Jiftlik is always full of soldiers, we have Israeli settlements all around. Jiftlik is a very wide area, many students come by foot or by bicycle. I always feel afraid about them. There are often road accidents because the army and settler cars drive really fast. The soldiers sometimes stop the children, on the road and on the bus. They have tried to take children off the bus because they say that they throw stones. But I am the first one here every morning, I see everything, and none of the children at my school throw stones. We are peaceful in Jiftlik. Once we were coming back from a school trip through Hamra checkpoint, the soldiers stopped the bus for 3 hours because they said to the children ‘why are you laughing at me?’ I told him they were not laughing at him, they were joking and singing because they were happy at going on a school trip. But he held us for a long time and it made me nervous. Even children are expected to suppress their feelings under the occupation.

What is needed for education in Palestine to thrive?

I have three graduates studying science and engineering at university abroad, it was before we had a building and the school was in a tent. Their classmates in Canada, Norway and the US ask them, ‘how do you get better grades than me when you went to a tent school?’ They work very hard, it makes me proud. However, many schools suffer from students who are clever and want to travel to study abroad, but the Israelis have forbidden them from travelling. We want the outside world to be open to us, to share experiences and ideas. We don’t have planes and bombs, we are peaceful people. The only thing we have is education. We want to walk side by side with this changing world, not to be cut off. Everything will be easier if the occupation will end.

As teachers we want to give our students the best. For example the primary school here has 900 students and there are many duties on the teachers and headmaster. If I want to build a school so that there are fewer children in the classes, say 450 for each school, in order to give a better education. If I want to do this, I will have a block: the occupation. I have to consider renting our own village’s land from the Israelis who took it from us, just imagine! And then I will have 5 or 6 years of struggle to try get permission from the Israelis to let me build. It was back in 2005 when I started thinking about building a secondary school for Al Jiftlik, I thought man has gone to the moon yet we have no school. I have been a teacher since 1999. It is not complicated to run a school if there is no occupation.

*Read more testimonies from this year’s Back to School series.
*Share the series on facebook with your friends.
*Check out last year’s photo essay: Visualizing Back to School in Palestine.