“The Occupying Power shall, with the cooperation of the national and local authorities, facilitate the proper working of all institutions devoted to the care and education of children.” (Article 50 of the Fourth Geneva Convention)
“The people here don’t care if this tent is demolished by the authorities. They will put up a new one.” Heyam Salman
Heyam Salman is headmistress at Arab ar Ramadin al Janubi tent school which opened with much rejoicing a fortnight ago. Arab ar Ramadin, a small Bedouin community of 50 families, is in the seam zone between the separation barrier and the Green Line, the internationally recognised border between Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Until last week, all the children in this community had to go through the Habla Gate in the separation barrier each day to get to school.
We visited the school when it had been open for eight days. To get to it we had to find a driver with a permit and a car with Israeli number plates, go out the Jaljulia Checkpoint where our passports were scanned, our bags put through x-rays and the car checked before we could drive through into the seam zone. Our usual driver/interpreter, Abed, was unable to take us because, although this area is well within the occupied Palestinian West Bank, he does not have a permit to go there. Permits are usually only granted to people who work in Israel. It would appear that this area is being treated as part of Israel.
A local Bedouin benefactor, Kassab Shour, from Arab ar Ramedin, donated the land for the school and the Ministry for Education provided the tents and the teachers. It caters for grades one to three. There are three female teachers and one male teacher from the community itself. Moussa is unusual for a Bedouin in that he trained to be a teacher and taught for 20 years in Saudi and 14 years in Hebron. When he heard about the school he wanted to teach there to serve his own community.
“I feel very good to be back in my community teaching. I saw how my family struggled when I was younger and I didn’t want to suffer like them. So I decided to go to school and become a teacher.”Moussa, Grade 2 teacher.
As Ecumenical Accompaniers, we knew about these children because we monitor the Habla Gate to make sure there are no problems. We had had reports from teachers that the children are often frightened because soldiers always board their school buses and that sometimes they check schoolbags and search the bus with dogs.
We had also come upon five of the very youngest children sitting unaccompanied outside the Habla gate when it was unexpectedly closed on the day before Yom Kippur. The woman answering the humanitarian hotline declined to get the gate opened so we got them taken some miles round to the Jaljulia checkpoint, the only other way home. When we visited the new tent school, we were very pleased to spot these children now being taught safely in their own community.
Weam, the English teacher, explained how much better it was for the children:
The parents are not allowed to go to the Habla school where the children used to go because they don’t have permits to cross the gate…. It’s good that we can teach these students here. We will have the chance for better contact with the families. This way we get to know each child’s strengths and weaknesses.
There are many other reasons why it is better for the children to be schooled in situ. The headteachers of both the girls‘ and boys‘ primary schools in Habla reported that the children from Arab ar Ramedin are very often late coming to school in the mornings because they have been held up at the checkpoint. Habla Gate is only open from 7:00-9:00 and 13:00 – 14:00. If children are taken ill during the school day, they can’t go home, nor are their parents able to visit them.
When we visited the Director of Education for the Qalqiliya district he told us the challenges which he faced in trying to provide for these children. Because the seam zone is behind the separation barrier and beside settlements, it is classed as ‘Area C, i.e. under Israeli administration and control. Area C constitutes 62% of the West Bank where building permission for Palestinians is only granted on 1% of the land. For this reason the school consists of tents. Though tents are not immune from demolition, they are less likely to attract attention.
The teachers are enthusiastic and determined to make it work. Conditions are far from ideal and they lack many basic facilities. It is very hot at present; the tents have no air conditioning and only one fan. They said they are trying not to think what it will be like in Winter. The hope is that if this school is deemed to be successful, and the Israeli authorities leave it alone, all the primary grades will eventually be taught in their own community.
In the meantime, the eight, nine and ten year-olds continue to struggle with the adverse conditions surrounding going to school in Habla.
“I hope that in time we will be able to build a school building here when Israel sees that it’s not harming them or anyone.” Said Heyam Salman, headmistress
I work for Quaker Peace and Social Witness (QPSW) as an ecumenical accompanier serving on the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained in this email are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer (QPSW) or the World Council of Churches. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting it on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact the QPSW Programme Manager for I-oPt email@example.com for permission. Thank you.