|Cora starts school
Cora and Omar both started school this fall. Both are five years old; both donned oversized backpacks and smiled sweetly in the “first day of school photos” taken by their proud parents - happy to be off on a brand new adventure!
|Omar's first day
Sadly, the similarity ends there. My granddaughter Cora attends school in a safe, protected environment in Washington state. Omar, the son of our Palestinian driver/translator, attends school in Tulkarm. For a West Bank resident, his school experience will probably be better than many, as Tulkarm is in “Area A” (theoretically under full Palestinian control and not to be entered by Israeli police or soldiers). Still, going to school under Occupation will give Omar many challenges and constraints that students in North America and Europe will not experience.
I’m not talking about overcrowded school, underpaid teachers and insufficient books and learning materials – sadly, in this culture preoccupied with war and aggression, education is a low priority even in the “civilized” so-called “first world!”
|Hebron (Photo EAPPI/R. Kolehmainen)
When I think of Omar and his brothers, I’m thinking, instead, of what kind of education can they get when the oppressor has such a huge influence over what the children can be taught – and in an environment that limits the “life lessons” they learn to an environment of fear and distrust.
I think, too, of children in other parts of the Occupied Territories – the unlucky ones in places like Hebron, where police and army presence at school is a way of life and where students can be plucked from class and “detained” or arrested in the middle of a school day and taken where their parents cannot find them.
I remember doing “school duty” while on a placement visit to Hebron, watching the children pass through a checkpoint to get to Cordoba school. In the intervening months, soldiers have arrested students at the school, as well as throwing tear gas canisters at students passing in the street where we had provided a “protective” presence.
|A carefree moment in Tuqu
In Tuqu, a village outside Bethlehem, I once stood in the school playground as school let out, watching until all the students had walked past the soldiers’ jeeps parked just down the road from the school.
|This Bedouin "tire school" is under threat of demolition
During EA orientation, we visited a Bedouin village outside of Jerusalem and admired the “tire school” built by local residents and internationals so the children could go to school without fear of crossing a busy highway. That school is under demolition orders – because the Israelis want to “relocate” the Bedouin population.
In Tulkarm, we monitored school gates – checkpoints where the school bus crossed from “seam zone” land into Palestine. Here, the students were frequently harassed, asked to get off the busses for additional ID checks or to have their school bags scrutinized (“against the rules,” this scrutiny – but in this no-man’s land, the rules don’t apply!)
|A "school gate" just outside Tulkarm
Needless to say, obtaining any sort of an education under these circumstances is extraordinarily difficult – and the fact that Palestinians are generally recognized as the “best educated” in the Middle East is, in the face of these obstructions, nothing short of amazing!