“It is not at all normal to cross army checkpoints to go to school, it is something that I have talked about with my friends and my cousins, why do we have to go through a checkpoint? One day it’s open, another it’s closed… We just want to go to school and come back ”. With this forcefulness Wassem, 15, complains about the obstacles that she has to overcome every day to go to school. Some obstacles faced by 2,200 boys and girls who, like him, live surrounded by weapons, violence and military checkpoints in this area of Hebron.
The students of the schools of Hebron, a city 30 kilometers south of Jerusalem and the largest in the West Bank, do not enjoy the safe and secure school environment that all the world’s children should ideally be. More than half of the people living in the West Bank are under Israeli civilian and military control. It is estimated that more than 200,000 Palestinians and about 850 Israeli settlers live in Hebron, occupying approximately 15% of the city. These settlers enjoy a system of government of their own and live with the protection of 600 soldiers, almost one soldier for every Israeli citizen.
The tension and uncertainty that Palestinian students experience in order to exercise their right to a quality education is, to say the least, incomprehensible. “We have had to live in a very sensitive area, and we would like to go quietly to school, play … We don’t even know why the army is here.”
In addition to the daily searches by the Israeli authorities, the harassment and violence of the settlers living in the area is added. “There are not only problems with the army. I remember that the Israelis had vacations, I was going through a checkpoint with my family and a group of settlers started throwing stones at us “, says Wassem.
Frequent military operations in the city involve the use of live ammunition, tear gas, and sound bombs. “When they see a large number of students leaving school, they think it is a protest, they start trying to disperse us and the first thing they do is throw smoke bombs at us.”
The staff of the Department of Protection and Neutrality of the The United Nations Agency for Palestine Refugees in the West Bank works in collaboration with the staff and students of some of the UNRWA schools to improve the situation. “Monitoring and being present gives you a better understanding of the huge challenges. You become part of the school; what they feel, you will feel with them. Our presence builds trust. This way, we can better document the incidents and this, in turn, improves our interaction with the Israeli authorities to try to prevent these incidents from happening again, ”says Heidi, a member of the team, referring to the launch of tear gas.
And despite all this, young people do not give up and continue to attend their classes, without knowing what the day will bring them. The schools are their refuges, where they learn, share and also resist. There they pour their energies, their desire and their frustration. Teachers become much more than teachers, they become guides, confidants and protectors. The school gates are its greatest treasure. A treasure to safeguard, for it allows them to fly with their minds still in a context of truncated freedom.
The dreams, celebrations and illusion.
The tension, anger and injuries.
Everything comes together in schools.
If imagining it is difficult for us, living it is indescribable. That is why UNRWA has launched the second episode of the podcast ‘Inshallah, a trip to Palestine’. In it we will travel to Hebron and experience first-hand Wassem’s journey to his school every day.