A letter from the children of Palestine to the world (by EA Emma)

To whom it may concern,

“We are the children of Burin Secondary Mixed School. We are asking local and world organisations to see the continuous suffering within our school.”

The children of Burin School play parachute games [Credit: EAPPI/E.Pritchard]

The children of Burin School play parachute games [Credit: EAPPI/E.Pritchard]

The Yanoun EAPPI team has specific responsibility for three schools within our area, ‘Urif Boys Secondary School, As’sawiyya Mixed Secondary School and Burin Mixed Secondary School. On April 9, 2015, we attended activities held at Burin school organised by the South Nablus Directorate of Education along with several national and international organisations.

For once, these activities weren’t specifically to educate, or to directly address the psychological trauma many of these children suffer from. Instead, the aim was to have fun!

The children in the younger grades were brought onto the playing field for a rare opportunity to play parachute games and others encouraging cooperation and relaxation.

“The army besiege the school every day: entering the school, throwing tear gas into the school and arresting some students.”

An IDF soldier removes the tree they have cut down [Credit: EAPPI/E.Pritchard]

An IDF soldier removes the tree they have cut down [Credit: EAPPI/E.Pritchard]

These games were carried out under the watchful eyes of two members of the Israeli Defence Forces, armed with automatic rifles.

Accustomed to this scrutiny, the children continued to play. One of the soldiers wandered up from his position outside the watchtower, and began to cut down a tree planted the week before by the village. Later, the second soldier continued his work, completely severing the young tree from its trunk, and walking away with it, blade slung over his shoulder. It appeared casually provocative.

Finally, the children’s tenuous control snapped as the soldiers walked down towards the walls of the school. And they ran yelling and screaming towards the soldiers who had interrupted their play.

Once the teachers had regained control, the children were encouraged to paint a banner. ‘What it is like to be a child in Palestine’.

In places the banner showed hope for the future, homes and Palestinian flags, in others it was a mess of black and red paint.

“These things affect our psychology, our education and our health. We do not feel safe from these actions against the children in the school.”

Empty tear gas canisters and sound bombs made into a display by the children [Credit: EAPPI/E.Pritchard]

Empty tear gas canisters and sound bombs made into a display by the children [Credit: EAPPI/E.Pritchard]

At ‘Urif school, the boys have collected together the empty shells of tear gas canisters and sound bombs thrown into the school and at the students. Each year they make a display of them. Last year, they spelt out ‘Palestine’. This year they built a tree, painted in the colours of the Palestinian Flag.

‘صمود’‎, ‘Sumud’, means steadfastness, it is the ideological basis of Palestinian responses to the occupation. As the third generation of children grow up surrounded by settlements, soldiers and watchtowers, they turn the symbols of oppression into one of hope, in the colours of their flag.

We hope that you will support us and give us a helping hand. Help us to build a high wall or a strong fence around the school. Then we will feel safe when we are playing in the schoolyard, and we will be safe even inside the classroom.”

Several times a week, the EAs arrive at 7.30am at the village of Al Lubban ash Sharqiya just off Route 60, the main road from Nablus in the Northern West Bank, to Al’Quds (Jerusalem), and to Hebron in the South. We walk with the pupils of As’sawiyya Mixed Secondary School on their commute. In the past, soldiers have often turned up as well.

Children walk to the As'sawiyya School, pictured in the background surrounded by trees [Credit: EAPPI/E.Pritchard]

Children walk to the As’sawiyya School, pictured in the background surrounded by trees [Credit: EAPPI/E.Pritchard]

The children of As’sawiyya already have high walls, fences and trees surrounding their school, built to protect them from the outside, from the soldiers and the settlers. But, here, the walls do not protect them. Since we arrived in March, soldiers have entered the school twice, throwing sound bombs, forcing the school to shut early and following the children back to their villages with tear gas. On a third occasion they questioned a 12-year-old boy making his way home from school alone. The headmaster and other teachers looked on helpless as the soldiers questioned the boy alone and separate from any adult support.

Walls are not enough. In the West Bank and Gaza, 45 per cent of children have seen soldiers besiege the school, 25 per cent have seen their school exposed to firing or shelling, and 18 per cent have seen a schoolmate killed (source: Unicef). As the occupation continues, the number of children affected grows.

The children of Burin School read me their letter [Credit: EAPPI/S.Oppegaard]

The children of Burin School read me their letter [Credit: EAPPI/S.Oppegaard]

At the end of the activities, the Headmaster of Burin called me forward, and presented the letter written here to me. He said this “is a letter from the children of Palestine to the world. Please read it and spread it to many people’”.

Shortly after arriving here, a Palestinian said to us that if change is to come for the people of Palestine, it will not come from within. They need support from the international community to change the situation, and end an occupation that has already affected three generations. In the UK, we can make a difference. As the elections approach, ask your candidate what their opinion is on the situation in occupied Palestine, and make sure they know that people in Britain care about these children who cannot even play in peace.

Thank you for helping.

The Children of Burin School

 April 9, 2015