By Margaret, Northern West Bank
Several times a week I walk with my team of Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) alongside students from the villages of as-Sawiya and al-Lubban ash-Sharqiya for a kilometre alongside the A60 – the main road from Jerusalem to Nabulus – to their schools. As we walk among the children they have great fun teasing us in Arabic and testing out their English.
Our purpose is to provide a protective presence for the children as they walk past Israeli troops. The soldiers usually stay by their vehicles opposite the front of the boys’ school or walk into nearby fields and around to the back. On our first day as the new EA team here, however, the soldiers tell us that they need to walk among the children to catch a boy who they allege threw a stone yesterday.
Previous EAs have written that this military presence affects the whole community: pupils, teachers, parents and local families. Intimidation and harassment can happen on any day. One of the girls gave us her message to the world, “I do not need to see soldiers at my school gate”.
The boys’ school has three gates. Despite a high boundary fence, the soldiers frequently accuse the boys of throwing stones. When we approached the officer concerned, he said one of his soldiers had been struck by a large stone on the centre of his helmet. He could not provide any evidence, however – no stone, or any damage to a helmet or soldier, or even describe the boy. In anger the officer said, repeatedly, that he was “prepared to shoot any boy he caught throwing stones”.
The headteacher explained to us that these problems have been going on for many years. This causes the children great stress, and damages their learning and school attendance. He told us he has asked both village councils to consider building new schools away from the main road, but there is no finance to do this.
That afternoon he called to say an 11-year-old boy was being detained by the soldiers; they were making allegations of stone throwing against him. When we arrived the distressed boy was being held by two soldiers, each holding one of the boy’s arms, underneath an olive tree above one of the school gates.
The boy’s father, a teacher at the school for 17 years, immediately told us that his son would never throw stones at soldiers because he is anxious and has nightmares about them.
We negotiated with the officer for one of our team to talk with boy and give him some water. The officer said he would be taking the boy into military detention.
The communities of as-Sawiya and al-Lubban ash-Sharqiya experience Israeli occupation in a number of ways, many of which negatively impact their children’s access to school and education. Repeated allegations of stone throwing from Israeli settlers using the main road, military incursions into the schools, disruption of schooling, restriction of movement, and arrest and detention of children, each have psycho-social effects that include trauma and fear. These problems result in drop-out, lack of attendance and decreased learning time in school.
In 2011 the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1998 to increase the protection of children in situations of armed conflict. Protecting education under occupation is a critical humanitarian concern throughout occupied Palestine. One of the most serious types of attacks is the military demolition of schools. I will be writing more about this subject in one of my future blogs.
This story does have a happier ending, however. We sought advice from our local contact at Defence for Children International and he encouraged us to insist that as the boy was under 11-years-old he could not be taken away without his father. The officer relented and to our relief allowed the boy to leave with his mother.
We will continue with our efforts to reduce the harassment of the children and make them and their teachers more secure on their daily commutes.
- Make a donation to Defense for Children International (DCIP) at dci-palestine.org/donation_options
- Learn more about DCIP campaigns at dci-palestine.org/campaigns
- Become a member of DCIP at dci-palestine.org/join
- Recruit friends. Send them this personalised link and ask them to follow DCIP on social media dci-palestine.org