By Returned EA Helen. Helen recently returned to the UK after serving as an EA with EAPPI in Israel and occupied Palestine
Nora Nassar has been the head teacher of Cordoba School in the Israeli-controlled section of Hebron since 2012. The school has 160 Palestinian pupils, aged 5–16 years, and 23 teachers. Nearby is the Al Sumud Kindergarten for 4–5 year olds, which opened in 2013. Nora says her pupils should “have the right to go to school safely, and they lack this right.”
Nora described to us her experiences of working at Cordoba school, and the difficulties the children and teachers encounter every day when trying to reach the schools. Nora explained that the struggle starts when they have to go through the checkpoints staffed by the Israeli military and walk past Israeli settlers, who are often aggressive towards the children. Starting their day with this stress and anxiety negatively affects their psychological well-being and they are filled with fear.
Many of the children have to pass through Checkpoint 55, which is just below the school. To reach it the children must walk up a flight of stairs and pass through a gate operated by soldiers. Only children attending the school, staff at the school, or families who live very nearby are permitted to use the stairs. All adults have to show their Palestinian identification documents. The Palestinians sometimes have to make repeated requests to be let through. On other occasions the soldiers verbally abuse and harass them, especially the women and girls.
The other checkpoint, Checkpoint 56, separates the Israeli-controlled area of Hebron from the Palestinian-controlled area. Many of the teachers, and some of the children, live in the Palestinian area and have to pass through this large checkpoint to attend Cordoba school. Here, soldiers often search bags and, according to the Ministry of Education (in an interview between Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) and a Ministry representative) sometimes confiscate school books. Palestinians are often delayed at this checkpoint, making them late for school.Nora supports the children as much as she can, but it is difficult. The Palestinian Ministry of Education (in an interview with EAs) estimates that in the Israeli-controlled area of Hebron between 30 per cent and 40 per cent of the school year is lost due to shorter hours, closure of the schools on Jewish holidays, delays in passing through checkpoints, and closure of checkpoints.
She tries to insure there is a good “more positive” environment inside the school by planning and supporting fun days, trips and visits. She also involves the school in activities planned by the Ministry of Education at the district level. She tries her best to ensure that the children’s school achievement is not affected by the conditions under which the school operates.
The presence of the checkpoints, the difficulty the children and teachers encounter when crossing them, and the closure of schools by the Israeli military contravenes Article 50 of the Fourth Geneva convention, which states that “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.”EAPPI and the Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) work to uphold the Palestinians’ right to education. We provide a protective presence and accompany the children and teachers on their way to and from the schools, monitoring and recording any difficulties encountered at checkpoints or with the Israeli settlers. This work is funded by UNICEF and the presence of EAs helps reassure the children. This has improved school attendance, which in turn has helped the school to stay open. Other benefits of EA presence is thought to be a moderating effect on the behaviour of the settlers and the soldiers, and reductions in the psychological strain on the teachers and the students. https://www.unicef.org/oPt/Story_-_protective_presence_in_Hebron_-_March_2016.pdf
Helen is available to speak about how the occupation affects education in Hebron. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.