By EA Philippa
As we arrive at Urif boys’ school Ayed Qot, the head teacher, smiles warmly but wearily and offers us coffee. We are here to report on a violent incident which took place yesterday; these are a regular occurrence in this school. In fact, he tells us, there has been a further incident just this morning. Several army jeeps arrived as the boys were lining up in the playground and shots were fired. Ayed has just got the boys settled into learning when we arrive. Breaks have been cancelled, to keep the boys in the relative safety of the classroom.
The school is well-known locally for its prowess in sports, but we know it for a different reason. It sits on the hill a few hundred metres below Yitzhar, an Israeli-only settlement community which is illegal under international law and is renowned through the northern West Bank for the level of violence experienced by nearby villages.
Ayed tells us what happened yesterday, and shows us some film taken by the teachers.
“The boys were in their 3rd lesson when suddenly stones rained on the upper classroom windows. There were around 50 settlers coming down the hill with stones and sticks. Our boys were screaming and running. We evacuated the school within a few minutes, but a number of students were injured by stones thrown as they tried to get out of the gate.
“Then the villagers went up towards the settlers to protect their kids, and some of the older boys went too. Soldiers were observing the situation and when they saw the villagers go up the hill, they came down. They shot tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition.
“Around 15 students were injured – one hit in the arm by a live bullet, the rest hit by stones and rubber bullets. The boy who was shot in the arm is still in hospital today. Two teachers were injured by stones as they evacuated the boys from the school. Three villagers were hurt too”.
I ask Ayed if there is anything more he needs to protect the students – this is the third such attack we have documented in the past couple of months. He tells me that last week education officials came to discuss increasing the height of the school walls and gate – they are already around 8ft high, and the windows are barred to protect the children from stones. “We are also planning to install a sunshade at the entrance to protect the boys as they enter and leave the main gate, since this is where we tend to have most injuries. We’re talking to an international charity to fund all this.”
Like any teaching professional, as well as thinking about his students’ safety he is concerned about the quality of their education. “We lost 3 lessons for every student yesterday – that’s 30,345 teaching minutes. I have noticed we have a high rate of early school leavers here compared with other schools I have worked in. Last year, 22 out of 120 students left school in 8th or 9th grade. But in my previous school, none left early. We tell the Ministry of Education these statistics, but what can they do?”
He sighs again and rubs his forehead. “After an incident like this, we always have a high rate of absenteeism the following day. And more aggressive behaviour from the boys. We have a school counsellor and we bring in psychological experts. They were here the day before yesterday, but now we need them back again.”
On 16 November 2018 the United Nations Office for Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported on this year’s high level of violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank. Since the start of 2018, OCHA has documented 217 incidents attributed to Israeli settlers that have resulted in Palestinian casualties or damage to Palestinian property. As a monthly average, this is the highest level of incidents recorded since 2014.
The Israeli army’s protection of settlers while they commit acts of violence is clearly against international humanitarian law. Article 43 of the Hague Regulations stipulates that an occupier “shall take all the measures in his power to restore, and ensure, as far as possible, public order and safety”. Ayed Qot and the children in his care wait in vain to be kept safe in Urif.
Read more about violence against Palestinians perpetrated by Israeli settlers at https://www.btselem.org/topic/settler_violence
Watch a video giving an example of settler violence in Urif village https://www.btselem.org/video/20180906_settlers_and_military_joint_assaults_urif
Join the campaign to encourage churches to publicly commit to divesting from any company that profits from the occupation. A guide has been developed to help people urge their denominations to make this commitment. It’s called Investing For Peace: Morally Responsible Investment.
Please write to your elected representatives and ask them to put pressure on the Israeli government to halt their expansion of illegal settlements, and to put in place effective measures to protect the Palestinian population from violence and harassment by Israeli settlers.