By EA Sue.
Fatima’s face shone with pride as she described the privilege she feels at being able to teach young people, how much she loves her job and how hard she tries to make her lessons interesting and accessible to all. She is an English teacher at a small high school in the West Bank. She is calm and composed as she describes the effect of the occupation on her students and on her role as a teacher. The first time we met, she was across the road from the school greeting students as they arrived and encouraging them to speak English to us.
This school serves children from a Palestinian village on the opposite side of the road. This very busy road is also used by settlers, living in the nearby Israeli settlements (Israeli-only housing units built in the occupied West Bank). Palestinians in the West Bank have been living under Israeli occupation since 1967.
Following the Oslo Peace Accords, the occupied West Bank was divided into Areas A, B and C. It was agreed that Area C, comprising more than 60% of the West Bank would be under full Israeli military control. However, the land would be gradually returned to the Palestinian Authority, over a period of no more than five years, making way for a viable Palestinian state. Twenty-six years on, Israel has retained full control of Area C and has illegally established many more settlements across the region.
A group of teachers stands outside the school at the start and end of the school day to ensure children stay safe from the triple hazards of a busy road, settler harassment and Israeli armed soldiers, who are posted a few feet away. The school would like to have traffic calming measures on the busy road but as this is Area C, permission needs to be granted by Israel. Development permission is seldom given to Palestinians and their requests have been refused despite the heavy traffic, including many large fast-moving lorries. Fatima tells me, “the teachers are human traffic lights, these are our children how could we not protect them?
The Israeli government state that the role of the soldiers in Area C is to protect the Israeli settlers from violence from Palestinians. Fatima tells me the children and staff are not safe because of the settlers and soldiers. She says that the teachers try hard to communicate calmly to any soldiers or settlers who approach the students, staff or school but the truth is in these situations they have very little power. She says, “the settlers are worse than the soldiers. Soldiers speak with their mouths but settlers speak with guns”. “Settlers regularly shout and point at the children and a few days ago one pointed a gun at a member of staff. The soldiers witness these events but are there to protect the settlers not the local Palestinians so they don’t do anything” Fatima reported.
“Soldiers tried to arrest a young boy leaving school after an exam last week. He was very scared and teachers managed to persuade soldiers not to take him. They accused him of throwing a stone, the most common reason for arresting children in this area. Sometimes they just keep them in the jeep for an hour or so then let them go, sometimes they put them in jail. They want the boys to be scared. When Palestinian mothers send their children to school they have to warn children to stay away from soldiers and settlers, not just to be careful of the road. Children detained by soldiers become distressed, they can’t concentrate or relax, they can become too scared to go to school. It is natural to be afraid. I think settlers are afraid of us but we are afraid of them, which one is the truth? Life would be better if there were no settlers and that would mean no soldiers.”
Fatima explains the impact this has on teaching and learning, “It is difficult to teach children in these circumstances. We have to do a lot of extra work to make the class successful. We have to be a mother, father and social worker, as well as a teacher. We have to try to make the children feel safe, comfortable, help them stay relaxed, stop them being angry. We have groups who come in to help us work with the mental health of the children. Our culture teaches that is very important for boys and girls to be educated, to go to university, to have a better future. Our school has very good results and we are proud of how clever our children are and how they are able to overcome everything to pass their exams”. Once again she clearly expresses her joy at being able to teach and see her students achieve success.
Under the Fourth Geneva Convention, settlements amount to the transfer of a state’s population to the territory it occupies, which is prohibited. Write to your elected representatives and demand they place pressure on the Israeli government to halt the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in Area C.
The Fourth Geneva Convention also 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”. Write to your elected representatives and demand they place pressure on the Israeli government to preserve the right of Palestinian children to be educated and to prevent interference from the military and settlers.