lørdag den 7. november 2015

“The love of learning kills the fear”

I wake up at 6 am. It’s Sunday morning. Today a new school week start. I ask the taxi driver to drop me off at Al Qarantina Street on the backside of the Tel Rumeida area of Hebron. From here I have to pass an open land with olive trees and a Muslim cemetery. This is the safest way to reach Cordoba school, where I give almost daily protective presence to schoolchildren with EAPPI.

Established in 1971, Cordoba school is in H2 – the Israeli controlled zone – just across from Beit Hadassah and Beit Romano settlements. Today the school has 16 teachers (all women) and 148 students divided into 9 classes with girls and boys mixed up to 6th grade and only girls from 7-9th grade. In the past, teachers and children have had frequent problems with settler violence and harassment and the school has been vandalised. For example settlers attempted to burn down the school twice during 2007-2008, uprooted trees in August 2010 planted by the students in front of the school and in December 2011, a 12-year-old settler child tried to attack a Palestinian student of the same age with a knife at the bottom of the school stairs.

This makes EAPPI’s presence important, as it overall gives confidence and a sense of security to the children on their way to and from school and may prevent settler attacks and harassment (Access to Education Factsheet).

In the last week of October 2015, four Palestinians were killed in H2 close to Cordoba school, including a young man just below the school stairs. Israeli forces afterwards declared the whole of Tel Rumeida and Shuhada Street a closed military zone, meaning that only residents are allowed to enter if they have their name written down on the soldiers’ checklist. Shuhada Street was previously the Main Street and economic centre of Hebron, but has turned into a ghost town after being closed in 1997. This is the main road through which the students and teachers access Cordoba school.
Normally we stand at checkpoint 56 and at checkpoint 55 on Shuhada Street but after declared a closed military zone we are not longer allowed to enter the street. This means we have to stand next to Cordoba school and not can offer protective presence by the two checkpoints, and that the students   have to go through a closed military zone alone in order to reach the school.

EAs are monitoring the school run, which means showing our presence and counting the numbers of school children and teachers passing the checkpoints, while reporting on any incidents (e.g. detention) or something not ordinary (e.g. increased military presence or bag check/body search of children).
Children walking to Cordoba school [Photo: EAPPI/H. Griffiths]

This morning we had the opportunity to meet the headmistress of Cordoba school, Nora Nasar and some of the school children. Nora tells us, that both students and teachers are more scared and therefore walk together in groups when going to and from school. “I am afraid of settlers and scared of soldiers. They try to scare us by pointing their guns at us and stamping their feet. Settlers also drive very fast past us,” says 10-year-old Qusai. The children are particularly afraid of settler attacks, as 11-year-old Munib expresses: “I am afraid of settlers and being kidnapped by them”.

Cordoba school headmistress, Nora Nasar [Photo: EAPPI/H. Griffiths]

As a consequence of this tense situation, the children’s performance in school is negatively affected. According to Nora, the children are more sensitive to sudden sounds and get lower marks as they have lower levels of concentration. In addition, the children face several psychosocial problems like low self-esteem, nightmares, lack of sleep and bedwetting.

Every time an incident like a shooting happens, school attendance is reduced as the children become more afraid, and the school is forced to close earlier than normal resulting in several classes being cancelled.

Despite these challenges, the teachers are trying to encourage the children and the school counsellor empowers students to cope with the daily struggles they face. As Nora says: “We continue our education no matter what. The love of learning kills the fear.”

Cordoba school children (from left to right): Hazem, Munib and Quasi [Photo: EAPPI/H. Griffiths]

Since April 2012, EAPPI, in cooperation with international organisations, has monitored Access to Education for children in the West Bank. In 2015, Ecumenical Accompaniers are providing protective presence and accompaniment to some 3,500 students and 300 teachers by monitoring nine schools as well as 6 checkpoints that children pass on a daily basis. The presence of EAs deters soldiers and settlers from harassing children on their way to and from school.


onsdag den 14. oktober 2015

Israeli settlements violate international law and human rights

Armed soldiers. Armoured military vehicles. Sound bombs, tear gas grenades and rubber-coated steel bullets. Throwing stones and spitting. Harassment and detentions. Photos of everyday life as a volunteer in Palestine and of the life in the occupied Palestinian territory, which is declared a state of emergency by the Palestine Red Crescent Society following an escalation in violence by Israeli soldiers and settlers, including attacks on the society's staff and ambulances.

It's not often you experience being in a situation, where you feel both powerless and vulnerable at the same time. Situations where you witness injustice and inhumanity and only can observe without being able to intervene.

However, physical presence and observation can protect vulnerable groups from being harassed and help to raise awareness and encourage international organisations to take action regarding human rights violations through documenting what's happening on the ground.

This is the purpose of my work as a volunteer in Palestine, where the next three months will give me an insight into the importance of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for the people who experience it daily.

Since 1 October 2015, there has been a significant escalation of clashes and violent attacks in several Palestinian cities. Including in Gaza, East Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nablus, Ramallah, Tulkarem and Hebron.
Based in the biggest city of the West Bank, Hebron, a significant part of the work in my team is to provide protective presence for Palestinian school children on Shuhada street in the Israeli-controlled area of Hebron. This means being present and monitoring the children's access to school, which is important as they have to pass two military checkpoints and can be harassed by Israeli soldiers and settlers on their way. For example, children are regularly detained by Israeli soldiers for minor offences or not attending school because of fear of settler attacks.

Hebron, H2, CP55, schoolchildren passing Israeli soliders everyday on their way to school 

It struck me how it must be for the kids. It's impossible to imagine. A life where people are controlled and restricted from moving freely is both absurd and inhuman. And even more heartbreaking when it affects children and their schooling.

Conversely, it has surprised me how quickly I got used to the presence of armed soldiers everywhere and to be checked regularly in my work. How quickly I became normalised to the occupation and not being discouraged from tear gas, stone throwing and daily clashes.

It gives some insight into the living condition for Palestinians, who more or less must have become accustomed to the daily harassment, systematic control and to the heavy military presence after years of Israeli occupation.

Hebron, H2, Israeli soldier detaining five Palestinian boys

However, the Israeli settlements violate international law and human rights, as they limit the freedom of movement of Palestinian civilians and lead to settler violence. Here, physical barriers such as checkpoints, closed military zones and restricted access to areas, violate the Palestinians' right to freedom of movement, including acces to schools, hospitals, work and religious sites.

It's hard to witness. And even harder for Palestinians as victims. On the other hand, the need of being here becomes more important, as the presence of international observers, based on previous experience, may provide protection and security for vulnerable groups, including children on their way to school.


onsdag den 30. september 2015

No justification for executions of civilians

Last week two Palestinians died in Hebron as a result of clashes with local Israel Defence Forces (IDF).

Monday, 21 September 2015, a 21-year-old Palestinian man was killed during an Israeli raid near the southern Hebron village of Khursa. His name was Diyaa Abdul-Halim Talahmah. According to the Palestinian medical sources he was shot to death, while the Israeli army claims that Diyaa died when an explosive device intended to be thrown at the Israeli forces, exploded in his hands.

Tuesday morning, 22 September 2015, at around 7:45 A.M., Israeli soldiers shot and killed a Palestinian woman at the “Shoter” checkpoint (known as checkpoint 56), marking the border between the Palestinian controlled (H1) and Israeli controlled (H2) part of Hebron city. Her name was Hadeel al-Hashlamoun, a 18-year-old student who was on her way to school.

Hebron, H2, Israeli soldiers shot and killed 18-year-old Hadeel al-Hashlamoun inside Checkpoint 56

B'Tselem investigation: No justification for multiple bullets that killed Hadil al-Hashlamun in Hebron

She was shot inside the checkpoint at the other side of the metal bar by multiple bullets. An action which has been described as "disproportionately" by B'Tselem and as an "extrajudicial execution" by Amnesty International.

According to Palestinian media, Hadeel was shot in her stomach, bleeding to death after lying on the ground for nearly 30 minutes with out action from soldiers who prevented Palestinians medics from helping her.

According to the Israeli military, Hadeel was shot in her legs after refusing to leave the area. The soldiers called her to stop when the metal detector sounded when she was walking through the checkpoint, and fired several warning shots as she continued. Then, “she pulled out a knife, and that’s when they fired shots at her legs”.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015, at around 7:00 A.M., I was monitoring exactly at the same checkpoint where children have to pass through to reach school and where Hadeel was shot just eight days ago.

Whatever the circumstances, from a human rights perspective there is no justification for the extensive use of force when not strictly necessary and without respect for human rights. In this context, Israeli soldiers have a vital role in the protection of the right to life, liberty and security of the Palestinian people as guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, these basic principles are broken when Israeli forces are raiding Palestinian villages or are using deadly force by shooting civil citizens to death.

Maybe Diyaa was not killed if he was not carrying an explosive device, or if Israeli forces didn’t raid his village.

Maybe Hadeel was not shot, if she was not wearing a Niqab, which might have aroused suspicion among the soldiers. Or if some other soldiers who might not have feel threaten were on duty that morning.

No matter what, the Israeli forces should endeavour to apply non-violent means when dealing with civilians and avoid the use of force and firearms to maintain protection of security and the right to life, in accordance with international human rights.


Hebron, H1, stun grenade at Checkpoint 56

       Hebron, H2, Checkpoint 56 

onsdag den 23. september 2015

Lift the Gaza Blockade

In 2014 the last war between Israel and Palestine broke out. More than 2000 Palestinians were killed, and a third of the population was internally displaced with thousands of homes and buildings destroyed or damaged. 

Since then, several international organisations have offered humanitarian assistance and the international community has increased it’s focus on the crisis.

However, the region has only received a small part of the international community’s funding for reconstruction and humanitarian relief, and the crisis seems slipped off the international community’s agenda.

Today, nearly 80% of Gaza’s population relies on international aid. Reconstruction and recovery seems slow due to the Israeli blockade. The failure by Israeli and Palestinian leaders to agree on a longer-term political solution means that many Gazans continue to be fearful about the future.

Unfortunately, it is easy to sympathize more with one party than the other. We tend to forget that there are people on both sides who want peace and are criticizing each other’s governments for damaging the other party.

But no matter what, NO ONE should live in the ruins of their home without access to basic health care because clinics have been destroyed. Therefore, Israel should remove essential construction materials like cement, steel and wood from the list of items restricted from entering the Gaza Strip.

Sign the petition and join the global effort to end these restrictions and Israel's blockade and rebuild hope and a life in dignity for people in Gaza: https://secure.avaaz.org/en/gaza_blockade_loc/?fMZlNjb&pv=164.