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.
DIGNITY IN LIFE