For Palestinian children, school continues a few days after Eid, and today was one of the first days of their return. So, volunteers of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM, http://www.palsolidarity.org), the Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT, http://www.cpt.org) and the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI, http://www.eappi.org) made arrangements to facilitate their walk to school. Thankfully, this morning was not so problematic. One experienced volunteer this morning said that attacks from the local settlers on young Palestinian children have been worst in the past, but it received so much attention (footage was uploaded online) that it has calmed down quite a bit. Uh-oh, bad publicity! Nothing is perfect though, and children have to encounter soldiers who can stop-and-search at any time.
I don’t recall walking on my way to school being anything like this….. do you?
We were not walking children to school, as in hand-in hand. Well, not because I’m bad with children. The arrangements we made with CPT and EAPPI was to facilitate their movements, so we have a connection with the local Cordoba School. We are based in Tel Rumeida, an area close to Shuhada Street, with an Israeli military base and checkpoints along the way. It is area H2, of the Old City. So, this pertains to the control of the Israeli Military, and includes the illegal settlements.
For the Palestinian child, an average school day would consist of going through two checkpoints, especially if they live in area H1. Area H1 is under the control of the Palestinian Authority, in theory. Though “Jewish Access is Forbidden,” little is done- or would be done- to prevent illegal settlers from entering the area, and certainly the local settlers are no strangers to the Old City, will pro-settler tours taking place on a weekly basis and Palestinian access limited by the military (more on this later, my friends.)
As such, the difficulty of walking to school five times a week- back and forth, is the susceptibility of verbal and physical attacks launched by local, racist settler children who inhabit the street opposite Cordoba school. Condoned by the military, police and parents, the only intervention that there is to ease such troubles is from the international activists, and as a result, have become so widely publicized to the extent that they retreated a little to ward off such bad attention.
The bottom of the hill of Tel Rumeida is where checkpoint 56 is located. If you frequent here from time to time, no doubt you can catch arbitrary stop-and-searches. This was especially the case during Iftar in the Ramadan season, when such procedures grew ever-more humiliating if you were a Palestinian. But don’t worry, is all for our security (ahem).
Teachers began to object to passing through checkpoint 56 now. Because going through metal detectors is bad for your health, though simply because they are teachers, not terrorists. So, the military accompanying the checkpoint have compiled a list of people who work as teachers at the Cordoba school along the road, to permit some through, and to prevent others. The soldiers who usually accompany checkpoint 56 are young, twenty somethings who probably haven’t been briefed properly and are clueless as to what to do. And perhaps just can’t be bothered either. But they’re still a nuisance, GRRR.
A few meters up the road, and you will see checkpoint 55, located between the settlements and the steps which lead to Cordoba School. Upon our arrival, and that of the Palestinian children, around seven Israeli soldiers appeared. Luckily , us volunteers showed up before them. They were so rude! The pricks. Some of them looked older, and probably are into what they do and choose to stick around for their love of bullying and tormenting defenseless Palestinians. But don’t worry, its all for security, remember!
Well, nothing can stop the Palestinians really, no? And many children walking along don’t seem daunted by the presence of grumpy men in khaki sporting huge assault rifles on their way to school. A few did, some looked a little afraid, and were even in tears. One child was called over by a soldier to have his school bag searched. Wow, who ever thought that paper pads, textbooks and pens could be so dangerous?
Unless you want to get really mad, verbally challenging the soldiers comes of little use to anyone. Everything that is said is trivialized. No argument whatsoever. No surprise. What is the point? It’s now come to the extent that I have no interest on engaging with them on any level, and so, I ignore them. I won’t even glance at them, say hello, or put an argument forward anymore. The fashion in which they speak to you, ridicule you just goes to show just how very little they have to say for themselves. Its weak.
They hate being photographed. There have been cases of camera-snatching, but luckily I haven’t received such treatment yet. So, they start to film and take pictures of you. Yawn. Now, I could not care less if they have my face for all to see, captured at an action. After all, as a friend pointed out, we’re not the ones who will be getting done for war crimes. So there.
We haven’t witnessed any serious cases of assault on Palestinian children, whether it be by the soldiers or the settlers. Though arrogantly, the soldiers mimic the small children and their fear. They put on wobbly, high-pitched voices and say “Ooh, I’m a small Palestinian kid, I’m so scared,” blah blah blah, and make fun of their arabic accents. Sometimes, it only takes the little things to wind you up the wrong way.
All in all, it has been success. I’m not witness to any atrocious displays of violence perpetrated by settlers or the military unto the small school children. Though sadly, that remains to be seen yet, and no doubt it still happens.
Regardless of settlements and vicious settlers appearing around the school, the fact that Cordoba School still stands is, in itself, a signal of reisistance. Also given that the teachers are experiencing mounting pressure from the Palestinain Authority, with a delay in salaries being paid, and a lack of new teachers as a result, the teachers of Cordoba School are essentailly “volunteering,” said the new Headmistress herself, through over-working.
Racism is clearly overt. You need not look far when you are in Hebron. And not just because of the clear racial segregation. A few meters out, racist graffiti is plastered nearby the homes of Palestinians.