Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Qurtoba School

Our day started with the "school run", which means spreading out between the Checkpoint 56, through which we entered Tel Rumeida, part of H2 (part of Hebron under Israeli control: the soldiers are responsible for the security of the settlers, the Israeli Police Force is supposed to enforce Israeli civilian law) and Qurtoba School. Qurtoba School in Tel Rumeida is teaching app. 220 both male and female students from class 1- 10. The students are in a particularly vulnerable position as the school is exactly opposite the settlement Beit Hadassah. In the past, there has been many assaults towards students, teachers and international observers. In many cases it is settler children below the age of 12 (as minors exempt from law) throwing stones at the Palestinians.
We observed the childrens way to school from the checkpoint up to the school. When all the kids were in school, we usually went into the principals office, to exchange the latest news and information about when to come back for the second half of the school run. Sometimes the students get send home early, e.g. in order not to collide with the settler youth on jewish holidays.
The principal, Reem, is a wonderfully energetic and humourus person. It was a great pleasure to talk to her and listen to her experiences over the years. One day she said she would consider resigning towards the end of the year - and if you think now, this would be due to the circumstances in Tel Rumeida, you are by far mistaken. Reem elaborated on her frustration about the parents "dropping" their children at school for education and not considering themselves to be part of the process. She also talked about boys with strong behavioural problems and girls preferring to get married as teenagers, making their way out of school only to regret it later.

The teachers have an agreement with the IDF (Israeli Defense Force - I am only referring to the official title here, while critics rightfully state, one should only refer to the "Israeli Army"), which allows them to pass the checkpoint without having to go through the metal detector. Their position is that they are teachers, not terrorists... So all their names are enlisted on a military oder and get checked every day when entering the area and when leaving.
Sometimes, like on this particular day, it is more difficult than on other days. The soldiers get exchanged every couple of month and are unfamiliar with the circumstances, agreements ects. so they are confused, insecure and mostly very, very, young...
This "fresh" soldier had the idea that the teachers could only enter Tel Rumeida without passing the metal detector but not leave. He was unable to explain why this was so important when entering the Palestinian ruled part of town and it took three hours and many phone calls to the International Red Cross and the District Liaison Officer to convince him, that the teachers had not been passing the metal detector for the last three years.
And the teachers waited. They would not back down, as they knew it would become a habit if they gave in. They waited with an incredible dignity for more than three hours, even though they had children waiting at home, errands to run, appointments to keep.
I grew very attached to most of these cheery little chaps I met almost every morning and learned to tell them apart, know from where they come from. Some of them have to walk very long ways in the morning because the largest part of Shuhada Street (which is leading to the school) is closed to Palestinian citizens. So the kids would have to walk around Shuhada - past the mosque, through the souk and back up to Tel Rumeida past CP 56.
Some Palestinian families still live on Shuhada Street - not in many houses though. Most of the shops have been closed down due to security reasons, many of the houses are occupied by Israelis settlers.
View up from the ridge leading to the school.
Watching the kids from the ridge.
View from the school´s playground: Settlement Beit Romano.
Settlers walking on Shuhada Street below the school.
Soldieres "passing by". The paintings in the background mean to make the environment more "child friendly" for the settler kids.
Reem, thy wonderful:-)
I so admire these strong and witty, humorous Palestinian women.
Grafitti on school door.
School courtyard - recently restored, it had been burned down several times in the past.

On the way to have chai with Reem.
Ridge to the school.
Stairs up to the ridge: they are in a very poor condition. At the bottom of the steps is another checkpoint to pass on the way. The soldiers mostly let us pass without stopping us, it is the Police not wanting us in here, because they fear problems with the settlers. We are considered a provocation to the settlers, who apparently keep complaining about international observers.
Since the area is a closed military zone, they can kick us out any time...but more often than not we were lucky and only told: not to "take action" (meaning observation).
Beit Hadassah - just opposite.
Jewish community centre, museum, daycare.
Israeli Police car patrolling on Shuhada.

Having the names checked at the gate.
Entering through CP 56.

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