Wednesday, December 02, 2020

“Education is our weapon:” the difficulties of learning under occupation

By Myriam Purtscher - September 10, 2018
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [school] [demolition] [Area C]

School returned in the end of August for over 1.3 million Palestinian children in the occupied territories. A basic human right many take for granted. 

But beginning the new academic year got off to a difficult start, as the Palestinian educational system continues to fall into disrepair after five decades of Israeli occupation which threatens many children’s access to education.
In February this year, the UN identified 44 schools located in Area C – the zone constitutes 60 percent of the West Bank that is under full Israeli military and administrative control – which are slated for either partial or full demolition because Israeli authorities say they were built 'illegally’.
The Israeli military often refuse Palestinians to permit construction in Area C, and have confiscated school buildings at least 16 times since 2010. Often repeatedly targeting some schools which attempt to rebuild, such as Abu Nuwar, a school in Jerusalem which has been demolished six times since 2016.
The demolition of schools by the Israeli army leads to many Bedouin communities in Area C feeling coerced into relocating, an act, Omar Shakir, the Israeli and Palestinian Director of Human Rights Watch said violates international law and constitutes a war crime.
“School demolitions in general make it more difficult and in some cases impossible to obtain an education,” Shakir told Palestine Monitor. “One third of communities in Area C don’t even have a primary school located there.”
According to Human Rights Watch, there are 10,000 children in Area C which are educated in tents or structures without heating or air conditioning, and 1,700 kids which are forced to walk 5km or more to attend school because of road closures, lack of transportation or not haing a school in their community.
“These are all part of a set of policies [by Israel] that aim to make these areas unliveable and create the conditions that lead to forcible transfer - which is a war crime,” Shakir stated.
Forcible transfer is a war crime
Israeli Human Rights Group B’Tselem spokesperson Amit Gilutz said the reason Israel demolishes schools creating unsafe learning environments for Palestinians is purely strategic.
“Area C is where all the 'stuff’ that Israel wants, is,” Gilutz explained. “It is where the vast majority of the resources the West Bank needs for the future development of all residents of the West Bank are, and therefore [Israel] strives towards, since 1967, to control as much resources and land as possible with as few Palestinians on it as possible.”
The denial of Israel to permit building schools and the demolition of schools under the guise they lack the correct authorisations is one tactic Israel uses to make life difficult for Palestinians, Gilutz said, and is an indirect method of forcible transfer.
“Forcible transfer does not have to look clearly like a textbook example of loading up people in trucks and dumping them elsewhere.”
“If people leave because you create a coercive environment for them and they can’t hold on, that is forcible transfer and that is clearly a war crime under international law,” Gilutz said. “For the most part, Israel has avoided doing the textbook style war crime.”
“Israel plays this strategic game where on the one hand it controls these 5 million people, depriving them of their political and basic human rights, while at the same time passing under the radar as a 'western democracy’.”
Education as a weapon
According to a UNICEF report released at the end of July 2018, nearly 25 percent of 15-year-old Palestinian boys and seven percent of Palestinian girls drop out of school.
Many of the reasons include low quality education, physical and emotional violence in schools, including from teachers and peers, armed conflict and the harassment many students face from settlers and Israeli military when crossing checkpoints.
According to Human Rights Watch, there is a direct correlation between the distance a child walks to school with educational retention rates. “The longer distances the more harassment, in particular by settlers leads many parents to pull their children out of schools.”
“It’s often the case that girls will be pulled out first where there is concern over her security or concerns over the hardship of getting to school,” Shakir said.
General director of Counselling and Special Education at the Palestinian Ministry of Education, Mohammad A. Al-Hawash said they are constantly concerned with the mental wellbeing of the children when they are faced with a destructive learning environment.
“We must talk about the students mentally and physically when they are watching their schools and classrooms being damaged by the Israeli government, many students can’t understand why they would want to destroy a school.”
However, despite the Palestinian education system facing immense pressure due to the effects of Israeli occupation, Palestine has some of the highest literacy rates in the world.
Statistics released for international literacy day on September 8 by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics indicate only 3.3 percent of Palestinians over the age of 15 are illiterate representing a 10 percent decrease in illiteracy rates over the past 20 years.
Omar Shakir said these statistics are a testament to the resilience of people living in very difficult circumstances. “It just shows the efforts to which they will go towards to provide education and other basic services to a population that’s spent half a century under occupation.”
The right to education is something Palestinians have always fought for, according to Al-Hawash. “We believe that education is our weapon as a Palestinians,” Al-Hawash said.
“Many times the Palestinian people will go back to the same place and try to build it [schools] again and we know that they [Israelis] will damage it again, but we know that we want our students to have their right to education.
“This is our land; nobody should prevent you building a school or giving educational services to your child,” Al-Hawash said. “So according to that, we need to use education as a weapon for all our people.”

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