Back to school – but not for everyone

2 Oct

Students on the first day of term at the school in the West Bank village of Jubbet Adh-Dhib, August 23, 2017. [Haaretz]

By Lois Griffith, Guest Blog: The Daily Blog, 2 October, 2017 

New Zealand’s school holidays are here. Luckily for children and their parents, we seem to be in for mild spring weather. And it’s a good time for teachers to relax and enjoy a well-earned break.

Then at the end of 2 weeks everything goes back to normal. The teachers return, the children return. This is as it should be, isn’t it? We take it for granted, of course.  This pattern is repeated around the world, everywhere.

Everywhere?

Palestinians value education. Having opportunities to read and study means a lot to the indigenous people of historic Palestine. Learning their history and culture, poetry, means a lot to the people. It gives a source of inner strength, pride and self-respect.

Inner strength? Pride? Self-respect? Palestinian children? Oh no, say Israeli authorities. None of that.

Jubbet Adh-Dhib is a small Palestinian village in the West Bank. To get to school, children have had to walk several kilometres, on muddy rough trails. Moreover, they have often been harrassed, sometimes violently, by Israeli soldiers and ‘settlers’.

European aid groups, learning of the village’s plight, decided to help, by donating 6 mobile homes to be used as classrooms. At last the local children would have their own school.

But on the very night before the first day of the new term, 23 August 2017, Israeli Civil Administration (meaning the IDF, the army) authorities raided and seized the mobile classrooms. Some 80 fourth-graders from Jubbet Adh-Dhib and another small nearby village, turned up, to find their school destroyed.  A Norwegian Refugee Council Policy Manager who visited Jubbet Al Dhib on school opening day, reported “It was heart breaking to see children and their teachers turning up for their first day of school under the blazing sun, with no classrooms or anywhere to seek shelter in, while in the immediate vicinity the work to expand illegal settlements goes on uninterrupted.”

The Israelis gave their usual excuse, saying that the trailers didn’t have permits, never mind that Palestinians are never given permits for any kind of building or improvements. The week before, Civil Administration officials had confiscated the car and truck of a contractor who came to prepare an electrical system for the school.

In early July the Civil Administration confiscated 96 solar panels from the same village. Some of these panels had been funded by the Dutch government.

This is just one story. One example of cruelty to and contempt for Palestinians, including children.

It is not isolated or even unusual.

The following report is from the NRC, Norwegian Refugee Council:

“The facilities demolished include the only kindergarten for the Jabal Al Baba Bedouin community, which was destroyed in the early hours of 21 August, and a primary school in Jubbet Al Dhib that was demolished on the night of 22 August. The Israeli authorities also dismantled and confiscated solar panels—the only source of power—at primary school in Abu Nuwar. The school was also attacked twice last year when parts of it were demolished and equipment confiscated. Third grade students there take their classes in the local barbershop as the community has been prevented from building basic education facilities. The latest spate of school demolitions and confiscations in the West Bank forms part of a wider attack on education in Palestine. Right now, some 55 schools in the West Bank are threatened with demolition and “stop-work” orders by Israeli authorities. Many of these schools are donor-funded, including by EU member states. Israel denies the majority of Palestinian planning permit requests in Area C, thereby leaving Palestinians with no option but to reconstruct and develop without permits, while Israeli settlements -established in violation of international law – continue to expand. In the first three months of this year there were 24 cases of direct attacks against schools, including incidents where tear gas canisters and sound bombs were fired at students on their way to or from school. Last year, four communities’ educational facilities were demolished or confiscated and 256 education-related violations were documented in the West Bank, affecting over 29,000 students.”

The NRC adds, “Since 2011, the Israeli government has also threatened to withhold permits and funding to schools that are not implementing Israeli curriculums in which references to Palestinian identity and culture, the occupation, Israeli settlements and other aspects of Palestinian history were removed.”

Not satisfied with only destroying Palestinian houses, olive trees and water supplies, Israeli authorities also hope to erase any sense of worth, or pride and any cultural memories.

There are NGOs, especially European ones, who try to help Palestinians but why are Western governments, Western politicians, unwilling to ‘speak truth to power’? Maybe this situation will change. It only takes a few brave politicians to provide leadership.

That’s one of the things that makes Jeremy Corbyn’s address to the Labour Party Conference in Brighton so encouraging. Corbyn spoke of the oppression of the Palestinians. When will any NZ politician have the moral fibre to do the same, on behalf of the children who deserve the right to an education?

Lois Griffiths is a human rights activist from Christchurch.

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