Hebron Teachers Protest Measures that Keep Them From School

reposted from my +972mag article here

For nearly two weeks, a group of young schoolchildren and female teachers from the Qurduba School in Hebron have been holding lessons every morning outside of Checkpoint 56, to protest increased security measures at the checkpoint.

For the past seven years, teachers at the Qurtuba School have been allowed to bypass the usual metal detectors  at the checkpoint, and cross through a separate gate in order to reach their school, which lies in the treacherous area between the aggressive Israeli settlements of Tel Rumeida and Admot Yishai. On Tuesday, October 11, for no apparent reason, the army announced that it had suspended this procedure, and that teachers must pass through the metal detectors and present their bags for inspection every day. At the same time, the army announced that pregnant women and people with heart devices or other medical complications, who had previously also bypassed the metal detectors, may no longer do so, and must now put their physical well-being at risk on a daily basis.

That same Tuesday, the teachers refused to submit to inspection at the checkpoint, and instead held an impromptu silent demonstration on the Palestinian side. At 9 A.M., their students, boys and girls between the ages of six and 13 and now deprived of education, marched to the checkpoint carrying signs and chanting slogans. Israeli soldiers threw them up against stone walls, kicked and hit them with the butts of rifles, forcibly dragged them through the checkpoint, and one settler attempted to push them out of the way with her car as she drove by; nine children were sent to the hospital with injuries.

Hebron students and teachers protest, October 2011 (Photo: Ben Lorber)

Hebron teachers and students protest, October 2011 (Photo: Ben Lorber)

One of those injured was 11-year-old Yazan Sharbati. “There were no teachers in the school,” Sharbati relates in an interview with the International Solidarity Movement, adding “We protested to the army that we wanted our teachers. The army told us to go back to school, and we told them that without teachers there is no school…I was so afraid that something bad was going to happen. [The soldier] pushed me very hard.”

Over the next two days, students and teachers, joined by the Director of Education in Hebron, representatives from the Governor’s office, and local and international press, held lessons outside the checkpoint, standing up at intervals to chant, “We will not return, we want our right to education!” Mohammed Abutherei, Director of Education in the Hebron Municipality, was optimistic. “God willing the army will allow the students and teachers to pass normally,” he said, “because for four days now the children cannot learn properly! Why do they do this to our students?”

His optimism was short-lived, however, when on Sunday a line of about 20 soldiers and border police forcibly pushed the schoolchildren back from the checkpoint, and announced over a loudspeaker that the crowd would be arrested if it did not disperse within five minutes. “This is their character!” exclaimed Tamer, a Palestinian activist from the group Youth Against Settlements, based in Hebron. “This is their behavior, this is their ethics! Yes, we are terrorists,” he said sarcastically, “because we want to learn, we want an education!”

When the crowd remained, soldiers projected a high-pitched siren noise nicknamed ‘The Scream,” and fired rounds of tear gas to forcibly scatter the crowd. In the rush to flee, one teacher was arrested, and at least five were injured as multiple rounds of tear gas were fired down the main streets of Hebron for 20 minutes in the middle of the morning traffic.

Palestinian residents of Hebron suspect territorial motivations underlying the Israeli army’s seemingly random decision to force Qurtuba School teachers, who as individuals have peacefully passed through Checkpoint 56 for seven years, to now submit to daily metal detector scans and personal inspections. Abutherei said, “Now that the school is closed [for these days] I’m afraid the settlers will attack the building, or try to take it over”. Similarly, Tamer claimed that “this is the first step for evacuating the school. They want to close the school because this is an apartheid state. They want to make the whole area for Jews only.”

The school sits atop a hill in the middle of downtown Hebron, within ample view of the Beit Hadassah, Tel Rumeida and Admot Yishai settlements, each of which consists of a few buildings and a handful of settler families. Across the street from the entrance to the Qurduba School, a door  has long been adorned with graffiti reading “Gas The Arabs! JDL [Jewish Defense League].” Scarcely a month passes by when its students and teachers are not harassed or assaulted on the way to or from school, or when the school building is not vandalized or set afire (for a partial list of attacks against the Qurduba School, see the Tel Rumeida Project).

Says Abutherei, “It’s very hard to have education in H2 [the Israeli settlement district of Hebron]. The occupation affects [the children’s] social health. The students suffer from fear, worry and sadness. How to get an education, how to learn to read when you are attacked by settlers on the way to school? The same for the teachers…we need students to learn in safety, and not to have to worry about these things.”

The protesters have said that they will continue until teachers can once again walk to school without IDF harassment.

Settler Tour, Monday October 18

A crowded Palestinian marketplace, mid-afternoon, the sun is slowly descending, and a cool breeze blows plastic bags past the feet of a jumbled crowd of young men, small boys, women in hijab with their daughters, and old men. They have gathered, this midday mass of Palestinians, with outstretched necks and searching eyes, to stare at the Israeli army trucks that have mysteriously and inexplicably planted themselves in the midst of their crowded marketplace.

Israeli soldiers, nervous-looking young men and women in green army outfits with huge rifles, stand beside the heavily-armoured trucks, scanning the immobile crowd of onlookers with cold eyes stuffed under riot gear helmets.

It is a Monday afternoon outside of Israeli checkpoint 56 in the middle of downtown Hebron, and the air is tense in Babi Zawya square. Though the square, since the Oslo Accords, is officially under solely Palestinian civil and military control, there are  Israeli soldiers on the ground and on the rooftops surrounding the market square, pointing their guns out to the crowds and hassling Palestinians to clear the emptied street. Two long tour buses have parked themselves sideways behind the army trucks to serve as barriers, blocking the Palestinian gaze from the hallowed space the IDF has chosen to occupy. Palestinian policemen form a double barricade between the IDF and the Palestinian crowds, barking at kids on bicycles or old men who try to approach the checkpoint on their way back home. International activists from ISM, the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel, the Temporary International Presence in Hebron, and the Christian Peacemaker Team meander in and out of the crowd, taking pictures of the soldiers.

Finally, the reason for the midday military shutdown of a major artery of Palestinian traffic and commerce begins to slowly trickle out of the checkpoint.  Bit by bit, what looks like a motley crew of secular Jewish tourists and religious Jewish settlers makes its way down the freshly deserted street.

Streaming past recently abandoned shop doors littered with Arabic graffiti and plastered with posters of Palestinian martyrs and political figures, some of the black-hatted Orthodox men walk with downcast eyes and a hurried, nervous gait, like aggravated businessmen, trying uneasily to ignore the row of armed soldiers and the immobile, gawking inhabitants of a city that stand beyond; teenagers in t-shirts and kepahs (head coverings) amble by, leisurely and confident, with smiles on their faces and cameras in their hands, laughing, pointing at and filming the Palestinian crowd.

Bearded men in buttoned-up, tucked-in white shirts stand with their hands on their hips, glaring at the crowd of Palestinians and waving angrily at the soldiers, as if to ask why the Arabs hadn’t been completely expelled from sight; traditionally-dressed mothers walk with smug confidence alongside little children, who are gleefully enjoying an afternoon stroll. In a repetition of history as ironic as it is tragic, this tour treads on occupied territory to visit the grave of Otniel ben Knaz, an ancient Jewish Judge who, in the Biblical Book of Joshua, conquered the Canaanite city of Kiryat Sefer, southwest of Hebron, and drove out the native Canaanites from their land.

This is Hebron in a nutshell, and these are the two peoples, the unhappy neighbors who walk day by day and sleep night by night side by side, a stone’s throw from the other’s doorstep on this single patch of land- the Jewish settlers, who have the path cleared and the carpet laid for them by the Israeli army; and the Palestinian residents of Hebron, who, for the moment, are forced to stand still in the army’s crosshairs and stare, from a distance, after the steps of the occupier. Settlers and Palestinians, occupiers and occupied, gaze at each other from across the street, the former like self-satisfied zoogoers, the latter with unblinking eyes that know right from wrong, that take into account, hold accountable, and count the days until freedom.