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7 - philippa

Just another school run

In the second part of her West Bank report, Edinburgh parishioner Philippa Bonella reports on the everyday struggle for the right to learn, as children travel to As Sawiya school in Nablus, in defiance of Israeli soldiers

Three times a week, our team of Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) does the ‘school run.’

For us, this involves walking along the main road for about one kilometre with the girls and boys from a nearby village until they reach their respective secondary schools.

The road is fringed with Israeli settlements; settlers drive past the schools each morning and often the boys are accused of throwing stones at the cars.

Then the military get involved and station themselves along the pavement, making it hard for the kids to get to school.

So we walk behind the boys to provide a protective presence and observe the situation.

 

Education

On Sunday (the first day of the Palestinian week), soldiers accuse the boys of throwing stones and threaten to close the school, which serves 450 boys from two villages.

We know no stones have been thrown, since the team was there at the time.

On Monday, our school run has quite a different feel. First we run into a small group of soldiers preventing cars from getting near the school. We get out and walk closer.

Education is highly valued in Palestine. Parents and their sons are determined that the school should not be closed.

Parents form a preventive ‘human shield’ at the school gate to allow their boys past the soldiers.

After a lot of discussion with the soldiers at the gate, things go quiet. We all know what will happen next. The Red Crescent ambulance moves closer.

 

‘How do you like Israel?’

Then the Border Police come down the hill behind the school, heavily armed and arrive at the school gate.

Having thrown a teargas grenade inside the school where about 50 boys are sheltering, a regular soldier turns to me and grins ruefully. “How do you like Israel?”

We are teargassed two or three times and everyone moves back from the gate.

After about half an hour, the teachers evacuate the school and lead the boys past the soldiers back to their parents.

Not one stone or punch has been thrown—it’s a peaceful act of resistance, a few boys squeezing through a school gate.

But quickly the Border Police decide to wrap things up, with a volley of teargas and rubber bullets. The mayor is wounded as he tries to make his case

A press photographer collapses and those who come to rescue him are targeted with more teargas. Passing the nearby girls’ school, where classes run as usual, the Border Police fire three teargas grenades into their compound.

As our team gets into our car to leave, we receive a direct hit—a teargas grenade bounces hard off the roof, leaving an unmistakable dent.

We go to check on the silent, evacuated school. As teargas wafts in the wind, a villager pulls up in his car. “Have a banana,” he says. And drives off into the village.

We enter the now empty school….

 

HOW CAN YOU HELP?

Read more about how the occupation affects children’s right to education, with this report on EAPPI’s work in Palestine:

www.unicef.org/oPt/UNICEF_Under_Occupation_final-SMALL.pdf=

You can join the campaign to encourage churches to divest from any firm that profits from the occupation. A guide is available called Investing For Peace: Morally Responsible Investment:

www.sabeel-kairos.org.uk/category/taking-action/investing-for-peace/

The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) is backed by the World Council of Churches.

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