Omar, a social worker in Bethlehem
Empty classrooms and quiet school halls. Like many places all over the world, children in the occupied West Bank have not been able to go to school for months due to the outbreak of Coronavirus. Those in the West Bank are now into a second wave of the virus and are under a second lockdown.
As children, parents and teachers around the world adapt to home-schooling and half-empty playgrounds, the worry of how external forces will impact their children’s education and opportunities is not a new experience for parents and teachers in the West Bank. Daily barriers can include military presence on school routes, military checkpoints and intimidation from settlers, Israeli citizens living in communities built on occupied land in the West Bank.
‘Right to Education’ graffitied on the wall at Aida Refugee Camp, Bethlehem
The Palestinian Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MOEHE) estimates that more than 8,000 children and 400 teachers in the West Bank need some form of accompaniment in order to safely get to school. This usually comes from nonviolent international monitors whose visibility can act to deter soldiers from more aggressive behaviour. For some schools in the West Bank, children are required to walk past Israeli soldiers every day on their way to and from school making these monitors important in helping children to access education (Unicef). Currently the lockdown situation has made the presence of international monitors in the West Bank more difficult.
In addition to this, there is a shortage of education infrastructure due to lack of funding and building restrictions. Unicef has reported that in Area C, which encompasses over 60% of the West Bank and is under Israeli civil and military control, 36% of residential areas lack primary schools due to building restrictions for Palestinians.
Omar describes the pressure children and young people in his area face from the regular aggression from soldiers. He describes the aftermath of a situation in 2019 when soldiers entered a primary school during the children’s lessons, leaving some students too scared to go back to school. Some parents also reported that their children had started bedwetting.
Israeli soldiers fire tear gas outside a Palestinian school in Bethlehem