By Monica Awad
AL-KAABNEH, Occupied Palestinian Territory, 9 September 2011 – Every day, 12-year-old Tahreer Ali walks through a mountainous dirt road in the extreme heat to reach her school. “I enjoy learning, even if it’s difficult to reach my school,” she says.
Located in a Bedouin community in the middle of the desert, 50 km north-east of Jerusalem, Al-Kaabneh school is composed of six shipping containers. They provide the school’s 70 students with little protection from the heat or cold, and they lack proper sanitation facilities. The school has only one functioning toilet, offers no library or computer lab and has no schoolyard where children can play.
Several of the shipping containers used as classrooms have received demolition orders from the Israeli Civil Administration. The head of the school reports that even the handful of trees planted by the children to provide shade may be uprooted.
The demolition orders arise from a planning system that makes it very difficult for Palestinians to obtain permits for construction of schools, homes and other structures in much of the West Bank. Nevertheless, Tahreer and her classmates continue to learn, at least for the time being.
‘Determination and perseverance’
Between April and October of each year, due to the extreme rise in summer temperatures and a lack of facilities to protect Al-Kaabneh’s children and families from the heat, they have to relocate to a cooler area some distance away.
“The relocation adds additional stress on schoolchildren, as they have to walk as much as 5 to 10 kilometres each way to school on sandy and mountainous roads, under the heat,” says Al-Kaabneh school principal Tayseer Daraghmeh.
Ask Palestinian chief peace negotiator Saeb Ereikat what it is like to live in Al-Kaabneh, and he replies that “it is a combination of fear and misery – but also determination and perseverance.”
Dr. Ereikat has been trying to renovate and expand Al-Kaabneh school for the past nine years. However, given that the school is located in Area C of the West Bank, which is under full Israeli control, it is nearly impossible for Palestinians to be allowed to build.
“I have the money and I have the donor community’s support to build the school. But I have been prevented for the last nine years to build even one classroom,” says Dr. Ereikat.
Education is crucial
Tenth grader Maram Ahmed and a friend came to Al-Kaabneh school on the first day of the new school year, earlier this week, hoping there would be class. They found out that the school was unable to secure a classroom for them; there is no space in the containers to open a tenth grade.
Girl students like Maram are at even greater risk of dropping out than boys here. While Bedouin life is tied to agriculture and animal husbandry, it has its own cultural norms and traditions, which are generally conservative and distinct from the wider Palestinian culture. For example, girls cannot leave the Bedouin area unaccompanied, even to attend school.
Still, Maram’s father says education has come to be viewed as crucial to the Bedouin community’s survival.
Right to education
Along with UNICEF and other UN agencies and partners, the Palestinian Ministry of Education and Higher Education is developing a strategy to protect the right to education of children in Area C of the West Bank.
Peace accords between Palestinians and Israelis divided the West Bank into areas under full Palestinian authority, areas under Palestinian civil control and Israeli security control, and areas under full Israeli control. The latter, Area C, comprises a full 60 per cent of the West Bank.
At least 26 of the 183 schools in Area C have pending demolition or stop-work orders, meaning that they might be demolished at any time, depriving children of their education.
Solidarity with students
“We reaffirm our commitment to support Palestinian children’s right to study and build their future in adequate schools, no matter where they live,” UNICEF Special Representative for the Occupied Palestinian Territory Jean Gough said at an event in Al-Kaabneh on the first day of school. She was speaking on behalf of the UN and several international non-governmental organizations.
Students from the nearby city of Jericho also joined the Al-Kaabneh students for the day, advocating for their right to education.
“I came today to stand in solidarity with the students in Al-Kaabneh, because their rights to education are being violated,” explained Shahd Satriyyeh, 16. “Demolishing a school means demolishing the future of students.”