Tag Archives: education

Education as Resistance for Palestinian Prisoners- Interview with Badia Dwaik, 10/28/2011

Badia Dwaik is Deputy Coordinator of Youth Against Settlements, a grassroots Palestinian organization dedicated to the nonviolent struggle to resist the Israeli occupation of Hebron. This Friday I went to Youth Against Settlement’s headquarters, nestled, next to a 2,000 year old olive grove, in between 4 Israeli settlements. Throughout the interview, we observed on multiple occasions soldiers patrolling through the fields around us, a normal occurrence these days for the center of downtown Hebron, plagued now for 30 years by an illegal military and civilian occupying force.

With the release of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners due to the Gilad Schalit prisoner swap, and the end of the Palestinian prisoner hunger strike, still lingering in the air, I decided to ask Badia about his days as a prisoner inside the Israeli prison system. I particularly wanted to learn how the prisoners organized their own educational system within the prison walls, how they managed to learn together about politics, philosophy, history and literature while imprisoned, and how this knowledge strengthened their will to resist. On the way, we talked about everything from how he felt walking home from work at dark as a little boy, to ways of transmitting messages in and out of prison, to the hunger strike as a method of resistance, even to the nonexistence of God!

Freedom

When I woke up in the morning, the sunlight tickled my golden-brown skin
My eyes burned from its rosy rays and moved at the gusts of air
The intensity of the winds undulated
By this remedy, hope for the hopeless was reborn

And it began to smile on me from afar, as if I have a promise to keep
So I took my pen and my paper as my mind fled
A strange feeling seized me
I began to scribble these words
Maybe I will find something in them to express the emotions of my heart and that which
turns in my mind
The golden sun whose rays began to shine came up in the morning
The rays penetrated through the small window, making me question and seek inspiration
My pen turning the pages of memory
Standing on the dews of the near and distant past
The sun became a roll of burning bread
Come, come slowly

Here and there, mocking laughter
Memories of the past awakened in beautiful aching reality
My heart poured forth
The arteries of my heart were jammed with emotion
My eyes flooded, soaking the furrows in my cheeks
My thoughts began to turn and turn in my mind
Between optimism and pessimism, in a bitter struggle of resistance
At last the sun appeared from far away, but in a new robe
After I had drunk cups of bitterness to the dregs
Then I began to breathe with new appetite
And the seas and rivers and trees whistled the melody of freedom

Thoughts from Hebron Prison, by Badia Dwaik

——————————–

My father was arrested before me. My father was arrested in 1988 and I was around that time like fifteen or fourteen years old. I am the oldest one of my family, and I grew up in a poor family, so my parents decided to send me to work when I was 9 years old. So I didn’t have any childhood or young life because even when I became younger I was arrested, so I missed my childhood, and then the time of my youth I spent in jail.

Did you have education when you were 9 years old, or were you pulled out of education to work?

I was working on the side. My life was to work and study in the same day.  So I used to go to the school, and when I finished my school I would have lunch at home and then go to work, until i finished work at 9 in the evening. I was alone, and it was dark on the way home, and I was very scared. I would hurry back home very quickly, running, because it was scary and I was a child at the time, and I felt uncomfortable to walk around. Especially when I had to work in the old town in Hebron, it was not lit up like it is now, it was dark, and it made it even more scary when I had to get home. And i had difficult experiences, there were bad people, trying to do bad things with me and abuse me.
So I grew up in this situation even after my father was arrested. When my father was arrested I was 15 and I was the oldest one in the family, and in our culture the oldest one usually takes responsibility for the family, so I had to take responsibility for everything in the family. My father was in jail for six months and then he was released, but when he was in jail i joined the First Intifada, as a reaction. Because I was angry, and I just wanted to express my feelings about what happened to my father, it was something personal. So I joined the First Intifada, and I was very young at that time, around 15 years old. My father was in jail, so I continued protesting, and I was very active, demonstrating, organizing demonstrations, and I was also part of the Fatah movement. This was the first of my political life, was the Fatah movement. When they started to negotiate about the Oslo agreement, after the First Intifada, I moved to PFLP because I did not like the Oslo agreement.

So by the time they signed the Oslo agreement you were already in PFLP.

Yes. I was arrested three months after the Oslo agreement, but I joined PFLP before I was arrested. I got a scholarship to study in Baghdad before I was arrested. But after I was registered for the scholarship, while I was preparing my documents to go to Baghdad, I was arrested the next week. So the army and Shin Bet were at my home, it was like after 2 in the morning, they arrived, knocked on the door, and we opened the door. Then they were asking my father about the names of my family, my father named the names, and the man stopped him and said ‘We need Badia.’ So I woke up, my father came to wake me up because I was sleeping. I was young, I was 19 at the time. So my father woke me up, I was still in my pajamas. And then I saw sodliers and Shin Bet with them- its easy to recognize the Shin Bet because he speaks Arabic, and wears civilian clothing. He started talking to me, he asked me about the Quran text, about the Bakra sura, and how many lines were in the Bakra sura. I said I didn’t know, I didn’t care about religious issues. He said there were 286 lines in the Bakra sura. He surprised me with this question because he wants to convince you that he knows everything, even the Quran. That is the idea.

But you weren’t religious, you didnt care.

In the beginning of my life i was super religious! I was praying all the time in the mosque, before my father was arrested and even after he was arrested, I was praying all the time, but I did not have good knowledge about Islam, about the religion and about the life in general. So I wanted just to pray and to practice, so I didnt care if i knew what I was practicing or not, i just wanted to be with the culture. The change happened with me when I joined PFLP, and especially in the jail. Because even when I was in PFLP before I was arrested I was still praying. I continued praying for a year and a half in jail and then I stopped.

Why? Because PFLP is a secular movement?

Yes, PFLP is a secular movement. I was young at the time and it affected me. I grew up in a religious place, religion effects Hebron so strong, it is a very religious place, and a lot of tradition. Sometimes the tradition is even more powerful than the religion here. It took time for me to change what is in my mind, and PFLP is about communism. Communism is an ideology, and so to tell someone there is no god, when he grew up in a situation where there was god, it will be a shock for him, it will take time for him.

So the army and Shin Bet took you away that night?

When they came to my father’s home and arrested me, my mother asked ‘where are you taking him?’ They said they just needed me five minutes. Those five minutes took up three years of my life. My first holding cell was a tiny room 60 centimeters by 60 centimeters. They kept me there for two nights but those two nights felt like a year. I could not sleep, to sleep I had to put my head on the floor and move my legs up to the ceiling. I had to go to the toilet, I would knock on the door and say ‘please I have to go to the toilet!’ They pretended not to hear me, there were two soldiers outside but they did not listen to me. Eventually I went to the toilet in my cell, and then I had to sleep in it, I put my head next to it on the ground and my feet up to the ceiling.
In the First intifada there were 12,000 people in Israeli jails. In Al-Naqab prison there were 8,000 people. Al-Naqab jail is completely a desert. You cannot see any green thing around you, you cannot see any trees, you cannot see any homes, only desert and soldiers around you and the barbed wires. It is a big jail, there are many different small jails inside it. When you are there, you will see tents, and around the tents there are a lot of barbed wires. Behind the barbed wires there are long blocks, like the [separation] wall. And also there are dogs, and also there are many soldiers in military watchtowers, and the army is also driving by in jeeps with 250 caliber bullet guns. And the food is very miserable, very bad food. When they put you there, you are isolated, without anything you need for your life. When you are a prisoner, sometimes you will be happy just to see a bird! If you see a bird this is some luck coming to you! Really I wished to see a bird in the jail there, because you are already with your same prisoners such a long time. They want to break your psychology, and there is just sand around you, just tent and soldiers and sand. And it was a very big jail, even  when your family wants to visit they get there at 5 in the morning, and they do not get to see you until 5 pm.

Was there a library in that jail?

It was very small. There are two types of jails- jails under the military and jails under the police administration. The police administration jails are better condition than the military. Naqab jail was a military jail, so it was not good. But eventually, through my three years in many jails, I started to read Communist Ideology, about Marx, Hegel, about all of these people who wrote about Communism and all about the dialectic.

In jail!

Yes.

How did you get access to those texts in jail?

This is a story of the resistance of prisoners inside the jail. Each thing we have in jail, we do not get it by nothing, we do alot of resistance until we acheive points through our resistance. There are many things we have now in jail which we did not used to have. But because we are here, because we need these things in our life, the Israelis refused to give it to us in an easy way, so we decided to do resistance. Part of this resistance is to open a hunger strike. We wrote our needs down in a list, and then we tried to negotiate with the Israelis about our needs. These negotiations took many different steps and stages, it took long negotiations and conversations, and we put our efforts into trying to convince them that these things are very important for us to survive. But the occupation policy is to control you however they can. They do not care if you are kept alive in dignity or not in dignity. But we are in jail, we lost everything in our lives, so what do we have to be scared from them?
So after that they refused the list of requests, so we started our resistance. Part of our resistance was to pass messages outside of the jail to parents, to families and relatives, to human rights organizations to tell them the situation, and update about the negotiations, and tell them about the future, the next steps. And we asked them to stand behind us and to support us in our resistance, if we decide to do a hunger strike. And we asked them to build advocacy outside of the jail, all over the world. And after that we started to negotiate between each other, we had inside conversations, about who would like to join with us in the hunger strike, and if there is anyone who would not like to join, it is better for him to tell us before we start the strike. And we asked the ill people not to join us in our hunger strike, even if they wanted to join us, because we were concerned about their health. A hunger strike is not easy. You cannot have anything except water and salt, no smoking even! No coffee, no tea, no food, no fruit, no anything.

Were you a smoker at the time?

I used to be a smoker. I am not anymore, but sometimes socially.

So you did a hunger strike to gain the right to education.

Yes, this was one of our requests, to allow us to receive books from outside, from our parents, from our visitors and from the radicals. So we succeeded-

You succeeded!

Yes, it worked. There were many things that were acheived in the jail. For example, in Hebron prison, before the Palestinian Authority, there was a library for us, with 4,000 books. Before the PA, it was an Israeli jail- I think the PA started here in 1996, and I was in jail until 1995. There were around 1,200 prisoners, and the library had 4,000 books. But it started with a very complicated hunger strike, before we were allowed to read books. And they checked the books for messages before they came in- when they received books from the Red Cross, or from lawyers, or parents, or organizations. To see if there are hidden messages or something, or information. But we had different ways to exchange information!

Oh yeah?

We called it a capsule. It’s a very small, thin paper, and we wrote in very small writing, but you can read it. We rolled it up, but carefully, it takes careful and well organized work. And then all this big paper- like 40 centimeters- you make it into 1 and a half centimeters. Then you eat it. But before that you bring nylon, and wrap it with plastic nylon, and after that you burn the side to seal it, and make sure there’s not even a very small hole, even a pinhole. And then some of the people who were going to be released soon, we give him not just one, maybe 30 or 40 capsules. When I used to visit my parents, I was like the Colonel of my party in the Hebron jail, because we had good connections with organizations of people here, and when we needed to exchange information i sent them information with this capsule. We would exchange it by kissing, during visiting. And you can keep it in your stomach for two days. You swallow it completely.

And then how do you get it up again?

Through the toilet! Then you clean it, and after that you open the papers, but the papers wil be ok. It’s very careful and well organized! (laughter) This is the way we exchange information.

So what books did you read?

Different books talking about ideological things, like Communism for example, about history like Vietnam, Cuba, Soviet states. Poetry, books about languages, French, English, Arabic literature…and also many philosophers, Aristotle, Plato, Heraclitus, and modern Western thinkers like Malthuse, and Hegel, Marx, Engels, Faeurbach, and also Arabic philosophy like Ibn Rushd, and Fukuyama- we studied about all these things, it’s not limited.

How did the Communism help you?

There used to be people who were in jail for a long time, and people who had been in and out of jail five times, they had alot of time in jail. Some of them used to study in Soviet states, for example, and some of them were in many different courses, and they explained for us about Communism and about the dialectic.

Did learning about Communist theory help you as prisoners to gain resolve and understand your situation?

For me not all the Communism helped me. Communism was a stage in my life. I am not a Communist right now, i would maybe say a Socialist. If you ask me is there god or no god, I will not deny that god exists, but it is not very important to waste my time with these stupid questions, to ask if god exists or not, or which is first, the material or the god before. I live in the land, so I discuss my life in this land, not something outside of my power. So this is not my ideology, so it was good for me be a member of PFLP because there were people who cared very much about this culture. They pushed and encouraged their members to study, and to learn as much as they could. For example I was one who was part of the Culture Committee. If I moved from jail to jail they sent with me a note- put Badia in the Culture Committee. So for example I was reading four of six books a month, I was reading regularly. I am not reading as much now, because I can not find the time. But I was in jail, I had the time, and more than that I had the determination to educate myself.
So I was reading about all sorts of resistance over the world, Cuba, Vietnam, Ghandi, other kinds of resistance. And I did not just accept everything I read, I was critical. I examined everything I read, and I thought, I compared what I believed to what I was reading. I did not just accept everytihng I read. Now I have good information in my mind, I can analyse many things around all the world. But I have background about many things in the world now, so because of it I can analyse many things. I succeeded to educate myself, it gave me a way for another stage in my life when I got out of the jail, to continue with the people and with society. Also, the PFLP helped me with many things that are complicated for others to understand. For example this was the first time I started to make a distinction between Jews and Zionists. Before this everything was the same. But I started to educate myself, and also the PFLP cared about these things, we talked about these things at meetings.
We had in a day at least three meetings. The prisoners were like a government inside a government! There was the Israeli jail, which was run by the government, and then within that, our organizations and committees- we would divide ourselves into different committees. Some were in the security committee, some were in the culture committee, some were in the health committee, some in the organization committee, some in the financial committee. So everyone had a role-

How would you meet for these committees?

We used to meet, but at first it was not allowed. It came through resistance! Right before the Israeli occupation [of the West Bank] started in 1967 the revolution started in 1965. Israel occupied Palestine in 1948, and after that the movement for revolution started in 1965. After that they occupied the West Bank in 1967, and with the struggle against the Israeli occupation there were prisoners. So we tried to do meetings, many times the Israeli jail people were blocking and beating us. So there is a long resistance, and it started when Israel occupied the west bank. It was not allowed for the prisoners to have meetings together and talk about points and subjects- meeting itself was forbidden in the beginning, and it was a big challenge for the prisoners to break these laws, and we succeeded through a long resistance. Hunger striking was one strategy, it was a weapon of resistance in the jail. You cannot eat, until they will listen to your needs. This is the most difficult and dangerous strategy. Everything we get in jail, we did not get in a golden platter! We had to resist, and to deal with the resistance until we achieved these things.
We had three meetings in the day- political meetings, and organization meetings, and cultural meetings. The political meetings, we would discuss the political issues not only about Palestine, but all over the world. Because we are a part of the world, and we are affected by the world! We are one of the people most affected directly by the events of the world! Like the balance between America and the Soviet states used to be good for us, but after the Soviet states were over we got more pressure from Israelis. And after the Gulf War, we got more pressure from Israel. This was the beginning of the permit policy. Before the Iraq war we did not need a permit for Palestinians to come to Israel. After 1991 we needed a permit, we could not drive to Tel Aviv or Haifa with our car.

So when you learned about history and other resistance movements, did you also gain a consciousness of the fact that your resistance was connected to other resistance movements all around the world?

Yes, I believed and I still believe that our resistance struggle is part of humanity’s resistance struggle all over the world. Because maybe we are suffering from occupation, from losing our dignity and justice, but there are many people around the world suffering because of injustice. There are many people suffering from capitalism, capitalism effects the majority of people all around the world, which is an injustice. We here are also effected very directly and strongly by capitalism. This is why I believe that all of us are a part of the resistance struggle for justice all over the world. And this is one of the methods- we can work together. This is why there are internationals here, this is why there are people who come here because they believe that humanity is one, that we are not divided, so they take responsibility for what goes on here, and come to share with Palestinians the resistance, and to show solidarity.

In prison, were you reading about capitalism and other systems of oppression?

The people who were in jail were not stupid people. Some of them were teachers at university, medical doctors, some of them students. Israel would arrange the jail to be a place to kill you psychologically, they can kill you daily many times by making you see the same things all your life- when you see the same people, the same routine, the same food, it makes you feel disgusting inside and you feel very bad about it. That is the Israeli policy, to try to create death in the Palestinian heart and mind. We turned upside down this image and made the jails as schools and universities. Whereas the Israelis planned for the jails to be aplace to kill your soul and harm your psychology, we turned everything upside down and created jails to be like schools, to make educated people.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Israel Targets Vittorio Arrigone School in Embattled Jordan Valley

copied from my Alternative Information Center article here

 

As schools around the world begin another year of instruction, one school, near to completion in one of the most grief-stricken and resilient areas of occupied Palestine, has suffered a massive set-back because the Israeli military has carried away its infrastructure- the Vittorio Arrigone school, in the small village of Ras Al Auja

 

taking_away_school_caravan

Israeli soldiers confiscate and take away a donated caravan that was to serve as a classroom (Photo: Jordan Valley Solidarity Campaign) 

 

in the Jordan Valley.

 

The Arrigoni school, named after the Italian International Solidarity Movement activist killed in Gaza this April, began in February as a small tent school in the village of Ras Al Auja, and began evolving into a more permanent mud-brick and caravan structure in April. Built jointly by the Ras Al Auja community and the activist group Jordan Valley Solidarity, the school, once built, will educate young children up to the age of 13 in one of the areas of the West Bank hardest hit by the Israeli occupation. From the time that Israel seized control of the area in 1967 until the present, the resident Palestinian population has decreased from 320,000 residents to 56,000, as 36 primarily agricultural Israeli settlements, housing 6,400 settlers, have been constructed on 50% of the Jordan Valley’s land.

 

Ras Al Auja is a Bedouin community seven km west of the larger community of Al Auja. Both serve as paradigmatic examples of the devastating impact of Israeli occupation on Bedouin in the Jordan Valley. Until Israel’s occupation, Al Auja was for millennia an oasis, famous for its ever-flowing spring. As it says on the website of Jordan Valley Solidarity, “people would come to Al Auja from all over to swim, fish and sit among the banana groves that once grew there.” In 1972, the Israeli water company Mekorot, which has monopolized the West Bank water,  dug two deep water wells in Al Auja, cutting off the flow of water before it reached the village. “These wells lowered the water table, drying out the spring. Today the area is a desert, crossed with dried-up canals that see water one or two weeks every year during the rainy season.”

 

As is commonplace for the larger West Bank Bedouin communities, families must use tractors and mobile water tanks to bring water to their homes and villages, at considerable personal expense. The estimated amount of water that one Palestinian in the Valley consumes per day, for drinking as well as all other activities, is some 70 litres. This is the amount of water it takes to flush a toilet. Jordan Valley settlers, on the other hand, enjoy free access to water and, from the comfort of their heavily subsidized, modern settlement homes, individually consume about 33 times as much water as their Palestinian neighbors in the Valley.

 

To make matters worse, the families of Al Auja and Ras Al Auja, who settled there after expulsion from Beer Sheva during the 1948 Nakba, used to have “over 100 sheep or goats each, which they grazed on the mountains and watered at the spring”. Now, the settlements of Yitav, Niran and ‘Omer’s Farm’ have colonized the surrounding mountains, an army military checkpoint borders Ras Al Auja to the south, and two enormous settler-only water towers cast a grim shade over the dry Al Auja spring. ‘Omer’s Farm’, in particular, has stolen half the land of Ras Al Auja in the five years of its existence. It consists of a single family, on a hilltop, surrounded by stolen farmland, heavily guarded by the Israeli military.

 

The men of Al Auja, according to Jordan Valley Solidarity, “are reduced to surviving by working in Israel’s illegal settlements, earning a pittance. The area feels like little more than a work camp, reminiscent of the townships of apartheid South Africa, with all the men away during the day in the settlements.” The Bedouin now work for settlers, to farm land that the latter stole from them. While they were previously self-sufficient farmers, the residents now wage-laborers making scarcely enough to get by.

 

In March 2011, Jordan Valley Solidarity joined with community members to construct a school for children of the 130+ families of Ras Al Auja. Over the course of two weeks, volunteers sewed sack cloths together to construct a makeshift tent school, where women from the community began to teach 30 children, mostly aged between 5 and 8, a basic curriculum of math, English, Arabic, geography and history. It was vitally important to establish a school in Ras Al Auja, says Jordan Valley Solidarity coordinator, volunteer and driving force ‘Jane’, who has been involved with this project since its inception, because “if you don’t have education when you’re a small child, that means that when you go to school you’re behind already. Education is a basic human right. These people have a right to education in their community.”

 

Before construction of this school, the children of Ras Al Auja were forced to walk 7 kilometres each morning to the school in al Auja. As the foot path trailed right next to two Israeli settlements, exposing children to regular physical and psychological settler harassment, many parents were wary of sending their young children to school. In addition, numerous fathers are off working in these very Israeli settlements, thus unavailable to assist their children in the mornings. Numerous children, therefore, were left without an education until later years.

 

Today, because the new school in Ras Al Auja only educates children aged 7 to 13, those children over 13 lucky enough to continue their education still need to take this daily trek to the Al Auja Secondary School, where they can study for the Tawjihi (matriculation exams). Mossem Zubaidat, a volunteer with Jordan Valley Solidarity who also works with the Palestinian Ministry of Education and Higher Education, relates how “there is no transport to take them to the village, so they use their legs to go to school in summer and winter. It is hard for them to put the bag on their back and walk all the distance…We need to build the school because in Ras Al Auja the people live in boxes, not in houses, they live in tents! We are certain to build a school there, it is our land and we can build a school anywhere!”

 

The Israeli army does not agree. The Area A, B and C zoning system was established for the West Bank after the 1993 Oslo Accords to designate areas of full Palestinian control, joint Palestinian civil and Israeli military control, and full Israeli control, respectively. Because 95% of the Jordan Valley, including al Auja and Ras al Auja, falls under Area C (50% because of Israeli settlements and 45% because of military training grounds and nature reserves), this means that almost nowhere in the Valley can the Bedouin build any permanent structure without requiring an Israeli permit, which is expensive to apply for and almost impossible to obtain. Between January 2000 and September 2007, Israel issued almost 5,000 demolition orders against Palestinian structures in the Jordan Valley. Of those, 1,663 demolitions were carried out – Israeli bulldozers tore down houses, schools, animal shelters and even entire villages.

 

The stated purpose of Israel’s vise-like grip on ownership and control of the Valley is to hold a security buffer space between Israel and Jordan, necessary to defend the country; in reality, however, Israel covets the Valley because (1) the West Bank, which could serve as a future Palestinian state, is thereby surrounded on all sides by Israel; (2) the West Bank is thereby cut off from economic interaction and communication with Jordan, and the rest of the Middle East; and (3) in the words of the soon to be published Jordan Valley Solidarity factbook To Exist Is To Resist, the Jordan Valley’s “abundance of water resources, fertile soil and natural minerals offer competitive economic advantages in agriculture, industry and tourism. It also constitutes a geographical “reservoir” of land where the Palestinians could establish housing projects and public facilities.”

 

Israel’s policy of constant settlement expansion, pervasive military checkpoints, destruction or closure of Palestinian roads (the last few years have seen 17 new roadblocks and 4 new checkpoints in the Jordan Valley), construction of Israeli-only bypass roads and physical intimidation, harassment, and outright demolition of Bedouin villages in Area C is evidence of a conscious attempt to gradually exterminate a Palestinian presence in the Jordan Valley, to cement Israeli control and solidify a long-term Israeli presence that remains illegal under international law. Jane explains the role of Jordan Valley Solidarity in resisting the Israeli occupation: “By supporting communities to construct infrastructure for basic services, we support them to stay in their communities, on their land- because the Israelis want them to leave the Jordan Valley, or to make them move into the 5% of the land which is in area A or B to create an Israeli state with Palestinian ghettoes.” The establishment of a school in Ras Al Auja, like countless other projects in the Valley, is not primarily a gesture of humanitarian aid, but rather a symbol of international solidarity. “The aim of lack of education is to drive people from their land. What that means is that the right to education for people is really important…as a basic human right, it’s not something that can be taken away from children…Therefore our motto is ‘to exist is to resist’, and the people in Ras Al Auja are existing and resisting just by being there, and being on their land is their resistance, so we support them in their resistance…together, [we are] using their own land that the people live on to create a fact on the ground to resist the Israeli occupation.”

 

It was in this spirit of resistance that, in April, it was decided that a tent school, though an important first step, was too small and impermanent to meet the community’s needs. Accordingly, over 100 international volunteers and community members began constructing two permanent mud-brick classroom buildings. After the death of Italian International Solidarity Movement activist Vittorio Arrigoni in Gaza that April, the Ras Al Auja community, which personally knows the vital role of international activism, requested to name the school Vittorio Arrigoni. From the Jordan Valley Solidarity website- “Vittorio was, and will remain, a great symbol of resistance. To give his name to one of our schools is an honour, and we will do our best to make this school another example of resistance against the occupation.” On 25 April 25t Luisa Morgantini, former Vice President of the European Parliament, Majed Al Fityani, Jericho Governor, 50 Italian volunteers, members of the local community, and Jordan Valley Solidarity volunteers laid the first brick of the Vittorio Solidarity school while singing ‘Bella Ciao’ and the Socialist International anthem.

school_destruction

Israeli army taking away the donated mobile classrooms of the Arrigoni school in the Jordan Valley (Photo: Jordan Valley Solidarity Campaign) 

 

It is this spirit of resistance that the Israeli army is acting to suppress. During the month of Ramadan, the Ras Al Auja school joyously received a donation of two large caravans, which would serve as classrooms. Yet at 10.30 a.m. on 7 September, in Jane’s words, “the Israeli occupation force arrived and removed the caravans on lorries, leaving paperwork…they made all the village stay back and declared it was a closed military zone while they removed the caravans”.

 

Jericho Governor Majed Al Fityani, who laid the first brick of the Vittorio Arrigoni school in April, said Wednesday afternoon that “we were surprised by the Israeli actions this morning, we were not expecting this from the Israelis. We are going to request an official answer from the Israelis for why they took the caravans…it is the duty of the government to provide education for the people. it is a question of providing services and facilities for the students, free of charge. It is very difficult to provide services because the school is in Area C, so it is impossible for us to build structures there.”

The start of classes will be postponed until further accommodations are arranged for the students. In addition, a celebration and official announcement ceremony for the school, planned for September 15, will now be postponed.

 

Nonetheless, the community of Ras Al Auja, along with Jordan Valley Solidarity, remains resilient in the face of this new obstacle. Explains Mossem Zubaidat, “its not the first school we built with Jordan Valley Solidarity. The first school was in Jiftlik, it started in tents, now it’s a building. The second school is in Fasayil. We built it from mud and soil and tents, and now it has become a building. So we have experience with the Israelis about these situations. We are sure that we are going to build that school again, and we must build that school for these people. We are going to talk to the media, we are going to talk to the Jericho Governorate, and we are going to talk to the community, to do something about it. The army says it is illegal, but we say it is legal, because it is Palestinian land!…We have to build the school because we need to stand with these people in their land, not to leave their land to the Israelis. We are going to fight to build that school again, we are not going to surrender!”

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized