16 October 2011 | International Solidarity Movement, West Bank
On the 4th day of demonstrations outside of a checkpoint in Hebron, on October 16 2011, IDF soldiers shot tear gas and projected ‘The Scream’ at a group of young schoolchildren and female teachers, who were attempting to hold a lesson outside of the checkpoint as an act of protest.
Since Tuesday, October 11, the group of children and teachers have been gathering outside of Checkpoint 56 in Hebron, which blocks off the Israeli settlement from the rest of the city, 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 and cross the checkpoint through a separate gate in order to reach their school, which lies in the treacherous area beyond the checkpoint, in between the aggressive Israeli settlements of Tel Rumeida and Admot Yishai. For no apparent reason, the army announced that it had suspended this allowance on Tuesday, and that it would now force the teachers to 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, though they likewise had previously been allowed to bypass the metal detectors, can no longer do so, and must now put their physical well-being at risk on a daily basis.
On Tuesday, the teachers refused to submit to inspection at the checkpoint, and instead held an impromptu silent demonstration on its Palestinian side. At 9 AM their students, between the ages of 6 and 13 and now deprived of education, marched to the checkpoint carrying signs and chanting slogans. Shockingly, nine children were sent to the hospital with injuries, as Israeli soldiers threw them up against stone walls, kicked and hit them with the butts of rifles, and forcibly dragged them through the checkpoint, and as one settler attempted to push them out of the way with her car as she drove by.
The next day, teachers again refused to walk through the metal detectors or submit to inspection, and this time, as an act of protest, students and teachers held lessons outside of the checkpoint. On Thursday, they held lessons outside of the checkpoint again, and were joined by the Director of Education in Hebron, representatives from the Governor’s office, and local and international press. During the peaceful demonstration, students sat on the ground outside of the checkpoint during lessons, and stood up at intervals to chant ‘we will not return, we want our right to education!’ This time, soldiers and border police closed off the checkpoint with barbed wire, and pushed students and teachers out of the area.
On Sunday, teachers, students, Palestinian locals and officials, along with international activists and press, gathered for a peaceful demonstration outside of Checkpoint 56. 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 a line of about 20 soldiers and border police pushed the schoolchildren back from the checkpoint, and announced over loudspeaker that the crowd would be arrested if it did not disperse within 5 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 5 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 commute.
Though the teach-ins and demonstrations have garnered much international attention, at the moment there is unfortunately little else that can be done to break the iron barricade of Israeli regulations, which need answer to no higher authority.
“We have contacted the Palestinian DCO [District Coordinator’s Office],” said Abutherei. “we have contacted TIPH [Temporary International Presence in Hebron] and many other organizations for human rights, but nobody can do anything.” In Tamer’s words, “[they] don’t have any tools to use except protesting, calling demonstrations. ” “What can we do?,” he said.
Both Tamer, who works on the ground with Youth Against Settlements to document and demonstrate against settler and military violence, and Abutherei, who protects the rights of students and teachers through legislation in the Municipality, are suspicious of 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, “I’m afraid the settlers want to take the school. 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 Israeli army may be seeking simply to make life more difficult for the teachers of Qurtuba school, or they may be seeking to escalate a conflict as a pretext for imposing harsh restrictions upon the school, or for forcibly closing it alltogether. Either way, this is only the latest incident in a long legacy of resistance centered around the Qurtuba School.
Says Abutherei, “its very hard to have education in H2 [the Israeli settlement district of Hebron]. The occupation effects [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.”