A walk to school under Israeli occupation
Under Israeli occupation and oppression, what is supposed to be a peaceful, exciting, and fun commute to school is, in fact, fraught with fear, uncertainty, and danger, making the Palestinian students’ pursuit of education a traumatizing experience.
The daily lives of Palestinian children are defined by adversity, resilience, and utmost determination to access education. For these children, going to school is not merely a routine. Rather, this trip, with all its adversities, stands as a symbol of hope, defiance, and an assertion of their right to knowledge and education against all odds and despite the challenging conditions imposed by the Israeli occupation. Al Mayadeen English followed the arduous journey of a 12-year-old Palestinian girl Leyan Abu Rmeila on her dangerous daily trip to school.
Leyan's day begins before the break of dawn in the Tal al-Rameda quarter, nestled in the Old City in al-Khalil, occupied West Bank. Tension fills the air the moment she steps out of bed, anticipating yet another day of struggle. She is fully aware that the journey ahead will not be easy, but her desire for learning fuels her unbreakable will and resolute determination.
"Israeli occupation forces terrorize us a lot, and they have attack dogs, which they unleash on us."
A child's daily commute through Israeli checkpoints
Under Israeli oppression and occupation, what is supposed to be a peaceful, exciting, and fun routine commute is, in fact, a route fraught with fear, uncertainty, and danger, making the Palestinian students’ pursuit of education a traumatizing experience.
A particularly troubling facet of this daily struggle involves the frequent encounters with Israeli military checkpoints. In recent years, the number of checkpoints in the occupied West Bank has increased significantly, resulting in longer waiting times and a greater sense of insecurity among Palestinians, most notably school children.
With a heavy backpack and a heart full of agony, yet filled with hope, Leyan joins the queue of weary travelers at the Israeli checkpoint. The unpredictable nature of these checkpoints means that she might have to wait for hours, sometimes missing the first few hours of school. IOF scrutinize the IDs of adults, leading to further delays and humiliation. It is a daily reminder of the restrictions imposed by the occupation.
Leyan related to Al Mayadeen English the specifics of her daily walk to school, which becomes a painstaking endeavor as extensive security measures stand as a stark reminder of the limited freedom of movement and access Palestinians have.
She wholeheartedly shared, "Once, we had to wait at the checkpoint near our school for approximately an hour and a half before they allowed us through."
On a different occasion, Leyan nearly lost consciousness when the Israeli occupation forces (IOF) compelled her to stand in the scorching sun for an extended period of time.
"One time, I almost fainted after the IOF forced me to stand for a long time under the sun," she said.
Extensive security measures
When approaching these checkpoints, school children routinely face lengthy lines, extensive security screenings, and the constant specter of both verbal and physical assault, which, in many cases, escalates to arbitrary detention, not to mention being shot by live bullets.
Badee Dweik, a human rights advocate and co-founder of the Human Rights Defenders Association, told Al Mayadeen English that Israeli occupation forces inspect the Palestinian school children's belongings, subjecting them to physical assaults and prolonged detentions for no reason whatsoever - not that the Israeli forces need one.
Shockingly, many children find themselves trapped within these checkpoints when Israeli soldiers deliberately close the exits and entrances, as per Dweik.
"The Israeli soldiers check their bags and their bodies, assaulting them and holding them for many hours. And sometimes, they detain them and arrest them," he added.
Additionally, there have been reports of Israeli soldiers opening fire on Palestinian schoolchildren, with Dweik recounting the story of a 13-year-old boy in Bab az-Zawiyah who lost an eye after being shot by an Israeli occupation soldier.
And who can forget 7-year-old Palestinian child Rayan Yasser Suleiman who died in September 2022 as his heart stopped when he was chased alongside other school children by the Israeli occupation forces in the town of Teqoa, southeast of Beit Lahm.
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On the way to school, Leyan can also be the victim of settler violence. Settlers frequently rampage through Palestinian villages, attacking residents, torching cars and houses, and hurling stones at passing vehicles and passersby in the occupied West Bank. Palestinian schoolchildren are no exception.
"One of the obstacles the Palestinian children face in their daily life here when they have to go to school or when they come back—is that settlers sometimes stop them and practice violence against them, humiliate them, assault them, and beat them in front of the soldiers and Israeli police, and they do nothing to protect the Palestinian children. Why? Simply because they are Palestinians," Dweik asserted.
Schools reduced to rubble
After going through a painstaking journey, if allowed, Palestinian students may arrive at their school only to find it completely wiped out by Israeli bulldozers. Left traumatized, the school they once knew is now gone.
In a recent report, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) warned that more than 6,550 Palestinian students may be denied access to education unless "Israel" revokes demolition orders for 57 schools located in the occupied West Bank.
"The Israeli occupation also targets many Palestinian schools and demolishes them," Dweik confirmed to Al Mayadeen English.
On the way to school, trauma walks alongside Palestinian students bear the brunt of Israeli atrocities, as children, until adulthood, when another chapter of atrocities unfolds, that is if they survive under the Israeli occupation. In August, Israeli occupation forces stormed the Nur Shams refugee camp in Tulkarm and killed an 18-year-old high school graduate, Mahmoud Abu Saan.
Mahmoud is one of many Palestinian students who donned a shroud shortly after wearing their graduation gown, celebrating their success in the General Secondary Examinations. He was shot in the head by Israeli occupation forces from point-blank range.
Another act of resistance
As the sun sets on another day in the occupied territories, Leyan heads back home. Her journey may be fraught with challenges, but her spirit remains unbroken. She and her peers know that education is not just a path to personal success; it is also a means to empower Palestinians and, ultimately, to pave the way toward a brighter future, one where the next generation of Palestinian children can go to school without the constant reminders of an occupation that has lasted for decades.
"Power lies in education; power lies in knowledge; Israel” doesn’t want us to learn; they want us to be ignorant. I will continue to study and learn and will never drop out of school".
- Hamid el-Sharaboti
Grade 8 student
Against all odds, Leyan and her peers wake up every morning and head to school, depicting yet another act of resistance.
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