Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Dance routines and Dimbleby - Right to Education

We've now been working on the Right to Education campaign here in the West Bank for one month. It feels like a ridiculously short time, and yet we've seen more new things than we could have imagined possible - and all in between updating our newsletter, creating databases of our contacts, and running a student survey.

Palestine has so many beautiful and varied landscapes. The places we've been, from the plains of the Jordan Valley to the hills of Nablus, are all the more memorable because of the people we've met there.

Recently we made a trip to the town of Nablus. As well as sampling some local knafeh (syrupy pastry dessert filled with a stringy cheese), we went to ask locals one important question: "what does education mean to you?" The answers we received were 100% positive and passionate - a real inspiration. Our gallery of responses will be a great update for Facebook and Instagram. Look out for our Humans of Nablus!
“[Education] gives me confidence. It allows me to deal with people from all around the world.”
Our Nablus trip also led us to experience the famous Palestinian hospitality. One of the women who chatted to us in the market was keen to know more about our project. When she heard we were documenting ways the occupation affects education she invited us to her village, and three days later we were being made to feel right at home in her living room in Burin, eating her amazing home cooked dolmas (rice wrapped in vine leaves) with yoghurt. She explained that she invites internationals to her home whenever she can so that they can see the realities of life here, both good and bad.

Her warmth made it even harder to hear about what she had to say about life in the village. Settlements just over the hill and IDF incursions onto village land have brought a great deal of suffering to the villagers. From her roof she could point out houses on the edge of the village that had been targeted by violent settlers and now stand empty. She said a baby and a pregnancy had been lost in the violence, which was too much for the families to bear. We were also introduced to a woman whose son had been killed after throwing a Molotov cocktail, just two months earlier

Pre-school children dancing in Burin.
In such an environment, of course, schools are affected. Our host was a force of nature and led us briskly around Burin's four village schools. In a boys' primary school we spoke to the headteacher about the psychological impact of settlements on the children. We were shown the boys' secondary school, which has an IDF watchtower built on its grounds. In the girls' school, we could stand in the playground and see the spot where the teenager was shot; girls shout at the soldiers when they see them, we're told. The kindergarten provided us with some light relief, where we had tea and watched the children perform a dance routine for us, smiling massively as they tried to wow us. 

Saying goodbye to the children was tough, saying goodbye to our host was even harder. I felt like I was leaving a family member.

After that day of ups and downs we had one night to rest before it was off to one of the most infamously tough places in the West Bank: the ancient town of Al-Khalil, or Hebron. This unusual site is famous for its settlements, which, due to the town's torrid past and religious significance, encroach upon the town centre itself. We explored the old town, a Palestinian area that feels like a ghost town. Shops were boarded up and streets deserted. As we made our way to H2 - the area of Hebron designated as under Israeli control - we saw children travelling home from school, watched over by international volunteers who told us that they face abuse and stones.

For the second time in two days we found ourselves ushered into a Palestinian home and facing more food than we could ever possibly eat. The Azzeh family, who live within the H2 settlement, a literal stone's throw from settlers' houses, fed us traditional maqlouba (rice and chicken cooked "upside down") and told us some of the problems they had faced living where they do. Not least of these was the physical assaults they had suffered. It was hard to learn that the woman who had invited us into her home and cooked for us had lost two pregnancies due to being beaten by settlers. Her daughter had also been attacked on her way to school many times, at one point leaving her with a broken arm. The defacement of the local school and intimidation of its pupils is an ongoing attack on Palestinians' right to education by settlers.
Graffiti sprayed on the side of Qurtuba Girls' School in Hebron.

It's hard for me to understand how anyone could have the resolve to live with such hardship, and to see their family suffer as a result. Hearing stories like this, I had to ask why the family remained in H2. "I trust my eyes - this is my home," the father responded. "I struggle, and I teach my children to struggle." The people we've met who live by the Palestinian ideology of sumud, staying on land despite the challenges of the occupation, continue to awe me.

The Right to Education team have taken these experiences back to our work, such as our #didyouknow facts on social media. As we noticed that many social mediaites use #didyouknow, we've started using the hashtag #bt3rf (pronounced b-tagh-raf), which means "do you know?" in Arabic. As well as being shorter, this gives us a more unique hashtag, which you can now follow for pure Right to Education info!  You can find our factoids on Instagram and Twitter.

To cap it off, this Sunday just gone we hosted a discussion on education in Palestine. We brought together two of the areas we had looked into: prisoner education (represented by Emsat Mansour, a former prisoner turned campaigner) and international law (represented by Wael Abunemeh of Al Haq). Thanks a million to our speakers for sharing their expertise, and to our audience for being equally as impassioned.
Wael Abunemeh and Emsat Mansour

No wonder we were too worn out to stay up and watch the UK election! We'll instead pin our hopes on the Eurovision Song Contest next week.


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