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First-Hand Reports

The Way to School

By Andrew
International Solidarity Movement
Jenin, Palestine
February 11, 2004

I am standing about 10 meters from the settler road (Israeli only) and roadblock that divides the western part of the village of Abaa and the city of Jenin from the eastern part of the village. Ahead of us on the far side of the road looms the grey concrete of an Israeli army tower. The tower dominates the area where the Palestinian road to eastern Abaa becomes subsumed by the settler road and a series of trenches, concrete and razor wire obstacles.

As I stand observing this scene a steady trickle of school children walk past, some are as young as 6, none older than 12. They pick there way through the trench in front of the settler road before forming a line by the road in the shadow of the Israeli army tower that stands on the far side. One by one a soldier stationed in a concrete and metal inspection booth calls them across the road. Every child has to present him or herself and school bag for inspection. Some of the children are barely tall enough to see the soldier in his booth. The soldier gives each bag a cursory look, the search a meaningless ritual before ushering the child on. At one point two boys try to move up together but another soldier motions them back to the line and the one by one pattern is resumed. At about 7.30 some teachers from the school pass us and join the line of children. They wait until the last child has past before following them to the school. By 8am over 100 children have passed this way. A few teachers pass from the other side, heading for Jenin. The soldiers then retreat to their tower, the checkpoint sealed until the schools close for the day.

There is no shouting, or abuse, no use of violence. But there is something deeply disturbing in the sight of school children having to begin and end each day passing one by one through a military checkpoint. A local teacher has informed me that the children often have to wait for up to half an hour until the soldiers decide to open the checkpoint. In the last months of 2003 these children lost 21 school days when this checkpoint was closed. The threat of violence from the military presence here used to deny these children their educational rights.

I have been here before. In the summer of last year ISM activists and local people protested here and made two attempts to remove the concrete blocks that denied local people vehicular access between the eastern villages of Jenin area and the city itself. On both occasions we opened the road but on both occasion the act was purely symbolic, the roadblock reappearing within hours and on the last occasion a trench being dug across the original Palestinian road. The eastern part of Jenin area remained isolated, local people unable to take their vehicles and often themselves to and from Jenin. However the situation has deteriorated with the construction of the tower and checkpoint here. Where occasional army patrols and impromptu checkpoints once made travel here uncertain now the permanent military presence ensures that no one can pass this way unless they are a primary school pupil or a teacher in a local school.

Despite public statements made in January by the Israeli army that they had withdrawn from Jenin and its access points their grip has tightened here. The people of at least 10 eastern villages are denied access to the city that provides them with healthcare, educational and economic services. It is still possible to reach Jenin from these villages but in requires an hour detour through the hills to make up the few meters that are blocked in Abaa. It is still possible for primary school children to go to school but each day they are forced to walk unaccompanied in the shadow of the tower and guns of the Israeli army.

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