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One of our teams regular tasks has been to monitor the checkpoint that leads into the village of Azzun Atma. This little village is in the rather peculiar position of being totally entrapped by the separation barrier. The only way into the village is via a military checkpoint that is guarded 24 hours a day by soldiers in full battle uniform. The village has two schools; each containing about 300 students. Many of the students live outside the village and hence have to pass through the military checkpoint. International Law states that these protected persons are not allowed to be searched or stopped on their way to school. When we have been present to monitor the checkpoint we have never seen a student stopped and searched, yet the principal of one of the schools told us that this has occurred a number of times when we have not been present at the checkpoint.

As a teacher, I know how easily young students can be intimidated by older students and adults at school, let alone fully armed soldiers! Yet these young children seem undeterred by such naked displays of power. All of our teams have noticed the very high importance placed on education in Palestinian society and Azzun Atma is no exception.

The ridiculous nature of the separation barrier is also highlighted in the example of Azzun Atma. People living or working in Azzun Atma that pass into the village from outside, are searched for weapons 24/7. But why? The people going across the checkpoint are moving from West Bank territory to West Bank territory. Who are the Israeli military trying to protect? Is it the settlement that lies just to the western side of the village? The 5m high concrete wall is meant to do that right? That’s what the Israeli government claims is the purpose of the barrier; to protect Israelis from Palestinians. Apparently the barrier isn’t sufficient to fulfill its purpose in Azzun Atma. There apparently needs to be a further checkpoint to accomplish this. Also, the settlement buildings are extremely close to the larger mixed school and often waste sewage water from the settlement flows into the school yard!

A few weeks ago we decided to visit one the schools in Azzun Atma to do an activity with a class of grade 4 students. We got the kids to simply draw some pictures of their life in Azzun Atma for us. They really got into it with one little girl saying that this was the happiest day in her life! Some of the students drew pictures of the checkpoint with the gun toting soldiers but most drew “happy” pictures of their family, school and the houses they live in. This “normal” type of drawing spoke to us of the resilience of these children who are well aware of the difficulties that the occupation poses to them and their families. It was an incredibly uplifting experience for our team and we plan to do the same activity with a Bedouin school in the Seam Zone near Qalqilya.

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One of the schools is Azzun Atma. Note the separation barrier with the settlement houses in the background.

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Our team in the classroom in Azzun Atma.

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A student from Azzun Atma school feeling pretty happy about her drawing!

Teachers in these schools who live outside of Azzun Atma face constant difficulties in getting to work on time due to being held up by the soldiers at the checkpoint and have more than once been trapped in Azzun Atma overnight when the military have closed the checkpoint for periods of up to 24 hours. For this reason the schools in Azzun Atma have a higher turnover of teachers than usual.

We have been told that the checkpoint will be taken away soon to allow constant access to all who need to go into this little village. But for many the damage has been done in the sense that it has already messed with their lives far more than they have wanted. As you can imagine, this hardly endears these children to the Israeli Military. The Principal of one of the schools told us that they have a lot of issues with violent behavior amongst the young boys of the school. It hardly surprised us.

Many people back in Australia believe that Palestinian children are somehow taught to hate Israelis right from the get go. They claim that Palestinian school text books teach racist attitudes towards Jewish people and the State of Israel. But this simply is not the case. Since 1993, all Palestinian school text books are screened by the Palestinian Authority who in turn are screened by the Israeli Government. No screening of how Israeli text books portray Palestinians occurs in Israeli schools.

You don’t have to teach Palestinian children to hate the occupation any more than you need to teach people to hate being beaten up and humiliated. It just comes naturally.

CRAIG NIELSEN

DISCLAIMER

I am participating in a program as an Ecumenical Accompanier serving in the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained here are personal to me and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Council of Churches Australia or the World Council of Churches. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact the EAPPI Communications Officer (eappi.communications@gmail.com) for permission. Thank you.

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