We went to schools in villages outside of Bethlehem a few times a week, standing watch while children filed up and down narrow trails. Tuqu’ boy’s school was one of our most frequent stops.
The village was singled out for special attention with 12 of its 16 wells confiscated for Israeli use, it’s main access road gated by the Israeli military, and it’s main thoroughfare populated by jeeploads of fully armed soldiers in combat gear. From time to time a military helicopter flew overhead, while soldiers armed and ready for any eventuality patrolled the paths to schools.
Walking those paths we passed the debris of conflicts past. Tear gas, smoke grenade and sound bomb cannisters scattered at the side of the road. Cement barricades constructed as a three sided box, forts for soldiers taking aim at children. Burned out remains of radial tires wreathe the roadside.
The children would try out their English on us. Elementary girls laughing and giggling, playing ‘Cat’s cradle’. Adolescent boys clearly not ignoring my companions, European women much younger than I. Some things seem the same wherever one is.
Soldiers on the path sometimes close enough to be stepped around. Especially after the announcement of the Trump deal. Standing near enough to seem almost to be tempting the boys
Once in a while they would oblige, throwing rocks in their direction, never hitting, but coming near enough to cause, sometimes, the release of tear gas cannisters, breaking waves of choking smoke across the valley. The first assault. Photos would be taken so boys could be sought later. Some taken from their homes by armed invaders, breaking down doors at 3am. Hauled away to interrogation in a nearby illegal colony. Then to an Israeli prison.
A few years ago they killed a student in a clash near the school. Shot him and confiscated his body for a while. Body confiscations are common in the Occupation. It extends the punishment to the family who are deprived of their child’s body and takes away the focal point for a mass funeral in the village. They can be used as bargaining chips for intelligence gathering too. Ever practical, the forces of the occupation.
Speaking with teachers we learned that the ongoing trauma of the Occupation is one of the most difficult parts of their job. Many students, especially those arrested and jailed, drop out of school. Others suffer from night terrors, wet the bed, and otherwise struggle to cope with the unrelenting pressure of an Occupying army that can and will enter schools firing tear gas, sound bombs and smoke grenades in pursuit of students and to harass teachers. That can and will enter their homes at gunpoint and take them away to Israel for ‘interrogations’ rivaled only by those used by the American Military in Guantanamo Bay.
When they return after months in prison neighbours do not know if they have ‘broken’ and become informants or refused to and become targets for further attack. Either way, other parents do not want their children to be in their company…furthering the trauma.
School curriculum is mainly limited to academics and sports, with teachers yearning for arts and music programs to provide outlets for children living a history of abuse that no one in authority can save them from. Some NGOs are helping train teachers and social workers, helping the children speak about the traumas they suffer, the rage they feel and finding ways to respond that might not end in an Israeli prison, or a healthcare institution, or the grave.
Israeli soldiers did speak to us, while demanding our identification and photographing our passports, urging us to find out what was being taught in those schools. They see them as places where hatred of Israel is taught, where young men are trained to hate, where history is distorted against them. Their own actions justified by the hatred they feel radiating at them from within.
I think the pictures speak for themselves…