Tuesday, September 13, 2005
'Because We Are Palestinians'
Jerry Levin - CPT Sept 9, 2005
The following is edited from Christian Peacekeeping Team's Jerry Levin's From the Inside Looking Out. Jerry was the Beirut Bureau Chief for CNN in 1984 when he was taken as hostage. His wife, Sis, non-violently negotiated for his release. Sis and Jerry have both been active in the West Bank for many years.
(Hebron, West Bank, Palestine September 9, 2005) The start of the new school year in Hebron has been marked by settler harassment and violently erratic police and army behavior. Even before school began, settlers launched the new season by picking up where they left off last spring: this time menacing Qurtuba Girls School teachers warily trying to get ready for opening day. The teachers (four of whom are pregnant) were obliged to endure a gauntlet of stone throwing, egg pelting, jeering sneering ultra orthodox ultra nationalist hatred-obsessed men and women, and their hatred fear indoctrinated children.
The new large economy size electronic metal detecting prefabricated mobile "caravans" craned into place late last week just in time for the start of school has quickly become the focus of new school related tension and protest. The street has long been ruled off limits to all Palestinians except those living along it. The other caravan is at a brand new barrier set up near the Ibrahimi Mosque. Its purpose is to block unmonitored access to two schools near the Ibrahimi Mosque: Al-Fayhaa Girls School and the Ibrahimi Boys School.
Qurtuba Girls School teachers and students have a long and fretful history of accessing the Dubboya Street checkpoint each day. However, because of the women's years of experience learning how and trying to minimize its harassing and humiliating effects, they were able to avoid, at least for now, the potential delays connected with the new screening procedure.
The first day of school, the teachers feeling terribly threatened, by prearrangement, assembled with their pupils outside the caravan. According to one of the Palestinian women who was there: The soldier on duty was told that the women and girls would not "go through the cabin…..because it is damaging to pregnant women."
"Who is pregnant?" the soldier on duty wanted to know.
Then a spokeswoman pointing to the entire group said, "We all are."
The surprised soldier asked, "Why?"
"Because," the spokeswoman replied, "we are Palestinian." A plastic barrier adjacent to the caravan was removed and all the women and girls were allowed to slip quickly around the caravan.
That is what happened a mile to the south at the new checkpoint. The news of what the teachers in Tel Rumeida had accomplished reached the teachers at Al-Fayhaa Girls School who now were being confronted with the new experience of regularly traversing a sophisticated checkpoint that hadn't been there before. It took four days of mounting anxiety over having to submit to electronic screening that they were galvanized into organizing their own campaign of avoidance.
Gathering outside the security caravan a teacher spokeswoman, aided by a TIPH interpreter (Temporary International Presence Hebron), asked the soldier on duty to open a path through an adjacent plastic barricade so that everyone could pass through at once rather than singly and slowly.
The worrisome electronic security device, it was explained "can see into us." After checking with his commander by phone, the soldier said, "Yes," but added that each day a teacher would have to ask for permission to do that all over again.
The next morning, contrary to expectations . . . soldiers at the caravan told the once again assembled teachers and girls and interested International that unlike the day before the commanding officer, anticipating the request, had already ordered all women and girls to follow the new screening procedure. Despite attempts by CPTers John Lynes and me to get the soldiers to allow the teachers and their students to circumvent the electronic sensing devices again, the soldiers adamantly refused.
Feeling dejected for a time by the turn down, all of us were surprised when suddenly and unaccountably one of the soldiers allowed the girls to pass around the caravan though a plastic barricade…but not the teachers. The spurned teachers stood close by refusing to move. By this time, however, seven men teachers from Ibrahimi Boys School in solidarity with their eleven female colleagues also refused to be examined electronically and waited along side the women for the soldiers to give in and give way.
At about 8:30 the hundred or so Al-Fayhaa students suddenly and surprisingly reappeared unbidden by the teachers from around a corner and swarmed back to the barricade to loyally dramatize their support for their adult mentors and role models. After a few minutes the surprised teachers persuaded their charges to go back to school. Which they did; but a half hour later they popped up again: this time quite mysteriously on the other side of the barricade alongside their once again astonished teachers. Again the teachers told the girls that their place was in school. So their second adventure also terminated, the chattering girls gaily trooped back via the mysterious route which had allowed them to elude the checkpoint entirely.
Finally a few minutes before 10:00 a compromise was reached. The women allowed a soldier with a metal detecting wand to wave it over them one by one but in the street – not inside the caravan. Then they were permitted once again to file through the barricade. The men however refused saying that they would rather conduct school in the street than submit to the inconvenient and humiliating checks. In addition to having to pass muster with the sensor, they complained, they often have to empty their pockets and more often than not take off their belts.
Meanwhile, border police at Gate Six leading from the Old City to Ibrahimi Mosque, have been persistently detaining the principal and teachers at the boys school as well as senior high school students: making them all late to their jobs and classroom studies. The very first day of school one of those senior boys on his way home was not only detained but beaten. And he has been similarly detained almost every day since then but not beaten: due perhaps to the watchful presence of CPT and other international monitors.