During the lunch break at the school in Izbat at Tabib a young boy approached me to offer a fistful of salty pretzelsamidst the noise and activity of students at play in the schoolyard.
Hospitality and warmth like this is something I experienced a lot but is surprising considering Palestinians subsist on so little in this area of the occupied Palestinian territories. My teammates and I, with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAAPI), had stopped by the school to introduce a television crew from Germany to this small community of less than three hundred people. The community consists of refugees, many Bedouins, who resettled on their family’s land east of Qalqiliya in the northern West Bank when they were displaced in 1948 at the time the State of Israel was created.
Over the last ten years, the World Council of Churches has coordinated the presence of international Ecumenical Accompaniers who are sent by their local churches and provide a protective presence to communities facing hardship because of the conflict. We commit to work on human rights advocacy and towards a just and peaceful end to the occupation. I was sent by the United Church of Canada, a member church of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC), and served in Jayyous from September to November 2012. During the three months we did many tasks, including accompanying farmers to their land during the olive harvest where there was risk of violence from Israeli settlers, monitoring Israeli military check points where civilians pass to get to work and to school, documenting arrests of Palestinian children and adults by Israeli military, and offering support to Israeli and Palestinian groups working for peace.
The village of Izbat at Tabib is situated in a zone known on United Nation’s maps as Area C , which was supposed to be a temporary arrangement under the 1995 Oslo accords. But like many Palestinians communities in Area C throughout the West Bank, they are still living under Israeli control. This means that in Area C it is next to impossible to secure a building permit. As a result 33 out of the 45 houses in Izbat at Tabib built without permits have demolition orders from the Israeli Civil Administration.
The community did not always have a school of their own. It was built in 2005 after one child was killed and another seriously injured in traffic accidents while walking to school on a busy highway to the neighbouring town of Azzun. The school serves 48 children from grades one to seven. The building also has a meeting hall for the village council and a health clinic for a visiting mobile health team. Given administrative difficulties due to being located in Area C, the school was built without a permit. In August 2012 the Israeli Civil Administration issued an administrative demolition order and ordered that the building be vacated in 21 days.
The teachers told the television crew how the pending demolition order has created anxiety amongst the children. One student proposed to come to class on top of the rubble if the school is destroyed. In the schoolyard I met a boy named Othman whose English is outstanding for someone in grade five. I asked him how he felt about everything going on here with the demolition order. “We want to stay in our school,” he told me.
Othman’s favourite subject is math but on that day he was getting ready for an English quiz. He told me he scored 10 out of 10 on his last test. I wished him good luck and wondered about the fate of this bright, young boy if his education is interrupted by a demolition or if he is forced to walk along the dangerous road to the overcrowded school in Azzun. The village council is engaged in a difficult legal process in an attempt to protect their school. Unfortunately this process is not a guarantee that the school will be saved. Groups and individuals, both Palestinian and Israeli, continue to show their support for the school in Izbat at Tabib during the community’s ongoing, non-violent demonstrations bringing attention to the importance and right of access to education for the children.
Published in World Communion of Reformed Churches, Reformed Communiqué: http://www.wcrc.ch/node/941
Full edition of March 2013 Reformed Communiqué: http://www.wcrc.ch/sites/default/files/WCRC_Communique-201301-EN-lowFINAL.pdf
Version français: http://www.wcrc.ch/sites/default/files/WCRC_Communique-201301-FR-low.pdf
UN OCHA fact sheet on Area C: http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/ocha_opt_Area_C_Fact_Sheet_July_2011.pdf
About the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child: http://www.unicef.ca/en/policy-advocacy-for-children/about-the-convention-on-the-rights-of-the-child
The views contained herein are personal to me and do not necessarily reflect those of the United Church, EAPPI or the WCC. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact me for permission. Thank you.