‘Everyone has the right to education.’ Article 26 (1), Universal Declaration of Human Rights,1948 (has been ratified by Israel.)
‘Education is a fundamental human right and essential for the exercise of all other human rights. It promotes individual freedom and empowerment and yields important development benefits.’ UNESCO http://www.unesco.org/new/en/education/themes/leading-the-international-agenda/right-to-education/
International humanitarian law and international human rights law are central to the work of EAPPI. One of our tasks is to monitor children’s access to education. We stand at checkpoints or gates where children have to cross on their way to and from school. We watch to see that soldiers behave appropriately towards them. Where it’s necessary, EAs walk with children through checkpoints. But I recently came across a new problem for children in simply getting to school.
Last week I was with our EAPPI team in Jerusalem for a few days. We visited Ka’abne, a small Bedouin village of about sixty people, near Adam settlement, not far from A Ram, between Jerusalem and Ramallah. We went because we had heard that they had received a stop work order; if they took no action, this could quickly be followed by a demolition order, and then by the demolition of the tent in which some of them were living.
As we spoke to the adults, the children were playing round about us. It was natural to ask about their school. Mohammed, the man who had received the stop work order, told us that his children, like the other kids in the village, go to a school on the other side of a busy main road, which cars speed along. We watched the traffic on the road; it would be dangerous for an adult to attempt to cross it, let alone a child.
‘How do the children go to school?’ we asked. ‘They go through the tunnel,’ Mohammed said. He and his brother told us that the tunnel was only 60cm high. To be honest, I was sceptical. That seemed very little. So we went to have a look.
As you can see from the photos, the tunnel is very small indeed. Going through it, the children have to crouch all the way along. With a school rucksack on your back it must be really difficult. My fellow EA, Keith, and I reckoned that the tunnel was about twelve metres long.
It’s not just the size that’s a problem. It’s really more of a culvert than a tunnel. When it rains, the tunnel has several inches of water in it. One of the children told me that his teacher had sent him home from school one day because his trousers were so wet. The children said that in the summer there are snakes, which is especially frightening for the little ones.
The children were full of fun, and a couple of the boys grinned as I was hauled out and up from inspecting the tunnel. Mohammed’s son, Abdullah, told us that his ambition is to be a lawyer. He said that he likes school. ‘But I don’t like the tunnel,’ he said.
The Fourth Geneva Convention 1949 explicitly states that an Occupying Power assumes responsibility for ensuring the provision of services to the population of the territory it is occupying (please see http://www.icrc.org/ihl.nsf/full/380.)
The children I met in this small community, like children everywhere, have the right to education. Don’t they have a right to better access too? And doesn’t Israel have a responsibility to ensure that access?
I work for Quaker Peace and Social Witness (QPSW) as an ecumenical accompanier serving on the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer (QPSW) or the World Council of Churches. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting it on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact the QPSW Programme Manager for I-oPt email@example.com for permission. Thank you.