Ensuring Palestinian children the right to a quality education
By Monica Awad
YANOUN, occupied Palestinian territory, 18 September 2012 — For many of the 1.2 million students living in the occupied Palestinian territory, returning to school last week was an enjoyable experience. But for students living in Yanoun, a village in the northern West Bank, returning to class was stressful.
“I enjoy coming back to learn at my school, but I already know it is going to be a rough year,” said twelve year old Razan as she rushed up ten steep crumbling steps to reach her tiny classroom. “Our school has no facilities. We don’t have a safe play area, a computer lab or even proper bathrooms”, she added.
Violence in everyday life
Nestled on a hill, the town of Yanoun is a small cluster of old flat-roofed stone houses, surrounded on all sides by a leafy landscape dotted with the buildings of an Israeli settlement. Villagers say that settler violence has become a staple of life in Yanoun, including for children.
Pointing to the settlement, the Head of the Village Council, Mr Rashed Marrar, relays how stepping ten metres beyond the edges of the village has become a dangerous exercise. "Some settlers patrol around the village, threatening us with sticks and stones. Some have even broken into our homes. Children and old people are frightened, because should they come under attack, they know they will not be able to run fast enough to escape”, he said.
Little Razan has not felt safe on her way to school since she and other children were attacked by settler dogs. “I always fear I might be attacked again”, she softly says.
Challenges of getting to school
Officially opening the new school year in the village, Ms Lamis Al-Alami, the Palestinian Authority’s Minister of Education, stressed the challenges to educating every child. “This year, we are launching the Back to School event at the smallest and poorest school in the Palestinian territory, to remind the international community of its responsibility in protecting and securing the rights of children to education,’ Al-Alami said.
Yanoun is located in Area ‘C” of the West Bank and it is under Israeli security and administrative control. Palestinian construction is normally allowed here, but permits are very difficult to obtain. Hence villagers say that they have not been able to build new houses, nor additional classrooms in the miniature school. The Head of the Village Council reports that these restrictions, in addition to settler violence, have led many villagers to leave. The population of Yanoun has decreased by half, from 17 families in 2002 to seven families in 2012.
Nine students are currently crowded in two small rooms at Yanoun’s school, requiring the teachers to house two grades in one classroom. Because there is no space for the 32 additional children that should be attending this school, they commute to another village’s school, and this puts them at risk of settler violence along the way.
Every child has a right to education and safety
To help children safely exercise their right to education and protection, UNICEF, with funding from the Government of Japan, secured a new school bus which will safely drive students to and from school. To provide additional protection for the children, volunteers from the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) will travel with the children to provide a protective presence and deter settler harassment and attacks.
“We highly respect UNICEF’s leading role in securing children’s right, including the right to education”, said Hideaki Yamamoto, the Deputy Representative of Japan’s Representative Office to the Palestinian Authority. “The Government of Japan and its people are committed to safeguarding the rights of education for all Palestinian students”, he added.
“No matter where they live, all students in the occupied Palestinian territory have the right to study in a protective learning environment. It is their right and it is our collective duty to help them secure this right”, said Ms Jean Gough, UNICEF oPt Special Representative. “Quality education for all, including the most vulnerable groups of children, must be our priority now. We cannot wait and we cannot postpone it, because every child is building her/his future now,” she added.