Wall adds to suffering

1st July 2005 at 01:00
Reva Klein reports on the effect that violence and division have on the children of the Occupied Territories.

The dusty rural Palestinian village of Beit Liqiya in the occupied West Bank ended the school year mourning the deaths of two schoolboy cousins.

Jamal A'asi, 15, and Udai A'asi, 17, were shot by Israeli soldiers on May 4. Another boy, aged 12, was seriously injured in a shooting three weeks earlier.

According to figures from the Palestinian National Authority's ministry of education, 70 schoolchildren have been killed during the past year in the West Bank and Gaza and 94 injured.

The Palestine centre for human rights says three of the children died in school. The intense violence they live with has resulted, says a local mental health programme, in a third of children in the West Bank and Gaza suffering post-traumatic stress disorder.

It is likely to be a long summer of discontent in Beit Liqiya and elsewhere throughout the Occupied Territories. The construction of the 360-kilometre, eight-metre high concrete wall separating the West Bank from Israel has become a focus of anger and resistance for young Palestinians.

The wall, which the Israeli government says is needed for security reasons, has cut neighbouring villages off from each other and thrown thousands of families into poverty by separating farmers from their olive groves and workers from their jobs in Israel.

Nearly 3,000 pupils' education has been affected. Jed Mansour, a 28-year-old chemistry teacher from Umm Safa near Beit Liqiya, said the wall had made children "more aggressive" and achievement had suffered. "They have other things on their mind."

His brother Zaki, 16, is an example. He lost an eye after being shot by a soldier in March during what Jed described as a peaceful protest near the wall. Six weeks later he was arrested for 20 days for stone throwing and blocking the road. "I'm trying to calm him down," said Jed. "I can feel his anger."

According to Dima Seman of the Palestinian ministry of education, the challenges educationists face are tremendous. "Many children are dropping out because of the economic situation and others can't get to school because their villages have been cut off from them," she said. "There are also children who are away from school for months after being shot or because of arrests."

The ministry has had to open more schools and redeploy teachers who can no longer get to their old jobs because of the wall. Lessons in hospital have also been organised for injured youngsters.

The psychological impact of occupation also takes its toll on learning.

Jehan Helou, director of the Tamer institute for community education in Ramallah, works to keep children engaged in learning, but said: "If they see a father killed or a brother or a friend, how can they study? They feel angry."

The Tamer charity organises neighbourhood-based "popular schools" during curfews and closures of roads and schools. It also provides literacy and psycho-social activities to raise children's self-esteem and supports 60 libraries.

"We involve them in work where they can see results, such as communication and life skills," said Ms Helou. 'We give them the opportunity to express themselves on the situation in Palestine. And through our reading campaign, we encourage critical and progressive thinking that empowers young people and promotes their involvement in civil society."

Uraib Jaber of the Tamer institute was 11 during the first intifada and remembers its violent influence. "I hated books then and feel that there are big gaps in my education because of the long school closures and the difficult times. It would be a catastrophe for Palestinians to have another uneducated generation of children now."

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