The right to education
For the last six years Jordan Valley Solidarity (JVS) have been working with local communities to challenge the control that Israeli military commanders have over their children’s education.
Children in the JordanValley attend schools which are under-resourced and lack basic amenities, and will leave school at a younger age than their peers in the rest of the West Bank.
Thier right to education is enshrined in international law, but this right is systematically denied them.
- With 95% of the Jordan Valley controlled by Israeli settlements, military bases and ‘nature reserves’, every aspect of education provision has to be fought for.
- Existing schools are systematically refused permission to improve their buildings, or install basic facilities like electricity, running water or toilets.
- Whilst travelling to school, children are subjected to aggression and attacks from the Israeli Army and settlers.
- Many communities have now lost so much of their land and water resources that they cannot sustain themselves without depending on
their children for labour (whether on their own farms, or in Israel’s illegal settlements.
So far we have worked in six areas to successfully create schools, from small kindergartens to large secondary schools. In each area the Israeli Military Administration is using draconian planning laws to prevent the building of schools, and in each area we have directly challenged their right to do so.
We have worked with local communities to establish a secondary school in Al Jiftlik (2005), and primary schools in Upper Fasayil (2007) and Ka’abne (2009). Every one of these schools was issued with a demolition order, and each time we contested them. They are all now run by the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Education. In Al Jiftlik and Upper Fasayil the right to have a school has been firmly established. However, the continued existence of Ka’abne school is not guaranteed. It is still subject to a demolition order that was received on 9th June 2010 – we are still working with the local community to fight the demolition order and firmly establish the right of their children to education. We will not give in.
In November 2010 we set up a kindergarten in Ein El Hilwe, then in February and March 2011 we did the same in Mak-hul and Al Auja. Run entirely by volunteer teachers – and supported by JVS – they support young children from Bedouin communities living in Area C, who face a constant barrage of harassment and threatened demolitions. The teachers at all of the schools give their time for free, and are building very strong relationships with the children and their families. Their day begins by visiting each local family to collect the children and walk them to school, and at the end of the day they walk them home safely. At the weekends they don’t rest. They run extra classes for the local primary school children, helping them with homework and any other school work they need extra help with.
None of these schools receive funding from any outside agencies, and the building has been completed entirely by volunteers. We were very pleased to have a donation of furniture for the Ein El Hilwe School from Save the Children, but all other building materials, along with teachers travel expenses and school equipment, is sourced by JVS with donations from our international and local supporters.
Communities in Area C are caught in an absolute trap. In addition to the ethnic cleansing perpetrated by the Israeli military and settlers, the vast majority of charities and NGOs will not support projects in Area C as they are deemed illegal under Israeli military law. By supporting work in Area C they feel that they would risk being thrown out of Palestine altogether – so they are unable to support the poorest and most vulnerable communities within the West Bank.
By supporting communities to create their own schools JVS are doing a lot more than providing an education for the children who attend. We are establishing the right of Palestinian communities to build their own infrastructure, and we are creating the ‘facts on the ground’ that enable families to stay on the land they’ve been living on for generations. We are creating the conditions that make it possible for the Palestinian Authority, NGOs and international donors to provide support to these communities that are so vulnerable to brutal ethnic cleansing by the Israeli state. We are planning for the future, to ensure that we still have a strong and healthy community in the Jordan Valley when Palestinians achieve their right to independence and self determination.
Our first experience of creating a school was in Al Jiftlik in 2005, where the local UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency] school only catered for children up to the age of 13 years, and the local village had unsuccessfully been requesting a school for the older children since 1967 – a total of 38 years! We found a local landowner who was prepared to donate some land, laid cement floors, and set up six big tents, equipped with desks, chairs and blackboards.
We did this knowing that many young people in the village were receiving a limited education after the age of 13. To go to school further away was very difficult as there is no public transport in this area, they would have to go through checkpoints. This is always difficult and unpredictable for everyone, but even more so for the girls – many found it difficult to endure the searches and photographs, and if the checkpoints were closed they would have to find somewhere to sleep for the night. Their families had very little money and depended on them to work in the fields, which is only possible if they go to school nearby and return home early enough to help.
The conditions in the tent school were tough: the tents flooded when it rained and the heat was unbearable in the summer. Yet the students were determined to keep the school going.
In 2006 we built a very basic school with concrete walls and a metal roof. Having established the right for the school to exist a large two story secondary school was built in 2007-8 with money from the Malaysian government, which is now run by the Ministry of Education.
In April 2007 a delegation from Brighton, UK visited Upper Fasayil in the Jordan Valley. They sat down with the villagers and planned to build a school, knowing that the villagers were prohibited from doing any building, improvements or repairs by the Isreali Military Administration.
The building of the school started, and in October 2007 the Israeli Military Administration predictably issued an injunction to halt construction. The villagers continued to build and challenged the injunction in court. Meanwhile, Brighton Jordan Valley Solidarity organised an international petition, and managed to get some national press coverage in the UK. The Israeli’s backed down.
By May 2008 the two room school was completed. But more importantly, Upper Fasayil was on a list of 14 villages issued on 13th May 08, where Israel had agreed to “facilitate developing, building and upgrading of schools, clinics, and other facilities” and “re-examine the current demolition and land orders”. This was a significant victory for the people of Fasayil, many of whom have to work in illegal Israeli settlements to earn enough to survive, and live with the daily threat of house demolition.
Lessons started in September 2008. Having established the right of the school to exist the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Education provided teachers and resources, and donations came in to build more classrooms, latrines and a basketball court.
The school is now thriving, and a health clinic has been built next door.
1st January 2010: a new year and a new resistance project started in the Jordan Valley. Residents of Ka’abne erected several caravans as an extension of the village’s school, plus toilets for all the children. The school already had 80 pupils, but extra classrooms were needed to enable more children to attend.
On 3rd January the school received a notice from the Israeli Military Authority, which ordered removal of the new structures and the local mosque. The military order stated that unless the buildings were removed by 5th February they would be demolished.
In defiance of the demolition order the first Jordan Valley Bedouin Conference was held at the school on 9th February. Around 700 people attended and drew up a Plan of Action to create the essential infrastructure for Bedouins to continue to live in the Jordan Valley – education was a key part of the plan.
The school was issued with yet another demolition order on 9th June 2010. The community are now in limbo – knowing the Israeli Occupational Force may come at any time to demolish their school, but also determined to rebuild if they do.
Ka’abne is a Bedouin community living north east of Jericho in land designated as area C. They have moved between Ka’abne and Jericho for the last 50 years, but are now subject to a military order that prevents them from leaving Ka’abne, and military law that prevents them from having electricity, water, or any infrastructure.
Residents are forbidden from erecting permanent structures in the area, yet are right next to Yitav (one of the 36 illegal Israeli settlements, or colonies, in the Jordan Valley), which is able to build and expand without restriction. The village does not have any electricity – except portable generators – or water, yet they live right next to two huge tanks owned by Israeli water company, Mekorot. Mekorot sells it’s water, taken from the ground beneath the community, to the Bedouins for 20 NIS per hour.
Traditionally families made a living by herding goats and sheep, and selling their meat and home-made cheese and yogurt. Now they are harassed by the illegal settlers of Yitav when they take their animals on the hillsides to graze.
Ein el Hilwe translates as ‘sweet spring’, conjuring up the image of an idyllic rural life. The reality is very different.
This community has lived for many years around the spring that gave them ample water for themselves and their animals, but in the last few years their lives have been devastated. They live in the valley almost directly below Maskiyot settlement, one of the most aggressive and fundamentalist settlements in the area. As Maskiyot has expanded in recent years, they have worked hand-in-hand with the Israeli army to pressurise Palestinians to leave the area. For the last two years they have stopped Palestinians from using the spring – continually harassing local people when they are herding their animals on the hills, attempting to feed their animals at the spring, or just in their homes attempting to live their lives.
In one particularly brutal attack on 16th March 2011 they killed the horse of an 11 year old boy named Ayman. Tying a rope around the horses neck they attempted to strangle it, before severely beating it across the head until it died. This was all done in front of Ayman.
They have twice set up tents next to Bedouin family homes (in April 2010 and March 2011) and kept a vigil of harassment until their allies, the Israeli Army, forced the Palestinian Bedouins to move, and demolished their homes. This community is managing to stay put by pure resilience and steadfastness.
In November 2010 Jordan Valley Solidarity set up a tent school with the local families, which is a kindergarten for 15 young children on weekdays, and a supplementary school for older children at the weekend. In February 2011 we planned to extend the school so that the older children could attend every day, but the army arrived and threatened to demolish the whole building.
It is so essential for the local community that this school continues to exist, to provide a haven for the children and a hub for everyone else.
Mak-hul is a tiny little kindergarten where a local mum runs classes for six children from Mak-hul and Al Hadidiya. It is constructed of sewn together sack cloths on a metal frame.
The lives of people from Mak-hul and Al Hadidiya are like all the other Bedouin families in the Jordan Valley, except that they have really borne the brunt of Israel’s policy of ethnic cleansing. For children under the age of ten, their entire life experience has consisted of their homes being threatened with demolition or being demolished; of their siblings and parents being constantly harassed by the settlers and army; of being prevented from having running water or electricity; of having to live in a little valley in the shadow of a settlement because their families have been driven from the hilltops they once lived on; of hearing constant gunfire from the surrounding army bases; and of seeing empty weapon shells lying on the ground just yards from their homes.
It will take a lot more than education to heal the scars of the crimes committed against them. However, education might help to give them the strength to continue to endure, and to continue to claim the right of their families to live in the Jordan Valley, Palestine.
Ras Al Auja is a large Bedouin community about 7km to the west of Al Auja. Like so many other communities they settled here because of the abundance of water, and like so many others, they have had that water stolen from them by the Israeli occupation – now having to buy their water in portable water tanks.
In March 2011 local people came together with JVS and sewed sack cloths to create a new school for the area, and local women volunteered to be the teachers. 25 children now attend the school. But conditions are tough.The families here, who once would have had over 100 sheep or goats each, which they grazed on the mountains and watered at the spring, are now reduced to surviving by working in Israel’s illegal settlements, earning a pittance. The area feels like little more than a work camp, reminiscent of the townships of apartheid South Africa, with all the men away during the day in the settlements.
The children of the village travel seven kilometres to school every day – with the cost of transport a heavy burden on their very poorly paid families, and increasing the pressure on children to end their education early.
In April the community decided that a tent school was not sufficient for their needs – although an important first step it provided very basic facilities for the children, and in the winter and spring could be very cold. They therefore decided to build a new school of mud bricks, and within a few days the ground had been cleared and lines of mud bricks could be seen drying in the sun – made by the women and children in the village and internationals from Argentina, Columbia, France, Mexico and Brighton, UK.
It was then that we heard the sad news of the death of Vittorio Arrigoni, the Italian activist killed in Gaza in April 2011, and after speaking to his family decided to name the school after him. Vittorio was, and will remain, a great symbol of resistance. To give his name to one of our schools is an honour, we will do our best to make this school another example of resistance against the occupation. We are grateful to his family for accepting our request.
On 25th April 2011 Luisa Morgantini, former Vice President of the European Parliament and Majed Al Fityani, Jericho Governor, alongside members of the local community and Jordan Valley Solidarity volunteers, laid the first brick of the Vittorio Solidarity school. This was followed by two months of work by the local community and hundreds of international volunteers, who together built two mud brick classrooms. Then two metal containers were sourced to provide another two classrooms.
On 7th September, the Israeli Army came and destroyed the school and took away the caravans. The village have once again been left without a school, but it is unlikely that they will give in so easily.
“Education is both a human right in itself and an indispensable means of realizing other human rights.”- International Convention on Economic, Social and Culture Rights, ratified by Israel in 1991
The 1949 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) declares indisputably in Article 26 that ‘[e]veryone has that right to education.’ It has been expanded upon in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), drafted in 1966, the Convention Against Discrimination in Education (CADE – 1960), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC – 1989), and the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW – 1979). Israel is a signatory of all of these international agreements and is therefore held accountable for implementing them in occupied Palestine due to its role as an occupying force under international law.
Article 50 of the Forth Geneva Convention, ratified by Israel in 1951, stipulates that the occupying power is required to work with national and local authorities in order to ensure that all educational facilities are adequate for the ‘care and education of children.’ The restrictive policies of the Israeli occupation make it impossible for the Palestinian Authority to adequately meet the educational requirements etched in international law.
Moreover, by actively maintaining a high level of poverty in the Jordan Valley, Israel is offering incentives to dropping out of school to join the work force, a clear violation of international law.
Target 2 of the Millenium Development Goals, adopted in 2000 and aimed at ending poverty globally by 2015, states that signatories/the UN [?] will: ‘Ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling’.
Whilst Palestinians across the Jordan Valley aspire to achieve this for their children, the crushing brutality of Israel’s occupation prevents the fullment of such a goal. As this leaflet has highlighted, building restrictions, lack of capital, road blocks and land confiscation are thwarting the ability of Palestinian children to learn. Yet, with stoic endeavour local communities supported by JVS are helping to put this Millenium Development Goal into action.
(1) Chris Keeler: Education in the Jordan Valley – The legal right to Education: 24.11.2010