Liberation and Education
According to my friend and colleague Ja’far, from the village of Al-Mazra’a outside Ramallah, his 4 children had been eagerly awaiting the start of the new school year on 2 September, 2006. There is something almost euphoric about that very first day of school, when students have over-consumed the liberties of “free time” during the summer holidays, and are gladly willing to return to the calm and focused environment of their classrooms; to rejoin friends in their quest for knowledge and education.
Ja’far’s eldest daughter Majdal (12), the organised one among them, had bought her stationery, and a new school bag, a couple of weeks before 2 September; she was due to join the 7th Grade. His son Muhammad (6) was more of a challenge to the young parents until the last day of the summer holidays; it took a serious combination of diplomacy and persistence to get the boy prepared for Day 1! Nevertheless, he was equally excited on the morning of 2 September; he was, after all, about to join the 1st Grade.
Ja’far’s children, including Sameeha (10) and Rula (9), as well as 800,000 other Palestinian school students, have been at home for the past 2 months. They only managed to briefly attend the first day of school, before their anticipated mission was interrupted by the (still-ongoing) Palestinian teachers’ strike, implemented in response to the inability of the Hamas-led Palestinian Government to pay their due wages. Instead of being part of the 7th Grade, Majdal has been “promoted” by Ja’far to the overwhelming position of TEACHING her 3 siblings in a make-shift classroom in their home in Al-Mazra’a.
There are currently tens of thousands of homes in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip whose young members, like Majdal and Muhammad, do not have the privilege of waking up in the morning with a sense of purpose. Their education has been placed on hold until further notice; or more appropriately, until someone takes notice of their education.
Since the outbreak of the second Intifada in September 2000, the Israeli army has killed 576 Palestinian school students, wounded 3,471, and detained 669, in addition to killing 32 school teachers, wounding 54, and detaining 176. While these atrocities (for which the state of Israel must be held accountable) have left deep scars in the hearts and minds of all Palestinians, not least in the classrooms and playgrounds of Palestine’s schools, the ongoing disruption to the Palestinian education process must be given equal weight.
A concerted initiative to address and reverse this deterioration at the heart of Palestinian civil society must be collectively taken by Hamas (which holds the primary responsibility for paying the wages), Fateh (politically-motivated staunch supporter of the strikes), other Palestinian political forces, and the international donor community (whose ability to bypass political considerations and devise mechanisms to directly support the basic Palestinian public sectors must be taken into account).
At the tragic expense of an entire generation of Palestinians, at the risk of undermining the future of potential Palestinian doctors, lawyers, writers, and teachers (among others), the prolonged teachers’ strike, and its detrimental impact on society, has no end in sight.
The Palestinian Teachers' Union has been receptive to various proposals to end the crisis; however, there is little progress on the ground. On the other hand, the Palestinian Government continues to struggle under a stringent US-led international boycott of the Palestinian Authority’s executive body, hence its increasingly scarce resources to meet the minimal demands of a starving population.
During the first Intifada (1987 until 1991), as part of Israel’s Iron Fist policy to quell the resistance in the occupied Palestinian territories, the Israeli army shut down our schools and community centres, among other institutions. As a means to preserve our right to education and progress, educators embraced their students in their own homes to provide alternative (underground) education. In a spirit of defiance and perseverance, they took it upon themselves to operate in make-shift classrooms, similar to the one Majdal is preserving at Ja’far’s home in Al-Mazra’a.
Rami Bathish is director of the Media and Information Programme at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org