Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
Palestinian bedouin students pray at their school at Khan Al Ahmar, near the West Bank city of Jericho, Their school is a collection of buildings made of mud and old tyres built despite objections of Israeli authorities.
Palestinian bedouin students pray at their school at Khan Al Ahmar, near the West Bank city of Jericho, Their school is a collection of buildings made of mud and old tyres built despite objections of Israeli authorities.

Palestinian bedouins return to threatened school

Classrooms made of mud and tyres offer only hope of education for many Palestinian children.

KHAN AL AHMAR, West Bank // Dozens of children returned to school this week, taking part in an annual ritual that has taken on a special meaning in this Bedouin tent camp.

The makeshift school buildings, cobbled together from mud and old tyres, were built over the objections of the Israeli authorities, who are now threatening to demolish the structures. Israel says it will not tear them down until alternative facilities are available.

"We'll go to school until it's demolished," said 10-year-old Islam Hussein as she dashed to the school on a nearby hill, after hastily dressing in clothes her mother gave her. She was faster than her brother, Mohammed, 6. Their mother, Sara, playfully threw shoes at them as she told them not to be late.

Behind them was their home: a series of huts made of tin, plastic and wood forming a kitchen, sleeping room and animal pens. Nearby was the family's camel herd.

Bedouins have lived in similar conditions for centuries, sometimes preferring a nomadic lifestyle to the offer of government-built towns.

About 150,000 Palestinians - 6 per cent of the total number in the West Bank - live in the 60 per cent of the territory that remains under full Israeli control, including those of Khan Al Ahmar. This territory is also home to Jewish settlements where 300,000 Israelis live.

Palestinians and their supporters say Israel is trying to force them out by refusing to allow them to build infrastructure. Israel has issued demolition orders against about 3,000 structures, including homes, cisterns, solar-power generators and 18 schools, including the Khan Al Ahmar mixed elementary school, according to UN figures.

But only a fraction have been carried out. In the first half of this year, Israel destroyed 360 structures, the UN reported.

Guy Inbar, an Israeli military spokesman, said that while there was a demolition order for the school and the entire encampment, there was no intention to destroy it until an alternative was found for the students. Many of the community had willingly relocated to a nearby Palestinian town, he added.

Just as Israelis have built West Bank settlements over the years to cement their hold on the territory, Palestinians see building up their communities as the way to keep their land. They claim the West Bank as part of their future state.

"We are fully intent on building facts on the ground that are consistent with the inevitability of the emergence of the fully independent sovereign state of Palestine," said the Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, during a visit to the school.

The Jahalin Bedouin clan used to send their children to schools in the Palestinian town of Jericho, about 20 kilometres away. But the school bus supplied by the Palestinian Authority did not always turn up, said Eid Sweilam, a community activist.

The community decided to build its own school, completing it in 2009 with help from Western aid groups and Israeli volunteers, said Mr Sweilam.

The Palestinian Authority provided 11 teachers and other staff for the school's 90 children, ranging from grade one to seven.

Mariam Abu Ghaziah, one of the teachers, said they hoped to add further grades.

Despite the shortcomings, the school is the best education that most children will receive in this deeply conservative community. Most parents are reluctant to send their children, especially girls, outside the village to high school.

It is not proper for them to be outside for so long, said one mother, Sara Hussein, 35.

As a result, Ms Hussein, who cannot read, made her eldest daughter, Nour, 14, drop out of school after sixth grade. If the local school added later grades, she could return, but she won't be allowed to go to Jericho, her mother said.

With a stony face, Nour watched her siblings excitedly prepare for school as she shook a milk-filled goat skin - an ancient method for making butter.

"I was really good at school," she said. "I'd like to go back."

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greets supporters after his arrival in Zahedan, the regional capital of Sistan and Baluchestan province on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. During Mr Rouhani's two-day visit, he will tour several other cities and hold meetings with local scholars and entrepreneurs. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

On the road with Hassan Rouhani

Iran's president is touring some of Iran's most underdeveloped provinces. Foreign correspondent Yeganeh Salehi is traveling with him.

 The Doha-based Youssef Al Qaradawi speaks to the crowd as he leads Friday prayers in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt in February, 2011. The outspoken pro-Muslim Brotherhood imam has been critical of the UAE’s policies toward Islamist groups, adding to friction between Qatar and other GCC states. Khalil Hamra / AP Photo

Brotherhood imam skips Doha sermon, but more needed for GCC to reconcile

That Youssef Al Qaradawi did not speak raises hopes that the spat involving Qatar and the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain might be slowly moving towards a resolution.

 Twitter photo of  Abdel Fattah El Sisi on the campaign trail on March 30. Photo courtesy-Twitter/@SisiCampaign

El Sisi rides a bicycle, kicks off social media storm

The photos and video created a huge buzz across social media networks, possibly a marker of a new era for Egypt.

 An Afghan election commission worker carries a ballot box at a vote counting centre in Jalalabad on April 6. A roadside bomb hit a truck carrying full ballot boxes in northern Afghanistan, killing three people a day after the country voted for a successor to President Hamid Karzai. Eight boxes of votes were destroyed in the blast, which came as the three leading candidates voiced concerns about possible fraud. Noorullah Shirzada / AFP Photo

Two pressing questions for Afghanistan’s future president

Once in office, the next Afghan president must move fast to address important questions that will decide the immediate future of the country.

 Friday is UN Mine Awareness Day and Omer Hassan, who does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan, is doing all he can to teach people about the dangers posed by landmines. Louise Redvers for The National

A landmine nearly ended Omer’s life but he now works to end the threat of mines in Iraq

Omer Hassan does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan and only has to show people his mangled leg to underscore the danger of mines. With the world marking UN Mine Awareness Day on Friday, his work is as important as ever as Iraq is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world.

 Supporters of Turkey's ruling AKP cheer as they follow the election's results in front of the party's headquarters in Ankara on March 30. Adem Altan/ AFP Photo

Erdogan critic fears retaliation if he returns to Turkey

Emre Uslu is a staunch critic of Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Now, with a mass crackdown on opposition expected, he is unsure when he can return home.

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National