For the next two weeks I will be teaching English in Hebron schools and universities. It wasn’t so much about teaching the language, as it was about creating connections through the process. During the war in the Balkans, I remember hearing stories about loneliness and isolation being a difficult burden. Occasionally, I had the feeling this presence and solidarity of others in the West Bank was appreciated more than just the educational part.
How does the schooling look like in Palestine?
Schools that we visited were the ”problematic ones” in critical zones where the Israeli army has control. That morning I went to a school on a border between the Palestinian and Israeli neighborhoods, which is why the streets around it were full of soldiers. Kids and teachers show their teeth from time to time, soldiers get even more pissed off, and the vicious circle never stops.
Often after demonstrations army breaks in the school searching for whom they define troublemakers – mostly teachers who participated in the protests. Photos in the principle’s office are a testament to Israeli attempts to arrest teachers while kids and students try to stop them with their bodies. Empty tear gas canisters in his drawer speak for themselves.
You have to be mentally strong to work in such galvanized surroundings, but teachers don’t give up: they hope education will save their children.
”Many children think the resistance is to throw a stone on the soldier, but in the end, they are only hurting themselves. They are labeled forever. We are trying to show them the power of education in their way out of this.” – Principle of Hebron school
School halls are filled with colors and plants, and schoolyards are decorated with lively murals that emphasize the beauty of studying and the Palestinian culture. Kids in the classrooms are disciplined, hungry for knowledge, and the world outside of Hebron. They don’t see foreigners often, so when they finally get the chance, they can’t wait to make a new friend.
- One boy from New York told us that people from his country can do whatever they want and look however they please, that they are free. He said our problem is that we all look the same. What do you think about that? Which one is better? – a 13-year-old girl in hijab asked me, while the whole classroom looked at me. Sister, why this question.
- I don’t think anything is black or white. Yes, in his country people are walking around in funny clothes, dyed hair, tattooed… And it’s nice, to be able to express yourself visually, but it’s not the most important thing. Many people don’t know what to do with themselves from all that freedom, nothing gives them pleasure anymore. That’s why, the most important thing – if you ask me – is to give life a meaning. For example, your life has a meaning when you believe there is something bigger than yourself, when you study, work, and take care of each other. So, I think the real freedom is not about what’s on your head, but in your head. I don’t know if you agree with me, but…
- I agree – she looked satisfied with my answer and sat down.
One little hand was in the air again. It was a small boy.
- Lidija, do you have a boyfriend? – he asked and half of the classroom burst with laughter.
- Oh my God, Yusuf… – the teacher rolleyed – Ask something normal!
- How many brothers and sisters do you have? – he reasoned.
- I have a younger brother.
- And a tiny cat called Hoobee.
Again, they started laughing. Most of them have at least six or seven brothers and sisters – and we’re talking about smaller families here. They say that in a village near Hebron lives a man with four wives and more than 30 children. He can not keep track of them anymore. One morning in the market some child approached and stood by him, and he turned to the seller, panicked: ”Is this kid mine?”
They adore their teacher, and he loves them back, but he doesn’t deny it’s difficult. He set himself on a mission to bring the kids on ”a third path”: neither passivity, neither violence. Education.
”I know it’s hard for them to hold on. They’ve seen soldiers taking away their brothers and their fathers, breaking in the classrooms with guns, and taking away their teachers. They think they accomplished something if they threw a rock at them, but they just put one more nail in their coffin with it. Israelis won’t mind locking the children in jail.”
It was right around that time when the world found out about imprisonment of an underage Ahed Tamimi who hit the Israeli soldier who came to her yard. This started a public discussion about the number of children in Israeli prisons.
When the teacher mentioned the ”third path”, I remembered Palestinian writer Raja Shehadeh and his book with the same title. He says:
”Between mute submission and blind hate—I choose the third way. I am Samid.”
(Samid = the steadfast)
The article was originally published in Croatian media: Maz.hr