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From the field

Gas grenades, harassment of students, and detention of teachers: going to school under occupation (video documentation)

In October and November 2017, B'Tselem documented four instances when soldiers harassed students and teachers from an elementary school in Hebron. The school is situated a few dozen meters from the road leading to the settlement of Kiryat Arba and faces numerous restrictions on movement. Constant harassment by the security forces and settlers disrupt the routine of studies, deny the Palestinian residents any possibility of a reasonable life, and make the reality in the city intolerable.

During just two months – October and November 2017 – B'Tselem documented four significant instances in which soldiers harassed students from Ziad Hamuda Elementary School for Boys, which is situated in the a-Nasarah neighborhood of Hebron. In order to reach the school, students and teachers must pass through a metal gate installed some 30 meters from the school, separating the neighborhood of Wadi a-Nasarah from the Jabber neighborhood. The gate is positioned on the so-called “Worshippers’ Route” that leads from Kiryat Arba to the Cave of the Patriarchs. The gate prevents access by vehicles, but pedestrians are permitted to cross. Occasionally, and unpredictably, soldiers stationed on the scene conduct random searches of passersby.

On 16 October 2017, at about 12:30 PM, some of the students ended their school day and set off home. After a few minutes, some of them ran back to the school and told the teachers that two soldiers and a settler were chasing them and photographing them. 

In testimony taken on 23 October 2017 by B'Tselem field researcher Manal a-Ja’bri, A.J., 12, a 7th-grade student, stated:

As soon as we passed through the metal gate, we saw about six soldiers together with a settler. He photographed us with his cell phone. I asked him, “Why are you photographing us?” And then suddenly a soldier attacked me. He was in a bad mood and had a bottle in his hand – I don’t know what was in it, maybe juice or maybe something else. He slapped me on the back of my neck. Then another soldier got involved and pushed me toward the wall. Then a third soldier intervened and moved them away from me, allowing me to leave the scene. […] Since then I’ve been afraid to go to school by myself […] The other students are also very afraid to leave school at midday because the soldiers bother us.

Muhannad a-Za’tari, 35, married and father of four, a teacher at the school, stated in testimony taken on 23 October 2017 by B'Tselem field researcher Manal a-Ja’bri:

Over the past few years, the soldiers have entered the school on many occasions. They frighten and scare the students, and this has an effect on their academic achievements and their psychological condition. They also frequently search the children’s bags and even detain them. As members of staff, we also suffer from searches and have been delayed several times in the past as we passed through the gate that leads to the school. The situation also has an impact on the number of children who are registered for the school, because families prefer to avoid exposing their children to all this.

In two other incidents documented by B'Tselem over the following days, soldiers chased students from the school as they were returning home at the end of the school day. In both cases, the soldiers detained one of the teachers who was accompanying the students – in one case for an hour, during which time residents were not allowed to pass through the gate.
On 9 November 2017, an event was due to be held at the school to mark the anniversary of the death of Yasser Arafat, during the first period. At about 7:45 AM, while the teachers and students were on their way to school, they noticed dozens of soldiers near the school, together with a settler from Kiryat Arba. For about half an hour, the soldiers prevented the students and teachers from passing through the gate. After they were finally allowed to pass, the school decided to cancel the events planned for the day.
At about midday on the same day, the teacher Muhannad a-Za’tari decided to accompany the students who had ended their school day. Some of the students passed through the gate without any problems, but the soldiers again detained a-Za’tari. In response, several teachers and students from the school gathered and waved Palestinian flags. The soldiers began to push those present, telling them to leave the area.
These incidents illustrate the casual manner in which soldiers can threaten and intimidate dozens of school students and several teachers, disrupting routine studies. The soldiers’ presence impairs the children’s ability to study, influences their achievements, and prevents any possibility of maintaining a reasonable routine in the school. These are not isolated or exceptional incidents, but an integral part of routine life in Hebron, where Israel has established several small settlement clusters within the heart of the Palestinian population. Israel imposes an overt policy of segregation in the city, and accordingly the military has prohibited Palestinians from using main streets in the city and closed hundred of businesses. This policy has led many Palestinian residents to leave the center of the city, leading to the economic collapse of the area. In this way, Israel is encouraging the quiet transfer of Palestinians from the city center.