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From the field

Hebron: IDF soldiers and settlers disrupt school and harass students at Kortoba school, October 2002

Ferial Abu Haikal, age 50, Kortoba school principal, resident of Hebron

I have been working as the principal of the Kortoba school since 1995. The school is located on a-Shuhada street, in H2, opposite the Beit Hadassah settlement. When I first started working, there were 200 students between the ages of six and 15. They lived in the areas near the old city and in Tel Rumeida. The teachers come from different areas in the Hebron district, such as Beit Umar, Halhul and the city of Hebron. I myself live in Tel Rumeida. Nowadays, there are only a hundred students at the school and fourteen teachers. The number of students dropped significantly during the current intifada, because of the hard conditions, harassment by settlers and the military and the curfew constantly imposed on the old city. Parents have moved their daughters to safer schools for fear for their lives.

Last year, the school was shut down for 25% of the school year because of curfews. This has adversely affected the students' academic achievements. Families have constantly tried to move their daughters to schools where studies are not interrupted. This year, out of 40 school days so far, 15 were cancelled.

In addition to curfews, the teachers and students come across problems unique to our school. Students are often late because they have to walk longer routes in order to avoid the checkpoints in the area. The soldiers at these checkpoints often prevent their passage. Teachers are sometimes late too. On days when there is no curfew, the soldiers usually let them through when they present their employee tags. When there is curfew, the soldiers don't let them through and there is no school.

Another problem is the difficulties getting furniture, school supplies and food through the checkpoint, particularly the Beit Romano checkpoint. This morning, the soldiers wouldn't let the man who brings food for the school's cafeteria to go through. He waited for more than an hour, but eventually had to turn around. The students had no food.

As the school is close to the Beit Hadassah settlement, settlers who walk along a-Shuhada street often harass students and teachers, especially after Palestinian attacks on settlers. They do so when the students are on their way to the school and back.

On Tuesday, 18 October, at around noon, the students left the school. Settlers had been harassing residents in Tel Rumeida throughout the day, so we called the Palestinian DCO to arrange protection for the students. We were told to wait about 30 minutes as the Israeli army was taking care of it and would see to it that the students are protected. We waited for half an hour and at around 12:30, we sent the girls home accompanied by about twenty soldiers. When we got to the checkpoint at the edge of a-Shuhada street, a white car arrived. It was driven by a young woman settler. Five young female settlers got out of the car and began harassing the students. The soldiers tried to separate us and them. Some of the students ran away screaming and hid in the homes of the neighbors. The soldiers recommended we go back to the school to avoid trouble, and so we did. I went back to the school with about forty students and stayed there for over an hour.

The soldiers then told us we could send the students back home. But soldiers prevented those who live in Tel Rumeida from getting to their homes. They claimed there was trouble in the area. I went with the rest of the students to the parking lot in H1 and sent them home in cabs.

On Sunday, 13 October, sometime between 12:30 AM and 1:00, the school guard, Abu Haitham called me and told me that more than ten settlers had arrived at the school, broken six large windows and written racist graffiti on the walls such as "death to Arabs." I informed the DCO and they called the Israeli Police. In the morning, police officers came to examine the damage. There was no school that day because of the curfew. When I got to the school I saw the broken glass and the graffiti. The police officers asked if I wanted to file a complaint. I said I didn't. I know nothing would come out of it.

Ferial Abu Haikal, age 50, married, is the Kortoba school principal, and a resident of Hebron. The testimony was taken by Musa Abu Hashhash at the school on 15 October 2002.