Thursday, January 14, 2010

Tea in Palestine

When we arrived, there were children playing pickup soccer in the back yard. Flowers hung from the garden on vines, and the sun was just setting beyond the city limits. There was laughter and a baby crying followed by adoring coos from the mother. We went around the porch, shaking hands with multiple women who looked at us smiling with curiosity. As we sat in the chairs, they brought us tea and coffee, and attempted to serve us-- which we promptly refused and began serving ourselves. As we settled in our chars, one woman began talking about her school in Hebron. She was the headmistress at the only government-funded coeducational school in H2, the section of the city of Hebron, which is under israeli security control.

With emphatic gestures and flawless english, she described the conditions under which palestinian children are educated in an occupied city. Text books being monitored, religious classes being cut, any reference to palestine or the palestinian narrative was strictly forbidden. It was frustrating, but she seemed to know how to handle it. She has written a paper on the censoring of national history and identity through curriculum monitoring in Israel. “It happens everywhere” she said, casually, “history always changes depending on who tells it.”

The current curriculum is taught in both english and arabic. Judging from all the sisters' flawless english, I could tell that education was something this family valued. Indeed, this was confirmed when she said “English to us is more than a second language. We have a saying in this house-- another language is like a weapon on your arm.”

“In the 3 years that I've been head mistress in that school, the student population has doubled. Most of our graduates go on to university about 70%. The majority of these graduates are women” she said proudly. I caught a glimpse of her mother sitting behind her, eyes twinkling with love, her sisters all smiled, and the daughters too. This was one powerful woman.

Her school is situated across the street from some Israeli Settlements within Hebron. “Before I got there, there were frequent attacks on the school. It was hard because we had no security. Palestinian Police cannot enter that section of Hebron and, well, the Israelis don't really care about us. So if something happened, we had no one to call. But that changed when I got there. I can say that within the three years I've taught there, I've only had to drive one person to the hospital-- our teacher. She was stoned by settlers during class hours.”

She credits this rapid decrease in attacks to both working with the israeli security forces and rearranging class schedule. “I brought each of the security into my office, got their personal contact information and gave them mine. And I told them that if something happens, I want them to do their job. Everyone should do what they're supposed to. I'll do mine and take care of the children, they do theirs and keep us safe. I also told them that I want a police escort to sit in front of the school every morning. And they come.”

She didn't really go into detail on the attacks on the school, but she explained that many of the attacks were due to clashes on the way to and from school between the israeli and palestinian children. The palestinians would get stoned or beaten by the settlers on their way to class. “I don't know what their parents are doing. Maybe they're encouraging it. Its terrible if they're using the children like that. But the attacks are by the children, who then are protected by the adults.” So she rearranged the class schedule to avoid overlap between the commuting time, starting and ending school half an hour earlier than the settlers.

“some people call it 'passive nonviolence' or something like that.” she said, handing me her business card and pointing out her email address. “I call it 'everyone do their job'. My main priority is the children, education and security. Security before education.”

I think I've just met my idol.

1 comment:

  1. It is such a pleasure to see someone of your age write so intelligently. When I think of how you've traveled abroad to so many countries I stop and think how wonderful an opportunity. I believe some day your going to be someone people through out the world will know and recognize. Your a very courageous, intelligent, beautiful person. If you read this message, if your able, bring back something from the Holy Land for Grandma Tootie,whether it be the dirt from the earth, something from nature where Jesus Christ stood or something you buy, I know she would be ecstatic . Love ,