Israel couldn’t destroy their will so they went for their schools

by Ramona Wadi   Getty Images  


The commencement of the scholastic year in Palestine is once again marked by Israeli tactics to disrupt not only a smooth transition for students and teachers, but also the foundations of a society that can, in due course, construct a political reality that challenges the colonial repression.

Last Tuesday, Israeli forces removed mobile classes from an elementary school in Jib al-Deeb, a village located east of Bethlehem, under the pretext of the facilities being put up and used without official permission. Around 60 students have now been deprived of their education until alternative premises are found by the education department. Attempts by the villagers to prevent the soldiers from confiscating the mobile classes were met with excessive force, as soldiers fired tear gas canisters and rubber bullets.

Bedouin kindergarten children also woke up to the disappearance of their school on the outskirts of Jerusalem which was built with funding from the European Union. Not content with demolishing the school, which the Israeli Civil Administration (COGAT) described as “an illegal tin and wood shed” to divert attention away from obstructing Palestinian children’s right to education, the village served by the school was also threatened with demolitions, according to Ma’an news agency. Teachers and students turned up for their first day at school to gaze upon destruction, prompting the Norweigan Refugee Council director for Palestine, Hanibal Abiy Worku, to state: “What threat do these schools pose to the Israeli authorities? What are they planning to achieve by denying thousands of children their right to education?”

Meanwhile, Palestinian children in Jerusalem were prevented by the Israeli police from entering their schools in Al-Aqsa compound for carrying textbooks to school. Israel has been seeking to enforce an Israeli curriculum upon Palestinian schools in a bid to eliminate the teaching of Palestinian history. Schools resisting the Israeli interference have been heavily penalised through the withdrawal of financial aid.

In the wake of these blatant violations Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah’s first reaction was a selective perspective during the inauguration of the scholastic year, making references to Palestinian memory while ignoring the violations which have resulted in children clamouring for their right to education instead of actively pursuing that right in schools. Hamdallah referred to “the children whose childhood and freedom were robbed by Israel” - referencing the Palestinian children incarcerated or murdered by Israeli forces. Yet, within immediate reach, Palestinian children robbed of an education were eliminated from the framework. The latter were only recognised days later in a belated statement in which Hamdallah linked the destruction of schools to settlement expansion and forced displacement.

Hamdallah’s late acknowledgement is not endearing. From an educational perspective, Palestinians would disagree with both Hamdallah and Israel’s tactics. In speaking out days after the disruption of the scholastic year, Hamdallah is emulating the PA tactic of issuing statements after ensuring that the damage is completed. The safest platform for Hamdallah during the disruption was to draw upon Palestinian memory in a selective manner which excluded remembrance of Palestinian students in the current scenario. The Israeli demolishing of school premises and barring students from entry to their schools is an extension of the policies which seek to displace Palestinians within their own society. Building the community from within is a strong political statement. A late recognition of facts is equally damaging to Palestinians and plays directly into colonial violence and expansion.

Israel, on the other hand, is clearly including the destruction of Palestinian education in its agenda. During Operation Protective Edge in 2014, the Israeli air force deliberately targeted education premises in Gaza, resulting in social trauma on several levels, particularly the targeting of universities which, in turn, contributed to the exclusion of adults giving back to society particularly in the areas of learning and healthcare. In the occupied West Bank, the Judaisation of Jerusalem takes precedence for Israel. At an educational level, it involves coercing Palestinian educators into accepting a fabricated curriculum or facing severe consequences as retribution for refusal. The destruction of school premises is a derivative of collective punishment and a mockery of EU funding – the latter attempting to build a semblance of normalcy for Palestinians while knowing it is providing Israel with the opportunity to repetitively destroy structures. The anomaly in EU funding for Palestinian structures is its lack of punitive measures in Israel’s regard; hence the cycle is repeated without exhaustion.

Israeli Prime Minister’s choice of Naftali Bennett as education minister also reinforces colonial violence within education. Bennett, who is a proponent of colonial expansion, is well suited to ensure that the physical damages inflicted upon Palestinians are also implemented pedagogically in the Israeli curriculum. The visual elimination of Palestine and Palestinians translates into additional spaces for the settler-colonial narrative to thrive. From an early age, Israeli settler children are imbued with the concept of exclusion and exposed to an Orientalist narrative which is also reminiscent of the military. With a projection that is racist and eliminates the collective identity of Palestinians as the indigenous inhabitants of Palestine, including the territory colonised by Israel, it is easy to see how manipulation of history by Israel and the collective punishment imposed upon Palestinians through the disruption of education creates an imbalance that directly fuels expansion and settler violence.

For Palestinians, there is no separation between education and resistance. Israel is aware of the dynamics between the two concepts. So is the Palestinian Authority. For Israel to attempt to sever the link between both concepts is to be expected since the colonial state necessitates the destruction of the indigenous population to thrive. The PA, on the other hand, has so far refused the overt requests by Israel as regards the implementation of a curriculum which annihilates Palestinian history and memory. However, the constant dissecting of Palestinian society into individual spheres is creating dissociation which aids Israel’s ambitions. Since the election of US President Donald Trump, the PA is trailing far behind in safeguarding the rights of Palestinians. This is partly due to the US promoting a pro-Israel agenda at an international level. The PA, however, has refused to denounce Trump’s aims, preferring instead to fluctuate between purported trust and occasional outbursts of doubt. In the absence of a leadership that truly puts Palestinians rights first, Israel is targeting the most crucial aspect of society – education – without which both resistance and emancipation from within run the risk of floundering.