Middle East Eye / March 1, 2022
Witnesses tell MEE that pupils and teachers in Hebron/Al-Khalil were harassed, provoked, and then assaulted with tear gas and sound grenades.
Witnesses told Middle East Eye that Israeli forces were patrolling the areas around several schools in the Old City on Tuesday morning, harassing and provoking students as they made their way to school.
“There were around 150-200 students going to school, and they were passing through Checkpoint 160, as they do every day,” Abdallah Maraka, 31, a Hebron resident and observer with Community Peacemaker Teams (CPT) in the city, told MEE.
“As always, the Israeli soldiers were harassing the students and the people passing through the checkpoint to go to work, verbally harassing them, pushing them around, and arbitrarily stopping them at the checkpoint,” he added.
After passing through the checkpoint, Maraka said that some students threw stones at the armed soldiers in response to their provocations.
Israeli forces stationed in the area then started firing sound grenades and tear gas directly into the grounds of three schools in the area, located just a few dozen metres from the checkpoint.
“They threw the first sound bomb at the UNRWA secondary school, after that they shot rounds of tear gas canisters, one at the UNRWA school, and two others at the Khadija primary school, and then three more canisters at the Tariq Bin Zaid school,” said Maraka, who witnessed the incident.
A number of students and teachers were treated on the scene by Palestinian medics for tear gas inhalation, but none were taken to the hospital.
Elsewhere in the city, Israeli forces violently dispersed protesters who gathered to show support for Palestinians in Israeli jails.
Two journalists covering the confrontations that ensued were injured with rubber-coated steel bullets fired by Israeli forces.
They were identified as Abdel Mohsen Shalaldah and Mosab Shawer, an MEE contributor.
Palestinian prisoners announced a mass hunger strike across all Israeli prisons on Tuesday, in protest at what they are calling Israeli policies of “collective punishment” in recent months.
Palestinians in cities across the occupied West Bank staged protests in solidarity, calling on the international community to pressure Israel to end its mistreatment of prisoners.
Maraka said that while it’s common for soldiers to fire tear gas and other weapons in the area, he said the soldiers “deliberately targeted the schools”.
“They shot at the entrances of the schools and into the courtyard and buildings of the school,” he said, adding that three military jeeps and extra troops were stationed in the area since the morning.
The three schools that were targeted on Tuesday are three of nine Palestinian primary and secondary schools in the H2 area of Hebron’s Old City, which is under the complete security and civilian control of the Israeli military.
Home to hundreds of far-right Israeli settlers, a network of checkpoints, and permanent Israeli military bases, H2 is a flashpoint area of the city and sees frequent attacks on Palestinians residing there.
All students who attend the schools in the area, along with anyone who works in H2, must pass through a series of checkpoints, including the 160 checkpoint, in order to access their schools, homes and places of work.
Badee Dweik is a resident of the Old City of Hebron and says that Tuesday’s attack is part of the daily reality of life in the city.
“Since the days of the first intifada, the Tariq Bin Zaid school has been subjected to attacks by the occupation forces. All of these schools are subject to constant attacks and confrontations,” said Dweik, who is the director of the local Human Rights Defenders group.
“Hebron’s Old City is a vital area for the Palestinians, and the Israeli occupation has done everything to paralyze Palestinian life here,” he said. “These attacks have become a part of our lives and are repeated on a daily basis.”
Dweik pointed out that while groups like CPT and other observer organizations help offer some sense of protection for students, their presence has significantly been reduced in recent years, due to the coronavirus pandemic and an Israeli crackdown on such groups.
Dweik, along with Maraka, said that in order for the students in Hebron to have access to a safe education, the international community must step up and offer them protection.
“These attacks and assaults on students in this area will not stop until there is a resolution to the Israeli occupation,” Maraka said.
“But there will be no resolution so long as the international community continues to let Israel commit crimes against humanity without accountability and sanctions.”
Akram al-Waara is a Palestinian freelance video journalist based out of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank