Mondoweiss / August 23, 2023
Israel’s war on education is part of Israel’s war on Palestinian childhood. The only way to fight it is through a Palestinian pedagogy of liberation and international solidarity through BDS.
The following is the second of a two-part article summarizing a new study by Stop the Wall about Israeli policies that target Palestinian children and childhood. Part I of the article can be found here.
After a year-long battle, the Israeli military destroyed the school of Ein Samiya in the central West Bank, just days before the start of the school year in Palestine. This is only one of 44 Palestinian schools under immediate threat of demolition. School demolitions are only one of the many ways in which Israel targets Palestinian children.
As laid out in Part I, like other settler colonial societies, with every generation of Palestinian struggle, Israeli apartheid becomes, in its quest for sustainable oppression, more focused on the elimination of Palestinian children and the hope that they embody.
A point implicitly made by Yossi Klein in an op-ed during the May bombings of Gaza reflects this:
“For the past 18 weeks, Israelis have been fighting each other, unable to find anything to bring us closer together. Then came the killing of the children in the Gaza Strip and proved that we’re brothers, after all.”
‘Israeli snipers shot them intentionally, knowing that they were children’
The latest attacks on Gaza, which wiped out entire families, were a stark reminder of the disproportionate number of Palestinian children that die in Israeli offensives: Children constituted 21% of all Palestinians assassinated. During the 2008 massacre in Gaza, 24% were children, and during the attack in May 2021, 27% were children.
The United Nations Commission of Inquiry that investigated the Israeli actions during the Great Return March of 2018-19 found “reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli snipers shot them intentionally, knowing that they were children.”
The impunity guaranteed to the Israeli soldiers that kill Palestinian children, such as the four playing at the beach in Gaza in 2014 and the five children in a cemetery in 2022, or to those that targeted a UNWRA school with white phosphorous, shows that these are accepted practices within Israel’s military doctrine.
Attacks on children are also part of the settlers’ paramilitary attacks. A horrific example remains the abduction of 16-year-old Palestinian Muhammad Abu Khdeir. On July 2, 2014, three settlers kidnapped him, beat him savagely, forced him to drink gasoline, and then burned him alive. Almost a year later, a group of settlers raided the Palestinian village of Duma and set a house on fire. They killed a father, mother, and their eighteen-month-old infant, Ali Dawabsheh, while leaving a four-year-old suffering from severe burns.
Systematic and premeditated
Each year, between 500-700 Palestinian children (12-17 years old) are imprisoned. Since 2000, Israeli military authorities have interrogated, prosecuted, and imprisoned over 13,000 children. Often, neither arrest warrants, nor reasons for their arrest are supplied. Beyond the detention of living children, as of August 2022, Israel has withheld 102 bodies of Palestinians who died in Israeli jails, including the bodies of ten children.
In Jerusalem, Israeli policies include the practice of house arrest, whereby the child’s mother becomes a prison guard for her son. This renders the parent a state agent, expanding Israeli settler colonialism inside the Palestinian family.
Extensive analysis of the Israeli repression of anti-Wall protests between 2004 and 2009 shows that half of the 16 Palestinians killed while protesting were children, often through sniper fire or bullets shot at short range.
The repression of the Great Return March shows similar patterns. According to the WHO, as of August 31, 2019, 20% of the amputations that doctors had to make to treat protest-related injuries were of children. Of the 217 Palestinians killed at the protests, 48 were children (22%), and of the roughly 19,000 Palestinians that were wounded, 4,966 were children (26%).
Israel’s war on education
Denial of the right to education is an essential part of Israel’s attack on Palestinian children.
Tens of thousands of Palestinian Bedouins in the Naqab live in unrecognized villages and lack any education facilities. When Palestinian citizens of Israel can go to school, they receive a 78-88% lower budget than that allocated to Israeli Jewish students.
Two months after Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, the government banned 78 out of 121 school books. In East Jerusalem, the lack of funds and space is compounded by the imposition of a curriculum that omits Palestinians and their existence completely.
During the First Intifada, the Israeli military closed 1,194 West Bank schools for 17 months in 1988-9. Israel asserted that “any attempt to provide education to students was illegal and, as such, would be understood to provide grounds for immediate dismissal.” Those found “guilty” of holding classes risked up to ten years’ detention.
Over the last two decades, Israel has focused on the destruction of schools.
During the 2012 offensive against Gaza, Israel destroyed 97 educational institutions. 298 schools were destroyed and/or damaged during military offensives in 2014 and 2021. In May 2021, bombardments of Gaza affected over 290 kindergartens, schools, and higher education facilities.
Currently, 51 Palestinian schools are threatened with demolition. The school of Arab al-Ka’abneh in the Jordan Valley, with hundreds of students, has received over 20 demolition orders since the 1990s.
The importance of the destruction of schools to ethnic cleansing, the elimination of Palestinians from their land, becomes evident in Masafer Yatta. The eight communities in the South Hebron hills are to be demolished, and over 1300 Palestinians expelled in what is Israel’s largest ethnic cleansing since 1968. Seven schools have been given demolition orders because, as the principal of the school of Khirbet Jinba explains, “if a school is in danger, the whole community is in danger.”
One of the first schools to be demolished was al-Sfai school. Students from al-Sfai confronted the Israeli forces and bulldozers for hours, refusing to leave.
A Palestinian pedagogy of liberation
The trauma for Palestinians is unavoidable. 91% of children in Gaza reportedly suffer Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or rather, they are experiencing an ongoing transgenerational trauma that started in 1948.
Yet, Palestinians have developed forms of resilience against the socio-cidal attempts of Israeli apartheid and settler colonialism to create a compliant generation ready to tolerate oppression. A Palestinian father explained: “I have to teach my children not to be afraid of the soldiers, their weapons, or their shooting. Otherwise, their life will be a continuous trauma. We try to make fun of them, look at the soldiers’ weaknesses and their own fear.”
As a result, Palestinian children have learned how to challenge Israeli soldiers in their homes, on their way to school, in the streets, or in the fields. Some become famous, like 15-year-old Faris Odeh, captured by a photojournalist while throwing stones at a tank. Or Ahed Tamimi, who was imprisoned for slapping a soldier in the face.
Palestinian children should not be faced with Israeli occupation and apartheid or become heroes. Yet, they are not only victims but agents of the resistance and struggle of the Palestinian people.
What do we do internationally ?
Talking about Israeli attacks on Palestinian children is delicate. Nobody wants to exploit the easy emotions evoked by children’s suffering or infantilize the Palestinian people. International solidarity shouldn’t elevate children to icons nor reduce them to numbers. Ignoring what is happening means erasing an important part of the Palestinian experience.
We must understand and present carefully the framework of Israeli apartheid and the rationale behind the systematic attacks on Palestinian children and childhood.
Irish trade unions have started a school twinning initiative with Palestinian schools under threat of demolition to build awareness about attacks on Palestinian childhood, solidarity and pressure governments to hold apartheid Israel accountable.
The ‘No Way to Treat A Child’ campaign garners support for a bill in the US Congress that would prohibit U.S. taxpayer funding for the Israeli military detention and ill-treatment of Palestinian children, demolitions of Palestinian homes, and further annexation of the West Bank.
As with any other aspect of Israeli policies, the question of accountability has to be central to ensure we don’t pity the victim but support the struggle for justice. BDS is always the bottom line.
Maren Mantovani is the international relations coordinator of the Stop the Wall Campaign and member of the International Secretariat of the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC)