KHAN AL- AHMAR, September 16 (JMCC) - At the Khan al-Ahmar school just off the main Jericho road, children in blue-striped uniforms try to concentrate on their lessons.
Wednesday was a big day for the five-room school – it hosted Palestinian and international dignitaries, kicking off the 2010-11 school year and highlighting these children’s dire education needs.
Like numerous other schools, the Khan al-Ahmar school is faced with the prospect of demolition. Built without difficult-to-obtain permits, the co-ed public school serves some 75 young Bedouin children from the nearby encampments.
Its enrollment has doubled since it was built two year ago.
There are five Bedouin families numbering 1,000 people living in the general area of the school. Trucks rumble past carrying construction materials from the Israeli settlement
of Kfar Adumim
, which is expanding nearly on top of the Bedouin community.
“They want to kick us out to build their settlements,” says mukhtar Ibrahim Abu Dahouk. He has been summoned twice to speak with military administration authorities, who told him the Bedouin must leave. “I told them that they can return us to our land in Bir Saba
[in the Negev],” says the mukhtar.
While Israeli authorities would like to see these Bedouin move to Jericho
or other areas under Palestinian control, the mukhtar says the community will not abandon its herding lifestyle.
Some traditions are being left by the way-side, however.
Half of the students at the Khan al-Ahmar school are girls. The school’s principal, Hanan Awad, says she feels that they have succeeded in breaking through traditional ideas among the Bedouin that girls shouldn’t be educated.
The location of the school means that girls don’t have to travel long distances to Jericho or Anata to study. But the school only serves through grade five.
“Now people have agreed that girls should be educated,” says the mukhtar, “but for the girls to travel to Jericho in the street is difficult, so after fifth grade, they might leave the school.”
He is proud to say that there are four or five women teachers from the Jahaleen Bedouin, including one who teaches at Khan al-Ahmar.
“We chose to open the new year in this school as it suffers completely from the effects of occupation,” said Palestinian Authority
minister of education Lamis Alami, “which prevents the building of schools in contravention of international law
The minister, along with UNICEF and refugee aid agency UNRWA, warned of plummeting educational standards and called on the Israeli government to ensure access to education.
“Children must have safe and unrestricted access to education, and schools themselves must provide a decent and appropriate environment for learning, said Jean Gough, UNICEF Special Representative. “Every child has the right to learn and grow in an environment where their health and safety are paramount.
The Khan al-Ahmar school is located both in Jerusalem
, where there is a shortage of classrooms, and in Area C of the West Bank
, where Israel
controls 62 percent of the land and services are severely lacking.
Area C is the part of the West Bank designated in peace agreements as falling under Israeli civil and security control. Palestinians in Area C travel long distances to get to substandard schools, sometimes without electricity or running water.