JERUSALEM, Feb 7 (JMCC) - The Israeli military has routinely put Palestinian children in danger of settler attacks on their way to school in the South Hebron Hills, according to a report released by Operation Dove and Christian Peacemaker Teams.
“It’s a deliberate choice [by the Israeli army] not to do [the full escort] on a consistent basis. The problem of this deliberate choice is that this gives a very clear message to the settlers: the right of education of these children is not important for us,” explained Laura Ciaghi, a peace activist with CPT based in the South Hebron village of at-Tuwani.
Entitled The Dangerous Road to Education: Palestinian children suffer under settler violence and military negligence, the December 2010 report outlined over 340 Israeli military escorts of Palestinian children to and from school during the 2009-2010 school year.
Ciaghi explained that while the military escort is a “band-aid solution,” it is necessary measure for the Palestinian children to be able to exercise their right to education.
“The parents of the kids are being very clear; the escort is a way to allow the children to go to school. It would be worse without the escort,” she said. “But they don’t know how and when and if the escort will show up. They don’t know if there’s going to be [a settler] aggression. And from the numbers we have, there will likely be an aggression every two weeks.”
The Israeli military began escorting Palestinian children from their homes in the villages of Tuba and Maghayir al-Abeed, located approximately 15 kilometers south of Hebron
in the West Bank
, to their school in nearby at-Tuwani in 2004.
The children’s usual route takes between 25 to 30 minutes on foot, and is flanked by the illegal Israeli settlement
of Ma’on on one side, and the Israeli outpost of Havat Ma’on, otherwise known as Hill 833, on the other.
According to Ezra Nawi, an Israeli activist who has been active in the South Hebron Hills for many years, settlers in the area are emboldened in their violence because they know that they have the support of the Israeli military and police forces behind them.
“They know that nobody is going to do anything to them. Violence has become a daily occurrence. They know that they are backed [by the police and military],” Nawi said. “It was never really good, but there is no doubt that there is escalation.”
Nawi added that the Israeli military is not only indifferent to the struggles of Palestinian residents living under their control, but actively malicious in its interactions with them.
“[The Israeli soldiers] are malicious. The military’s main purpose is the oppression of the Palestinians, in all levels and ways that are possible,” he said. “They are acting upon the idea that the issue of security can justify any means, whether it’s the oppression of farmers, oppression of people in the cities, oppression through checkpoints, et cetera.”
Despite the presence of the Israeli military, 100 cases of settler violence have been documented since the escort began in 2004, including 12 cases during the 2009-2010 school year.
The Dangerous Road to Education report stated that in these 12 incidents, settlers chased, threw stones, and drove their cars directly at Palestinian children. The settlers were also sometimes armed with rocks, slingshots or automatic rifles at the time of these attacks, and in another six cases, were present on or near the road when the children waited for their escort.
The report found that the Israeli military failed to fully complete its duties in 94 percent of the escorts, in contravention of their mandate to protect the children. In 75 percent of escorts, the soldiers also refused to get out of their jeeps and walk with the children along the road.
“[Settler violence] is obviously not a priority for the military. I believe that in a country that goes by the law, if there are violent people squatting in illegal houses where there is already an evacuation order pending, and these people will attack children, what is obvious is just to remove the violent people from the scene,” Ciaghi said.
“This issue with the children is like a piece of a wider picture of ignoring Palestinian rights. It’s not just the Palestinian right to education, it’s the Palestinian right to a decent standard of living, and it’s the Palestinian right to safety. It’s a general problem of an unsafe environment and this is coming both from the settlers and from Israeli military negligence, if not direct harassment.”