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Sun Sep 9, 2012, 07:50 PM

For Palestinian Kids in Hebron, Little Joy on Back-to-School Day [View all]

By: Lena Odgaard posted on Sunday, Sep 9, 2012



HEBRON — Catching up with friends, showing off new clothes and getting new books — for most kids, the first day of school is exciting. But for Palestinian children who live in or go to school in the Old City of Hebron, the day is nothing to look forward to. Here, crossing checkpoints manned by heavily armed Israeli soldiers and dodging barbs and attacks from Israeli settlers are unfortunate parts of an ordinary school day.

On Sunday morning (Sept. 2) little girls sporting new dresses, shiny shoes and braided hair, boys in blue shirts, and teenage girls in blue and white school uniforms flocked to the otherwise usually quiet and empty Shuhada street in H2. Israel’s military closed all the shops and sealed off the Old City’s main artery to Palestinian traffic after the 2000 Intifada to avoid recurring clashes between Palestinians and Jewish settlers — between 600 and 800 live in the midst of 35,000 Palestinians. Only settler vehicles can use that street.

At one of the many checkpoints controlling passage from the Palestinian-managed side of Hebron, known as H1 to H2, eight soldiers watched as children, parents and teachers crossed through the beeping metal detector. An 8-year-old girl walked nervously through from H1 and started running as soon as she passed the armored vehicle parked next the checkpoint. A boy, 6, clung to his father’s hand and kept looking over his shoulder toward the soldiers. A group of 6- to-12-year-old girls, who reside in H2, ran down the hill toward the checkpoint while making sure to keep as much distance from the soldiers as possible. The children were heading for the Cordoba school, which is the only school still open for Palestinian children in the H2 area.

Monitoring potential rights violations in the highly volatile part of the city were Chris Cox and Eero Mäntymaa, volunteers with the international organization EAPPI. Cox remarked on the soldiers checking the backpacks of even very young children, even though the school has asked them not to because it frightens the pupils. Many residents in H2, including children, are used to crossing checkpoints, but some still react very strongly. Said Mäntymaa: "Children react how they react, often by crying, and they remind you that it is not normal to have a gun pointed to your face."

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http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2012/al-monitor/grim-back-to-school-day-for-hebr.html

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