Reading and Writing, Dignity and Resistance
“They said there are twenty-one kids,” said my teammate Jessica. Jessica and I were sitting on the top of Khourbah hill, waiting to finish what we call school patrol. She had finished speaking with our fellow CPTers in the village of At-Tuwani. They were waiting for the Palestinian school children to be dismissed from school and gather to to walk to their homes in the villages of Tuba and Maghaer al Abeed. Our teammates had called to let us know that the Israeli military had arrived to escort the school children past the Israeli settlement of Ma'on and Havat Ma'on settlement outpost and we could expect to see the children soon – all twenty-one of them.
“Twenty-one kids?” I asked, dumbfounded. “Where on earth did they come from?”
“They say that Mohammed* brought them,” Jessica replied. I shook my head disbelievingly, still a bit stunned. “Wow,” I said. Then we looked at each other and grinned.
That morning, my teammates and I had observed only five children arrive at school. A larger group of children had gathered at the appointed location and waited for the Israeli military to arrive to escort them to At-Tuwani. Every school day, these children walk between Ma'on settlement and Havat Ma'on settlement outpost and are regularly attacked by adult Israeli settlers. “Settlers sometimes catch us, hit us with rocks, and knock us down,” described one child. Because these attacks on the children have come to the attention of Israeli and international media, the Israeli military escorts the children and is supposed to ensure their safety. My teammates and I monitor the escort. Usually that means calling the military and asking, entreating, and cajoling them to escort the children in a timely fashion. All too often, the army refuses to respond and the children are left to face the setters on their own. It's a maddening situation.
This morning after my teammates made several calls to the military, the children were still waiting. It was 8:10. School had began and the children would be late. My teammates watched them walk from the appointed meeting place to the village of Tuba. Most of the children returned home, and a very small group started to walk through the hills unescorted. The path they took was very dangerous. Settlers frequently attack and harass the children when they walk this way, when the military fails to escort them. Thankfully, no settlers approached the children, but my teammates and I felt deflated. Only five kids, it seemed, would make it to school on this day.
But while we trudged back to the village of At-Tuwani, Mohammed, the father of some of the children, gathered the fourteen remaining kids together. Abandoning his own plans for the morning, Mohammed walked with them along through the hills along a safer path, out of sight of the settlement. It must have taken them over an hour to reach the At-Tuwani, but they did. Thanks to Mohammed, fourteen more children had the opportunity to learn that day.
The bravery and determination of the school children of Tuba and Magher Al Abeed and their parents always impresses me. But as I watched all twenty-one the kids make their way home that day, I realized just how highly these families value education. When these children go to school, they're learning more than reading, writing, and math. They are learning what they will have to do to live with dignity. They are learning the meaning of resistance.