|© UNICEF OPT/2012|
|For children living in Al Seefer, in the 'Seam Zone' of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, a 15-minute walk to school often turns into an hour-long wait at a check point.|
By Catherine Weibel
AL SEEFER, Hebron, Occupied Palestinian Territory, 16 May 2012 – Every morning at dawn, Khalil* wakes up and hurries to class. While his school is a mere 15-minute walk from his house, the 14-year-old boy has no idea how long it will take him to get there. The Israeli-manned Beit Yatir checkpoint, which stands between his house and Imneizil School, can turn the 15-minute walk into an hour-long wait.
“No matter how early I wake up, I always end up being late for school, which is extremely stressful,” said Khalil.
He crosses the checkpoint twice a day with another 17 Palestinian children aged 6 to 14. Each child has to line up in a chamber to pass through a magnetic scanner where Israeli security forces check every school bag and, sometimes, ask children to remove their shirts, citing security reasons.
A struggle to get to school
Even though the students try to pass the checkpoint as a team, the journey intimidates the youngest ones.
“Sometimes I dream that I enter the inspection room and that I am never able to leave,” said 11-year-old Amina* while she waits for Israeli officials to inspect her tiny, pink school bag. “Sometimes we have to wait up to one hour at the checkpoint while we see settlers driving through it without even stopping,” she added.
|© UNICEF OPT/2012|
|The road to Imneizil School, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, is lined up with several settlements. “Some settlers drive their cars very close to us. We had to jump off the road a few times,” said one student.|
Khalil, Amina’s brother, said he’s tired of the process. “Most of the soldiers know me by name,” he explained. “I don’t understand why they keep asking to see my birth certificate when they have already seen it hundreds of times.”
The children also experience stress when they walk to the checkpoint along a road lined with several settlements. “Some settlers drive their cars very close to us. We had to jump off the road a few times,” said 11-year-old Rana*.
Living in the ‘Seam Zone’
Khalil and his family are among 50 Palestinians, including 18 school children, who live in the hamlet of Al Seefer in the southern West Bank. Al Seefer is in the ‘Seam Zone’ – the closed area between the ‘Green Line’ that delimits Israel from the West Bank, and the Barrier built by Israel, citing security reasons. The Barrier was not built along the Green Line but, in some sections, inside the Palestinian territory, creating enclaves where nearly 8,000 Palestinians live, cut off from the remainder of the West Bank.
These families have to apply for Israeli permits to continue living in their own homes. Their relatives cannot visit them without a permit, which is extremely difficult to obtain.
Families are forbidden to leave their tiny enclaves unless they cross on foot through checkpoints in the Barrier towards the West Bank. They have to wait, sometimes for hours, any time someone in the family needs to buy food, go to work, attend school or even go to a hospital. Khalil says he worries for his 85-year-old grandmother, whose ailing health makes these trips increasingly difficult.
His family lives in poverty. At night, the children gather together to keep warm, sleeping on thin mats laid directly on the floor of their house, which is just four barren concrete walls and a leaking roof. The house has neither electricity nor running water; Khalil and his nine siblings do their homework by candlelight.
Mustafa, their father, keeps a watchful eye on them. “I want all of my children to receive an education,” he said. “They keep telling me they would rather drop out of school than cross the checkpoint, but I refuse. I want my children to have a better life than this.”
*All names have been changed
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