By Monica Awad
HEBRON, 17 March 2006 - Ordinarily, going to school is a delight for Sara. Not this year: a newly-installed checkpoint has transformed her five-minute daily commute into a dreadful experience.
It is no ordinary checkpoint. Children line up in a chamber to enter an electrical gate, and then pass through a magnetic scanner inside a 3-metre-long inspection area.
“At the beginning, I was always petrified to enter this chamber by myself. Now I queue with my friends Raneen and Sabah and we pass through the chamber one after the other,” said Sara.
Security logistics cause frequent delays for students and teachers in H2, which lies in the southern part of the West Bank.
In February 2006 alone, more than 760 road obstacles were reported across the West Bank, including checkpoints, earth mounts, trenches, earth walls, road blocks, and gates. More than 60 so-called “flying” or mobile checkpoints were reported every week.
Sara’s school is one of the oldest in H2, offering classes for girls in grades one through nine. This year, Al Faiha’a has lost almost a fifth of its students, and its principal, Saadiyyeh, says students have missed as many as 80 classes since the checkpoint was installed. “This is a major concern for us all,” she said.
The school is working to make up for lost learning time with remedial worksheets designed to help students unable to attend classes cover material they would normally learn at school. The worksheets cover four subject areas: Arabic, English, Math and Science, and were developed by UNICEF with funding from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).
The remedial worksheets have become enormously popular among educators and students alike, and are being used as supplementary learning materials throughout the West Bank and Gaza.
Sara comes from a family of seven. Her father is a labourer in the Bethlehem area (north of Hebron) and her mother is a housewife. Sara is third in her class and was chosen by the school principal to be one of six class leaders.
As the school bell rang, Sara, Raneen and Sabah rushed out of class towards the main school gate. The three girls wanted to stay together in order to pass through the checkpoint as one team, anticipating at least a 30-minute wait.
As Sara entered the security check, she was restless and eager to pass as fast as she could. “I dream of going to school every day safely and peacefully, without these checkpoints,” said Sara.