In 1997, occupied Hebron was divided into two areas; H-1, under Palestinian control and H-2, under Israeli control. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, about 35,000 Palestinians and 600 settlers live in the H-2 area. Although the two populations live side by side, they enjoy dramatically different living standards. While the settlers are able to move freely within the H-2 area, protected by around 1,500 Israeli soldiers and with access to public services and resources; the freedom of movement of the Palestinian community is heavily restricted by checkpoints which have been positioned throughout the area by the Israeli military.
Despite efforts by organisations such as the Temporary International Presence in Hebron to provide protection to the Palestinian community in the H-2 area, Palestinians are regularly attacked and harassed by members of both the local settler community and the Israeli military. For those Palestinian residents of Hebron who live or work in the H-2 area, this makes life particularly difficult and insecure.
The Palestinian presence in the H-2 area has decreased over the past few years due to military orders imposing closure of streets; restricting traffic; limiting access to hospitals; and closing off shops and businesses.
Another contributing factor is that Palestinian residents of the H-2 area are brutally harassed and assaulted by settlers and Israeli soldiers on a daily basis as they walk to and from their homes, or even while within their property. This has caused many families to flee from the area in search of safer living conditions. Those families who have stayed, either cannot afford to move or fear that if they leave, their homes will be taken by settlers.
Institutions have also been drastically affected by the brutal policies of closure. Businesses have been forced to shut down and education is often disrupted due to restricted access and movement.
Qurtuba Primary School
The primary school is located about 100 meters from the settlement of Beit Hadassa in H-2 and is also close to the settlements of Tal Rumeida and Admot Yishai (see map). The school has about 160 students and 14 teachers, most of who are forced to pass through at least one checkpoint every day in order to reach the school. Rarely are they able to walk to school without being harassed or assaulted by settlers and Israeli soldiers. Several students have suffered injuries and some have even been hospitalised after being physically attacked by settlers. The settlers are emboldened by the prevailing culture of impunity generated bythe lack of law enforcement against settlers by the Israeli occupying forces.
In a recent infringement of the right to education, teachers from Qurtuba Primary School were given orders by the Israeli soldiers, manning the checkpoint at the northern entrance of al-Shuhada’ street, that they must pass through a metal detector in order to enter the area and gain access to the school. The orders applied to everyone, even pregnant women and people suffering from health conditions that can be exacerbated by the metal detectors.
This was a sudden and unexpected reversal of a policy that, for seven years, had permitted teachers to bypass the metal detector. This permission was granted to teachers after the school administration protested against the establishment of the checkpoint itself as it restricted access to the school for teachers and students living in adjacent neighbourhoods.
The school teachers and pupils peacefully protested during the first week by holding classes near the checkpoint. On the first day, six girls between the ages of eight and 15-years-old and a 12-year-old boy were injured and hospitalised after soldiers at the checkpoint violently dispersed the demonstration. More students were hospitalised during the following two days.
Last week, the school administration insisted that the students return to their classrooms in the primary school for fear that more students would be physically assaulted. Of the 14 teachers, 11 are still protesting peacefully in front of the checkpoint andplan to continue doing so until they are able to pass through the checkpoint without having to walk through the metal detector. (See Al-Haq Field Report on Qurtuba Primary School Protests –in Arabic)