Sarah Sachs (Palestine)

Sarah Sachs (Alternative Information Center - AIC): Sarah taught English in Argentina and Germany and worked for several years as a manager in the dot-com industry before pursuing her graduate studies. At the time of her fellowship, she was pursuing a Master’s degree in International Affairs with a concentration in economic, political and education development from Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs.

Structural Hopelessness

26 Jul

“You’re here to write?” he asked in Arabic. “Let’s take your American friends back to my place. I’ll have my way with them, and then I’ll give you something to write about.”*

I was one of the American friends, and no, we didn’t take him up on his offer. The entire exchange happened in broad daylight, at an intersection of Jenin refugee camp. We were surrounded by giggling children, and smiles and handshakes abounded. I didn’t realize until after we left the camp that the words being exchanged were anything but friendly.

This was Jenin, a city famous for its resistance to the occupation. And based on what I saw last week, Jenin has little going for it other than the resistance. The occupation has successfully repressed economic growth in this small northern district; the city’s biggest attraction is one of the West Bank’s most depressing refugee camps, a section of which was completely flattened by the Israeli army in April 2002. It has since been rebuilt, but the people have not forgotten. Violence, house demolitions and the expropriation of Palestinian property for the construction of military outposts continue.

Photo: UNRWA
In Jenin camp, children grow up isolated from the outside world, with little in the way of choice for a hopeful future. Unemployment in the camp is high, even compared to that of the city as a whole. It’s precisely camps like these that feed the resistance movement and provide an endless supply of passionate, angry and desperate young adults eager to make a name for themselves as a shaheed, or martyr. A perusal of West Bank news stories paints a clearer picture.

For example, the *Chicago Tribune *reported on 13 January the deaths of two Jenin residents, one a suicide bomber and the other a resistance fighter shot by Israeli soldiers. On 15 February, Israeli soldiers, accompanied by over a dozen armored vehicles, raided Jenin, opening fire on stone-throwing youths and killing a young, developmentally disabled Palestinian. On 17 March, five Palestinian residents were arrested and one Israeli soldier killed in a shootout in Jenin. On 15 May, seven Palestinians were killed, including one policeman, in Israeli Special Forces operations in Jenin and in a village just outside of the city. On 5 June, 20 Israeli army vehicles stormed Jenin and arrested four Palestinian youths suspected of taking part in resistance activities. Just recently, on 4 July, two car bombs were discovered in Jenin camp.

Places like Jenin demonstrate Israel’s unwillingness to make any real investment in ending the violence, an effort that would have to start with the next generations, both Palestinian and Israeli.

Since Israel took control of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, interference with Palestinian educational institutions has served as a key tool of the occupation. The Jewish people know better than anyone that education is a form of power, and the Israelis have incorporated this knowledge into their oppression of the Palestinian people.* Sudden closures of roads and the deployment of mobile checkpoints between and within cities often block or severely delay the transportation of both students and teachers to and from school. For example, IMEMC reported this past Monday that all main and side roads through Jenin and its surrounding villages were closed and travel was prohibited to Jenin residents.

According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), in 2003, a total of 34,000 teaching days were lost in West Bank schools due to disruptions caused by closures, curfews and checkpoints. In 2002-2003, Jenin’s schools were closed for 42 calendar school days.

Israel also uses curriculum policy to repress Palestinian national sentiment, censoring any textbooks that make references to Palestinian culture, identity, or history pre-1948. The government’s official policy aim was to prevent anti-Israel sentiment, as expressed in the curricula of some of Israel’s neighboring countries, from being spread within its “borders”. Fair enough. But Israel shows little concern for the portrayal of anti-Arab sentiment in Israeli textbooks, making these textbooks inappropriate for use in Palestinian schools.

** UNRWA, aware that this form of cultural repression is merely another form of structural violence that in the long term will only prolong the conflict, has attempted to soften the effects of this policy by providing their own educational supplements within UNRWA schools. Closures and censorship only scratch the surface of the impact that the occupation has had on Palestinian education. I’m failing to address the many other ways that the effects of the militarization of the West Bank have been felt within the Palestinian education establishment, but suffice to say that I could easily write a book on the subject, and perhaps one day I will.

The AIC has a short film, titled *At School* that offers an interesting glimpse into an average day at a Palestinian school located near (or on) the Separation Wall. These schools hold the future leaders of Palestinian society, leaders who could serve as potential partners in any future negotiations for a more peaceful Middle East. Any party that is truly committed to ending the violence in the region cannot do so without addressing the structural violence and hopelessness that is transferred from generation to generation through the educational systems of both the Occupier and the Occupied.

* It must be noted that the Palestinians, having survived three generations under the occupation, have themselves learned the power of education. The Palestinian population boasts the highest literacy rates, for both women and men, in the entire Arab world. Indeed, education has become a high priority for Palestinian families.

** Anti-Arab sentiment in the Israeli curriculum begs serious questions about the socialization of inequality and racism within Israeli society, as well. Its implications are not just limited to the Palestinian community.

Posted By Sarah Sachs (Palestine)

Posted Jul 26th, 2006

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