Sheren Khalel, November 8, 2017, Mondoweiss.
Israeli police forces entered Zahwat al-Quds school in occupied East Jerusalem on Monday, arresting the principal of the school as well as three teachers in front of students, before closing down the school and instructing parents to find alternative facilities for their children, according to Palestinian official media, Wafa.
The events in East Jerusalem came one day after Israeli forces detained several teachers in the southern Hebron Hills on their walk to school, again in the presence of their students.
Mondoweiss reached out to both the Israeli army about the Hebron incident and Israeli police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld about the East Jerusalem incident, but neither immediately responded for comment.
It is unclear under what grounds Israeli forces decided to close the East Jerusalem school, but on Tuesday, parents, teachers and student staged a protest in front of the school grounds demanding the facilities be reopened.
While the East Jerusalem school was initially registered and permitted under Israeli authorities, the permit was revoked last year, since the school administration refused to enforce Israeli curriculum, which for example, forbids teaching students about the 1948 Nakba. The Wafa statement said the Israeli municipality of West Jerusalem, had long been “using financial enticement and coercion” in order to “enforce Israeli curriculum on Palestinian schools in East Jerusalem,” which was rejected by the administrations, leading Israel to refuse to officially recognize the school.
The school has instead been administered with a permit to operate under the Islamic Waqf department, a Jordanian authority that mostly overseas Muslim religious sites in East Jerusalem, but also administers schools for about a quarter of East Jerusalem’s students.
The school is one of many Palestinian educational institutions in the same situation; why Zahwat al-Quds school was specifically targeted is still unknown.
Physiological effects of violence
A local social worker from the occupied West Bank who works with children traumatized by Israeli forces spoke to Mondoweiss about the recent targeting of teachers, but asked to remain anonymous for his and his pupil’s safety.
The social workers said he was concerned by the news of schools being closed, but was specifically worried about how the events would affect the students and their psychological health.
He explained that Palestinian children in particular are in dire need of “safe spaces.” Since Palestinian homes and neighborhoods are subjected to frequent night raids, schools are usually one of the sole places where children are confident in their safety, he said.
Arresting teachers in front of their pupil’s is also worrying, he explained, as teachers are seen as “good models.” Taking into account that 40 percent of the male population in the occupied West Bank has spent some time in Israeli prisons, Palestinian children are well aware that parents, siblings and other family members, particularly males, are at easy risk for arrest, but teachers are often seen by children as a source of stability in their lives.
“When we talk to children about safe spaces, kids always mention that school and the classroom is a safe place for them, so now imagine that these kids are so worried in their daily lives, and dealing with these big fears, and the one place they thought was safe comes under attack,” he said. “Now you end up in a situation where they are fearful all the time, they have no feeling of safety, instead they feel they are always at risk.”
Because of the taboo on mental health care throughout the Middle East, and the normalization of violence after decades of occupation, Palestinian children may not have a healthy outlet for expressing those fear at home. Usually schools keep an eye out for larger symptoms of trauma, but without the feeling of safety surrounding them at school, they are less likely to open up, he explained.
“Children should be able to feel that their families can protect them — parents especially should be a source of power and safety, but it is not the case because children see and hear and understand that their parents have no power against being arrested for no reason, and now the teachers and the school can’t save them either — that’s how they will feel,” he said. “I think it’s safe to say that the children who experienced soldiers and police taking away their teachers, on top of everything else, could definitely start to show symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.”
“Children have wonderful imaginations, and these images of violence don’t just go away, they come out in nightmares, in extreme reactions to minor things, general acting out and behavior problems, being aggressive, being afraid all the time, things like that” he said.
Even if, under the unlikely circumstances that one of the students had not been subjected to witnessing violence through the occupation before, they are still vulnerable, the social worker explained.
“Let us say these incidents at the school were the first, lets say, psychological pressure that they’ve dealt with, that doesn’t mean that they can handle it. It can still affect their balance, but to be honest most likely it is not the first instance of violence they have experienced, Palestinian children see this kind of stuff in their society constantly, through invasions, through night raids, et cetra, but really not in school. Just that one instance of seeing their teacher arrested and seeing police close down their school can be a great shock that has long lasting effects.”
Sheren Khalel is a freelance multimedia journalist who works out of Israel, Palestine and Jordan. She focuses on human rights, women’s issues and the Palestine/Israel conflict. Khalel formerly worked for Ma’an News Agency in Bethlehem, and is currently based in Ramallah and Jerusalem. You can follow her on Twitter at @Sherenk.