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SCHOOL/ Letter from Alberto (AVSI): This is what studying means in Palestine

Alberto Repossi, a representative of AVSI in Palestine, reports on the school situation there and on the underlying causes of the discontent felt by teachers and students.

Children in Nablus   (photo Imagoeconomica) Children in Nablus (photo Imagoeconomica)

Dear Editor,
School started this year, too, in Palestine. Thousands of children returned to their school desks, met up with their classmates and teachers and took up the “normal” life of a student from preschool to high school.

The Palestinian education system can be traced back to the Jordanian one in terms of structure, guidelines and programs laid out in three scholastic cycles. The first elementary cycle goes from I to VI class, the second intermediate cycle goes from class VII to X, and the third cycle from XI to XII. The first two cycles make up the basic and compulsory educational path. The final two years are higher education and are optional. They can be of two types: academic preparation for university studies or technical training.

The 5 Franciscan schools and the other 8 schools and institutes (some specialized for the disabled), which we—AVSI, The Association of Volunteers in International Service—support in East Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Jericho, with the project promoted by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, have comfortable, clean, well maintained facilities, places where one studies a lot and where the educational proposal is good. They are, therefore, places where it is nice to go, and which are often the only quiet places where children can play. But these schools are not the norm in Palestine. Only when one has been for some time in the old city of Jerusalem where the houses are piled one upon the other and families are forced to live together, can one understand how important this space to breathe is. There is no room to play or even to study in old Jerusalem. Many of the apartments were dug out of underground places from the time of the crusades. Families of 6/7 people sleep in the same room and, to go to the kitchen or bathroom, they must go outdoors, because they are in other places across the courtyard.

The situation is different in Bethlehem and Jericho, where the people live in more dignified, though often poor houses and where there are check-points and walls dividing them from Israel, which do not permit movement from one town or village to another. Bethlehem and Jerusalem are 7 kilometers apart, and can be visited with permission from the Israeli government only in periods of religious feasts like Christmas and Easter. In other months, only those with a work permit that has to be renewed every three months can pass the check-point, after hours of standing in line every day (like the checks one goes through to board a plane, with metal detectors and searches).

Speaking with the teachers, one senses the discomfort in which the people here live, inevitably, because of the state of continuing tension with Israel, which affects common, everyday life: lack of work and adequate wages; violence on the streets, especially in the border areas and refugee camps, which are now an integral part of these cities.