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Stranded in Shuhada: Hebron's Qurtuba school

Feb. 15, 2013 10:55 A.M. (Updated: March 2, 2013 4:40 P.M.)
By: Salam Muharam
HEBRON (Ma'an) -- Children and teachers at Qurtuba school in Hebron say getting to class past Israeli soldiers and settlers is like navigating a minefield every day.

The school, for children aged 7 to 16, is adjacent to the illegal Jewish settlement of Beit Hadassah in the center of the West Bank city.

Israeli forces fenced off the school's stairs with barbed wire in 2002. Now the only route to the school is a muddy path up a steep hill.

Some pupils live beside the school, but have to walk two kilometers around a circuit to reach the entrance, Najah Abu Munshar, a teacher in the school told Ma'an.

Across the street from the school, "Gas the Arabs" has been scrawled on a door. Next to the school gates, a mural of a girl holding a book, painted by a French activist, has been covered by racist graffiti. A gallery in a school corridor shows photos of Israeli soldiers and settlers assaulting students.

International volunteers escort children to and from school as a protective measure, but pupils and teachers are still frequently harassed and assaulted on their way to the school, which has been vandalized and set on fire.

"School students start their day by crossing the checkpoint of Shuhada street. I can only describe daily life at Qurtuba school as suffering and struggle," school principal Noura Nasser told Ma'an.

Teachers must also pass an Israeli checkpoint and metal detectors to get to work, and Israeli soldiers decide whether to let them pass each day.

Pupil Yasmeen Ghareb, 12, says settlers have assaulted her and her siblings. "Sometimes they say bad words to me, and sometimes they throw fluids at me on my way to school."

Other students told Ma'an that settlers have attacked them with stones, water and rotten vegetables.

Najah Abu Munshar has taught at Qurtaba school for 15 years. "The settlers used to let their dogs attack the students, and when settlers attack a student, I try my best to calm him or her down, and if he or she has any wounds, I provide first aid," she told Ma'an.

The Ministry of Education hired a psychological counselor for the school, to work with children suffering psychological trauma which often manifests as bed wetting, Nasser, the school principal, told Ma'an. "The school focuses on the extracurricular activities and days of joy."

Nasser said settler attacks were usually heightened during periods of political instability.

A grid of walls, fences and checkpoints divides Jewish settlers and Palestinians who live in close proximity to each other in Hebron, which was divided into two sections in the 1997 Hebron Agreement.

The Palestinian Authority controls the larger area, while Israeli forces control the city center, including the old market, the Ibrahimi Mosque and the historic Old City.

Qurtaba school lies on Shuhada street, a once-bustling thoroughfare and now a shuttered ghost town, with a military checkpoint restricting Palestinians' access to this part of the city.

Israel started restricting access to Shuhada street after an Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein broke into the Ibrahimi Mosque and shot dead 29 Palestinians.

During the second intifada, Israel closed the street to traffic and many traders were not even able to collect their goods before their shops were welded shut.

Palestinian families who remained on Shuhada street must climb through side doors and across rooftops to get to their homes.

Waed Zeidan al-Sharabati, a 9-year-old pupil at Qurtuba school who lives on Shuhada street, recounted to Ma'an how settlers assaulted her and her cousin in 2011 when they were harvesting almonds nearby.

"They threw stones on us... The settler kidnapped my cousin, and I called the neighbor to come check the situation. My neighbor talked to the settlers, and after a long argument, my cousin was returned. One settler threw a stone on my leg. They tried to take me another time, but I escaped to my neighbor's wife, and she hid my inside her home, and closed the door."

"I got used to it, and at the beginning I used to be scared, but now I am not scared of them," she told Ma'an.

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