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Learning under occupation in Jordan Valley

by Tom

Al Jifflik is a small village in the northern Jordan Valley. The villagers live largely in houses built of plastic and tin, as they are barred in Israeli law from building or repairing their houses.

There is an UNWRA school for children up to 13 years old. Since 1967, the inhabitants have been asking for a school for the older children, but to no avail. So last year some people in the area decided to stop asking, and set up a school. They took an existing two-room house in the area, with a couple of outhouses that are used as a sleeping room and shower room for the teachers.

They concreted the ground and erected 6 large tents to use as classrooms, equipped with just desks, chairs and a blackboard. The school has electricity (which is unusual in this area), but no phone line and no address – post for the head teacher has to be sent to her sister in Jericho which is about 50km away.

This school is essential for the pupils. Without it, their education would end at 13 years. Their families have very little money and depend on them to work in the fields. To go to school further away there would be transport problems as there is no public transport. They would have to go through checkpoints. This not only makes their journey very long, but the girls were particularly upset about being searched and having their photographs taken. If the checkpoints are closed, they would have to find somewhere to sleep for the night. Then, they would not be able to go to school and help with the family farm.

The conditions are apalling. The tents flood when it rains, as they are at the bottom of a mountain, and the heat is unbearable in the summer. Yet the girls we spoke to said they would rather endure this than not be able to go to school. They say this even though the chance of getting work is close to zero, and most of the boys will end up working for the settlements for 40-50 shekels per day.

The teachers at the school all come from other areas in the West Bank and have to travel long distances and go through checkpoints to get here. They have to stay at the school, all sharing one very small room, and return home about once a month. They are now paid by the Palestinian Authority (PA), but with the US and EU withholding aid, and Israel withholding taxes due, they got paid nearly a month late last month, and don’t know if they’ll be paid at all this month. At last, the school has permission to build classrooms after going through a lengthy process, but there is no money available to build.

The head teacher of the school has a fighting spirit beyond belief. But the difficulties of life here showed themselves as we left. She got a lift from us to go down to the village, so she could pick up some medicine for her mother that somebody had brought from Jericho for her. She is very keen to set up links with schools in other countries and asked us if we might be able to facilitate this.