12th July: The ISRAA is a small, community based organisation working with the poorest children and their families in the town of Jericho in the West Bank, providing funding for underprivileged students. They run two kindergartens, one for children age 0-3 and one for those age 3-6, catering for around 150 children in the same building. On the 2nd July 2006, this building was raided by the Israeli army, who left with four computers and a scanner.
The raid came at 2am. The director of the centre, Sheikh Zayed, told us approximately 30 army jeeps carrying 200 soldiers arrived at the building. Some local youths tried to stop them approaching the kindergarten, throwing stones at the jeeps. The soldiers responded by firing both rubber bullets and live ammunition. Five Palestininians were injured; one, who was shot in the stomach, is still in hospital over a week later.
When the army reached the kindergarten, they set up lights so the local residents could see what they were doing. Then they blew the front door off the hinges. Fortunately, at the time, the children who usually live there were all away with their families. The soldiers were in the building for around two hours. When they left, they took with them four computers and a scanner, most of the files in the building and around 70 videos and cassettes, documenting things like graduation ceremonies and children’s parties.
As we walked through the building we could see the damage that was done. Six doors had been smashed open, with two more being blasted right off their hinges. Filing cabinets were bent where they had been forced open with crowbars. The photocopier had been burned. A noticeboard that used to display photographs of the children was ripped bare. We are shown a photograph of one of the children holding rubber bullets and a tear gas canister found after the raid.
The ISRAA serves around 1500 families in the Jericho area. They used to recieve funding from the government, but are now reliant on private donations. Sheikh Zayed is keen to make the point that the organisation is in no way affiliated to any of Palestine’s political groups. When asked why it might have been a target for the Israeli army, the only reason he could give us was to weaken the Palestinian community in the area.
Without the computers and the information in the files taken by the soldiers, the work of the organisation has been paralysed. They are desperately trying to find a way of funding more computers, but in this time of sanctions against the Palestinian government such money will be hard to come by.