I don’t teach in the refugee camps but I do teach the teachers in the UNWRA schools, designated specifically for the children of the refugee camps. In the same way that the camps housing 23 thousand displaced people are a means of ghettoizing people, so is their schooling. The teachers that I teach are dedicated, thoughtful and well educated people, they on the whole earn slightly less than state teachers and the social problems they deal with daily are vast. A survey undertaken by the headmaster showed that 80% of the mothers had never been schooled above the age of eleven and their level of literacy was very poor. The camps were first set up as tents in 1948 but subsequent refugees have joined over the next 20 years (of course a large number in and around 1967) thus the parents of most of the students will themselves have been born into the camps.
The problems they experience relate of course to the behavioral problems of the kids. All my classes have been conversation and because I, and they, are interested in education, I have centred the classes around their experiences. They say that childrens behavior has become worse over the last 5 years and they cite this being to do with the intifada of 2001. They say the children have lost their belief in the future, in their belief that adults can keep them safe and in their need to support their families financially. The children try to make money by working selling on the streets, this is not considered to be a good place to instill good values into the children. Additionally the camps have a higher than normal number of men in prison both by the Israelis and the PA. The families that live in the camps do not have the wide support of a historical base of extended family that other families in Palestine have. In one of the villages we picked olives in, one family amounted to 1000 people all contributing to the collective family pot. The level of unemployment in Palestine is very high and in the camps even higher. Many of the families are dependant on food hand outs from the UN.
The teachers have a very low opinion of the UN. The aid they provide is very minimalist yet at the same time very coercive. There remains the belief that the UN does nothing to help or support the refugees other than a bit of food and very limited health provision. We visited Dheisha Camp near Bethlehem over the weekend (2nd in size to Balata which is the biggest in Palestine) which has only one doctor to 13,000 people and classes of 60 to each class. To be fair, the school I work in, has an average class size that has recently reduced to 25, but in Balata some classes have to share teachers!
Our guide at Dheisha was late because the Israelis had arrived at 2am looking for a young man that they wanted to question. All of the camps have visits at 2 or 3am from the Israeli soldiers, sometimes just for training manouvers. Even when infrastructure is damaged by their vehicles the UN make no complaint, and are slow to make repairs due to lack of funds.
Now away from refugee camps and on to settlements! Last weekend as I mentioned we went to Bethlehem. When we had been there last time we hadn’t seen any of the town, we had just stayed at the hostel near the Dheisha camp while we went to the Open (Closed) Minds Conference. So with the idea, for me at least, of being tourists and not too political we first had a trip around the camp and then went into the town to do the tourist bit. It is a lovely town, lots of money used to make it pretty for the tourists (the vast majority of whom come by coach from Israel and return without spending much money or time in the West Bank), a lovely market and just to show how small this place is we met a friend from the EAPPI outside the Church of Nativity.
Before we came to Palestine we had contacted an organization called Tent of Nations which is an organic farm project which operates in a similar way to an open farm with youngsters visiting and internationals working with them. We had not heard from them and had subsequently found Project Hope, but as we were in the area we decided to visit them. We were met by the son of the family and taken around by him. Am I glad we did not go there! The farm is on top of a hill, surrounded by settlements on all the hills around, big built up towns, ugly in their western architecture, totally out of keeping with the terraced landscape of a dessert hilly landscape. I have attached some photos that can explain this better. The settlers always build on hills, therefore the farm has been constantly under attack for the last thirty years. They have had countless demolition orders but due to the foresight of the great grandfather of our guide, they have proof of ownership from the ottomans, the British and the Jordanians, thus this has made life difficult for the Israeli government in taking their land. It has nevertheless meant numerous court appearances, huge amounts of legal expenses and restrictions on building, on getting electricity or water to the farm and on developing their educational projects. The owners are Christian (as are many of the Palestinians in and around Bethlehem) and their aim is to recruit volunteers from the three main religions of the region to work together to share ideas and build friendships.
Having become pretty despondent about the fate of Palestinians, probably also affected by the welcome though far from final peace in Egypt (800 deaths in one day) and far more horrendous upheaval in Libya I was not wanting to hear more bad news on our weekend away, but it just shows how total the horror the occupation and constant pressure the people have to live under really is. My feelings of depression is just a blip, after all I can and am leaving, no wonder many people just try to put their head down and deal with their life on a day to day basis ducking the awful reality of other peoples lives and the wider picture of a horrendously hopeless future.
On a much lighter note. We took about 80 kids to see Alice in Wonderland at the Freedom theatre in Jenin, and I attach some photos. The kids were from two of the refugee camps in Nablus, the orphanage I work in and a local village. It was a great trip not that I understood a wood of the play cos obviously it was in Arabic.
The red anemonies are all over, like poppies in England they are considered to the drops of blood from the Palestinian dead. The garden is where one of my students/friends lives at whose house we went to lunch.
Plus I have been working with one of my womens classes to do a presentation about International Womans day tomorrow (now today) and just got a call to say no class because all women to get the day off.Yes!!!!!!!!!! Our class will happen next week instead!Well it is possible I won’t again write before we leave this much beleaguered land. It will be a big wrench to leave, but I am ready and excited about our next adventure.