Going to School with Gunfire
Maria C. Khoury, Ed. D.

The humiliation and daily suffering of Palestinian people continues throughout the Palestinian occupied territories.  Until the occupation ends, most school children will be crossing dangerous checkpoints and putting their life at risk just to go to school every day.  In the small village of Ein Arik, in the outskirts of Ramallah where our Ein Arik Latin Patriarchate School educates 160 children from preschool to grade sixth, it was a terrifying start for the school day.  Some children were so frightened they returned home.  The daily terror living under occupation does not stop.

A group of soldiers that have established a new checkpoint on top of the mountain at the north end of the village, opened fire on unarmed civilians as they were climbing down the mountain to make it to work and school.  The residents from approximately thirty villages use Ein Arik to get to the city of Ramallah because all of the main roads are closed.  People today were walking in the mud because it had just rained, some falling and some hurting themselves.  It was enough torture and difficulty to try to make it to school by the mountainside.  These children did not need the soldiers to open fire without any reason and terrify them.  The soldiers were shooting indiscriminately at the people reported Mr. Khalil Shaheen, the head of the village council in Ein Arik.

Mr. Shaheen heard the shooting from his home and later rushed to the Ramallah hospital to check on Jabril, a father of four girls and two boys who had been injured in the shooting.  Mr. Shaheen said there is shooting every single day since seven Israeli soldiers were killed at the Ein Arik checkpoint in March.  The army wants to have revenge on the residents of this area by blocking their roads, making it difficult for them to get to school, work, hospitals and doctors.  Basically the Israeli army wants to make daily life so miserable for Palestinians that it becomes unlivable.  The soldiers want to terrorize and make people frightened by opening firing whenever they wish.

Mr. Abdallah Fawadleh, the English teacher at the school confessed:  "This is something abnormal no one can imagine what is happening, it is not right, there is no reason to shoot, this is just their mood, everyday they are shooting."  The soldiers on the mountain happen to be in front of Abdallah's house.  He sees people struggling to come down the mountain everyday where 10-15 taxis await to take passengers to their final destinations. Today he heard the shooting while he was still at home.  "Every day they shoot but this time they shot more directly at the people...I was getting ready to go to school when I saw the taxi drivers running away from the shooting," said Abdallah.

On her way to school, the principal Ms. Mervat Shomali was confused to continue or return back to her home.  "I was coming on my way to school...I saw all taxis rushing quickly and I stopped.  I saw people running very quickly, some students went back to Betunia (nearby city) they were too scared to come to school...some teachers came to school going up the side roads that lead to our school...everyone was frightened.  Every day we have shooting...when we come to school, it is our daily routine...soldiers and shooting."   Mervat also feels that the shooting is to take revenge for the Israeli soldiers that died near their school.

The principal feels if the situation continues with the closure and blockade, many students will not register in her school for next year because it is so difficult to travel to the school due to the checkpoints.  She is worried that 50-60 students that want to be at the Latin Patriarchate School will not return and this is a big number for a small school like Ein Arik.  Currently, 37 students have been absent for over three months because they are locked up in their villages. Their mothers frequently call the principal and explain how the children miss their teachers; their friends and they miss their school terribly.

Mr. Nader Rahil, the area development program manager for the Patriarchate working in cooperation with World Vision Jerusalem to provide better education, income, health and basic services in the Ein Arik area has not been able to make it to his office in Ein Arik the last three months.  "This is a horrible situation, it's horrific for the village and for everybody, it's depressing to know there was this shooting at eight in the morning...I called to talk to the head of the village council about a matter in the education sector and he told me he was in the hospital," reported Nader.

Nader has been working for the Latin Patriarchate the last fourteen months in the Program Development Department and he strongly feels this bizarre shooting can only have negative affects on children in the village.  Such daily incidents end up having traumatic consequences. His long-term program to enhance services in the Ein Arik area is scheduled for 10-15 years. But, how can any development take place in Palestine when people are evacuating their homes.  Some families feel their lives are in danger and have been forced to leave their homes where the shooting is intense and their houses receive bullets every day in Ein Arik.  As Mervat, who is also a mother of two girls pleaded before she hung up the phone:  "God helps us."