Al-Jalazun Refugee Camp is located north of Ramallah and has a population of some 14,000, around 5,000 of whom are minors. In 1977, the settlement of Beit El was built near the camp, which led to permanent military presence in the area, observation towers and patrols along the nearby road and the area between the road and the settlement. Near the southeastern entrance to al-Jalazun R.C. are two UNRWA-run schools, one for boys and one for girls. They have an overall student body of 2,000, in grades one to nine. The military has imposed several arbitrary restrictions on these schools: The military prohibited the addition of a third floor to the boys’ school. As a result, the school continues to be short on classrooms. It compelled UNRWA to place the east-facing windows - i.e., the windows facing the settlement of Beit El – in both schools, flush with the ceiling and severely limited how wide the windows could be, resulting in insufficient light and airflow in the classrooms. It has also ordered the schools’ roof lights be kept on all night.
The proximity between the settlement and the camp led to a permanent military presence in the area, observation towers, patrols along Route 466 and the area between the road and the settlement, and also roadblocks. Frequent clashes between Israeli security forces and the Palestinian residents have long since become part of daily life in the area. When clashes take place, the security forces use teargas, rubber-coated metal bullets and, in some cases, live fire. Al-Jalazun residents, including minors, have been killed and injured. On top of resulting in casualties, the teargas and gunfire also disrupt life in the camp in general, and school life in particular. Teargas canisters often land near the schools, sometimes in the very schoolyard. Teargas wafts into the classrooms, causing breathing difficulties among both students and teachers. Sometimes, the entire school day must be cancelled. The firing of teargas canisters, rubber-coated metal bullets and live rounds generate an atmosphere fear and tension among the students. The presence of soldiers and police near the schools and the clashes that take place nearby have parents worried over their children’s safety and therefore they take the children to and from school.
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From November 2017 to January 2018, the military worked on adding another segment to a concrete wall it built in 2015 west of the settlement of Beit El, along Route 466. The new segment of the wall was built near homes that stand east of the road. The homes belong to three families who are part of the extended Hamad family. While construction was underway, the military placed a staffed roadblock about 50 meters away from these homes every day and denied Palestinians travel by car. The children were forced to cross the roadblock on their way to school every day, and the soldiers stationed there insisted on searching them, checking their bags and persistently harassed them.
Over the past few months, B’Tselem field researcher Iyad Hadad collected testimonies from al-Jalazun R.C. residents, former school principals, students and parents. They spoke of the disruptions to school life, their fears on the way to and from school and how all this impacts their lives.
At around 8:00 A.M. on the morning of 31 December 2017, the military blocked the northern section of the road leading from al-Jalazun R.C. to Ramallah, in connection with the construction underway on the wall along the settlement. The roadblock led to clashes between youths from the camp and the soldiers on security detail for the construction, with the youths throwing rocks and the soldiers firing teargas canisters and rubber-coated metal bullets. That day, the girls’ school was holding its first-term finals. Because of concerns that the clashes would escalate and classes would be canceled for the day, the students were shown into the exam rooms first thing in the morning.
Maram Abu Msalam, 13, an eighth-grader at the girls’ school described what happened in a testimony she gave on 3 January 2018:
I had a science exam that day. Starting the exam earlier than planned threw me off. I forgot a lot of the material, even though I’d studied and knew it well. At around 8:00 o’clock, I heard shooting outside, and I got even more unsettled. Our classroom is on the second floor, overlooking where the military was. I peeked out from time to time, even though the teacher told us not to. Later, it turned out that a small group of teenagers had thrown stones at the soldiers, and the soldiers were running after them.Then, some of the teargas canisters the military fired landed in the schoolyard, and the gas spread and reached our classroom. We started feeling like we were suffocating. At 8:30, before I finished the exam, the teachers moved us out of our classroom and into the library, since it’s on the first floor, on the other side of the school, where the teargas hadn’t reached. The teachers brought more than 50 girls into the library, and the rest they gradually sent home, one group at a time.
We were scared, and many girls felt like they were suffocating. I was in really bad shape. My throat, eyes and face stung something awful. I was tearing badly, I had a terrible headache and I could hardly see. I started yelling for help because I felt like I was going to die. The teachers tried to help me breathe by bringing perfumes and fanning me with books, because there wasn’t enough air in the hall. We couldn’t go outside because there was still teargas in the air, and the military was still firing teargas canisters every once in a while. I felt like I was going to suffocate. The teachers called an ambulance, which took twenty or thirty minutes to arrive. I was helped over to where the ambulance was parked, about forty meters away from the school. The ambulance crew gave me gauze pads soaked in alcohol to put over my nose and waited with me for ten minutes. The paramedic told me: “If you get better, we’ll send you home. If not, we’ll take you to the hospital.” I felt better after about ten minutes. My breathing gradually got better, and the burning sensation in my eyes wasn’t quite as bad. Then they drove me into the camp and I walked home. I didn’t feel too good at home either. My head was really hurting and I took painkillers. I didn’t manage to finish the exam and answered only half the questions. When the teargas started affecting us, the teacher collected the papers.
Rahaf Zeid, 15, a ninth-grader at the girls’ school gave her testimony on 18 January 2018:
Sometimes, the principal has to cancel classes and send us home early because of clashes going on outside and the military shooting. As the finals approached, we were sent home before the end of the school day two or three times, sometimes even early in the day. Sometimes it was the other way around: we had to stay at school after classes were over because the soldiers set up roadblocks. It makes people angry, and the general atmosphere encourages the boys to start another round of stone throwing. When that happens, we’re afraid to leave school and have to wait until things calm down, or the military leaves. Sometimes we get home an hour or two late, sometimes more. My house is at the far end of the camp, so I get home later than others, and my parents wait for me at home, anxious and worried. On the other hand, the settlers’ kids, who live right across the way from us, with only a road separating us from them, have a calm, comfortable life. They have everything a person needs to live well and study in peace, while we’re denied the opportunity of enjoying our childhood.
In a testimony he gave on 20 January 2018, Hikmat Hamed, 14, who lives in the compound of the Hamed family and goes to the boys’ school, described how the clashes and the presence of security forces near the school affect him:
Ever since construction on the Beit El settlement wall began, the soldiers have been closing the road and running after stone throwers. They use teargas and stun grenades, and sometimes also live ammunition and “rubber” bullets. Teargas canisters often fell near the school. People here had trouble breathing and school was disrupted. Every time this happens most students suffer severe irritation to their eyes and face. They also get headaches, and they cough and tear up. We usually use perfume or onions against the teargas, so lots of students always carry perfume to be ready for an emergency. Sometimes, when the teargas goes on for a while, the teachers have to call off classes for the rest of the day and send us home. In the last few months - since November 2017 - this has happened several times. The effects of the gas persist for several days, so even if the classrooms get aired out, students still sneeze and cough for a day or two, especially kids with severe allergies. When the military fires teargas canisters, it doesn’t make any distinction between people taking part in protests and those in the classrooms, studying. In their eyes, we’re nothing. They don’t care we’re children and at school.
Because I live very near to where the main incidents take place, and Israeli police and military cars often stop near my house and block the road, I’m scared to go home. I often wait at school or go over to a friend in the camp to wait until the clashes die down or stop, or until the soldiers leave. Sometimes it takes a long time and my parents start to get worried. Sometimes, when I leave home to go to school, police officers or soldiers detain me or my cousins, who are older than me and live right next door. They provoke us for no reason, claiming that they have to search us. The same thing happens when we come home. Adults from our family have to come with us when we go or come home to make sure that the police or soldiers don’t harass us. But they have no compassion or respect, either for the adults or us children.
We have the right to live a normal life, like children anywhere else in the world. But the military restricts us and blocks our space to make life easier for the children who live in the nearby settlement.
Mahmoud Sheikhah, a 49-year-old married father of seven who lives in the camp and whose 13-year-old son attends the boys’ school gave his testimony on 7 March 2018:
I work as a sales clerk at a grocery store at the entrance to the camp, about 200 meters away from the school. In the last two years, there have been many problems near the schools because of the presence of the military, which uses teargas, stun grenades, live fire and “rubber” bullets. When that happens, I worry about my son. It’s not just me. I see men and women rushing past the grocery store to get to the school to make sure their children are all right. When you hear that someone’s been hurt, you worry it could be your son. A sense of fear and panic spreads, and everyone starts calling their kids at school or phoning the school office to ask what’s going on and if their kids are okay. We live in constant tension and anxiety. It’s a tough situation. It’s emotionally exhausting and takes a toll on our health. It’s hard to describe. These incidents happen almost every day.
Because I live in the Dahyat a-Ta’alim neighborhood, which is just outside the camp, when there are incidents near the school, my son can’t get to school or can’t get home because he’d have to go through the military and the clashes. He has to wait somewhere in the camp, or come to me in the grocery store and wait until things calm down and the military leaves.
When the military built the new segment of the wall near the settlement, there were incidents almost every day, and there were many times that my son had trouble breathing because of the gas. He used onion or perfume to treat himself. Twice, when incidents started in the morning, I wouldn’t let him go to school. The military often provokes the students on their way to school and back, which leads to clashes between the soldiers and the kids. I’ve often thought of taking my young son out of the school in al-Jalazun and sending him elsewhere, because of the danger, tension and worry, but there are no good alternatives. To get to school in Ramallah or other villages in the area, he’d have to take the same road, go through the same hotspot and run into the same problems. And that’s on top of the dangers on the road and the high cost of commuting to Ramallah and tuition there. We have no choice but to just accept the situation until Heaven helps and thing improve.