Friday, 23 November 2012

Postcard from the seam zone. School as small as a matchbox

At Nabi Samwil primary, the everyday school life looks like any other school. The boys fight over a ball, girls giggle in the corner of the room and the head teacher announces the end of the break far too early. One difference is that the school looks exactly like it’s been taken from a Thom Thumb fairy tale. It is as tiny as a nutshell.

Welcome to the educational reality in this ‘seam zone’ village. Originally located in Nabi Samwil mosque which hosts the Tomb of Prophet Samuel the school had to relocate in 970 by the orders of the Israeli civil administration. Subsequently, part of the mosque was converted into a synagogue and became one of the major attractions for the Jewish religious tourists. Meanwhile the school was moved into the little one room structure that was left by a Palestinian woman who fled to Jordan in the 1967 war. Ever since that time the school was restricted to a single room without any hopes for further expansion. Now this single room serves as a classroom, headmaster’s room and a storage place. As part of military controlled Area C Palestinians living in Nabi Samwil faces heavy restrictions when it comes to building and growth of Palestinian livelihoods, the school is no exemption (see the bracket). It is impossible to obtain a building permit. Meanwhile in the direct proximity of the school grew a large villa full of Jewish settlers wanting to live close to Prophet Samuel Tomb.

Khalil Arquob has been a headmaster in the school for the last four years. Realizing that he would not be allowed to obtain a building permit he set up a tent in which he was hoping to install a second classroom. ‘As soon as we built the tent the soldiers came and told us to put it down. We tried again and the same situation repeated’ - explains Arquob Khateeb. Apparently, according to the internal regulations in the Area C it is not only prohibited to erect buildings, but also any other structures - tents, shelters of anything that could actually serve as a classroom. They just want us out from here - says Arquob. It’s obvious for him as for everybody else in the area. Including the children, who play soccer in the shadow of the settlers constantly overlooking their movement.

Indeed as we visit the school, we are constantly observed by two Jewish young men. They stare at us and want to know why we are at the school. We are being told by other teachers that the children are used to constant presence of settlers watching their every move. Recently, the settleres even sprayed anti - Palestinian graffiti at the entrance of the school. Khalil with the help of Yusuf, the other teacher quickly covered it with paint in order not to upset the children. Fortunately, in opposition to the adjacent village of Nabi Samwil, the school has never faced direct attacks from the settlers. We want to create this little safe haven for the kids at the school, even if the village is not always safe for the to play - says Yusuf Abduler, Arabic and math teacher in the school.

We listen as the children sing Palestinian anthem in the beginning of the classes. The school teaches according to PA curriculum. Despite being located in the Israeli controlled area it receives no financial support from Israel. Recently the school started receiving money from the PA - around 1000 shekels a year, which is around 200 euros. There are 25 kids registered in the school although the classroom can only contain 16, maybe 18. Sadly we cannot admit all kids in the village. The school is just too small. We try as hard as we can, but the rest of them needs to go to the schools in Al Khalayleh or Bir Naballa. 

The kids from Nabi Samwil who were not in the lucky enough to get to the school in the village need to travel through the checkpoints to reach schools in other villages. Some of them can even see their schools from their village, but because of the Separation Barrier they need to do a round trip by bus to get to Al Khalayleh that is just 15 minutes walk away.

They boys start screaming at one another when Khalil comes with coffee. He tells them off and winks at us. As you see kids are kids everywhere. And this is a school like everywhere else. Except that our mission is to survive as we have no means to grow - says Khalil pouring sweet coffee to the tiny glasses.


After the Separation Wall was built by Israel Nabi Samwil with its Palestinian inhabitants found itself located in a so called ‘seam zone’. It means the village as well as the school are stuck between the green line that was supposed to divide Israel from Palestinian territories and the barrier that in some places reaches far into West Bank territories appropriating the Palestinian land into Israel. Palestinian inhabitants of Nabi Samwil, who in most cases hold Palestinian not Israeli IDs are physically cut off from the easy access to the rest of the West Bank and adjacent villages that have always been their natural neighborhoods located 15 minutes away from their houses. Now they have to travel through the checkpoints and they experience heavy restrictions when it comes to passage of goods to their properties or for their animals. Even if they live on the land appropriated by Israel, they are not allowed to travel to Jerusalem or any other parts of the country.

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