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To avoid settlers, the Israeli army escorts these Palestinian schoolchildren

For the past 15 years, soldiers have escorted the children of A-Tuba in the South Hebron Hills to their school in order to protect them from settler violence. This is what their daily journey looks like.

By Yuval Abraham

Students from the Palestinian village of A-Tuba in the South Hebron Hills walk to school as the Israeli army escorts them to protect them from settler violence. (Rachel Shor)

Students from the Palestinian village of A-Tuba in the South Hebron Hills walk to school as the Israeli army escorts them to protect them from settler violence. (Rachel Shor)

Issa is on his way to his first day of first grade. His head bops up and down from behind his SpongeBob SquarePants backpack, which is a few sizes too large for him. We walk along a rocky path near the village of A-Tuba in the West Bank’s South Hebron Hills. “I’m 25,” he says when I ask him how old he is, bursting into laughter. Each question I ask is answered with an exaggerated response. He has 25,000 students in his class, and one of his teachers will teach him how to land on the moon. His hair is gelled to the side and his black shoes gleam in the sun. Despite what he claims, it is clear he is excited.

Eight other children from A-Tuba march alongside us on the way to school. None of them pay attention to me, and I suspect that my questions are too serious for 7 a.m.

“Journalists like you have been coming here once a month ever since I was a little girl,” says Inshirah, who is heading into 12th grade. “It’s already a matter of routine. Your questions are so boring. You always want us to talk about our way to school, about the soldiers that accompany us, and the settlers. I don’t have the energy to repeat the same sentences and clichés over and over. Why don’t we talk about drawing? I like drawing. I like drawing flowers.”

Every morning, Israeli soldiers accompany this small group of children and teenagers from their home in A-Tuba to the adjacent village of A-Tuwani, since settlers from the nearby outpost of Havat Ma’on have been known to attack the students on their walk. In November 2004, a Knesset committee ordered the army to accompany the students twice a day. Fifteen years later, the problem has yet to be solved. Not a single settler has been arrested, and the IDF patrol, which was meant to be temporary, has become permanent.

We continue to walk until Inshirah motions to all the kids to stop. “We need to wait for them here,” she says, and the younger ones huddle around her. “When do they arrive?” Issa asks. “Seven-thirty,” Inshirah responds, “if they’re not late.”

It’s 7:20 a.m. and the soldiers are supposed to arrive any minute now. “Soldiers are only part of my morning,” Inshirah says as we wait. “Since first grade, every morning is similar to the one before. I brush my teeth, get dressed, take a taste of the bread my mother bakes, drink tea, say goodbye to my parents, pick up the children, and wait for the soldiers. We hope everything goes smoothly, walk by the settlement, and eventually arrive at school.”

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Once in a while the soldiers are late, and the absurd routine is broken. When that happens, the children are forced to take an alternative route, which takes much longer, which means they miss their first two lessons. Once, last year, when the soldiers ran late, a settler from Havat Ma’on verbally attacked the children as they took the regular path home. Since then, they don’t pass by the outpost without an army patrol.

This year, Inshirah will be taking her matriculation exams, so she hopes the army will be on time in the mornings, she says. “I have to stay focused. I studied non-stop during the summer vacation. Usually, I draw on vacation, but I stopped this year in order to study. The exams stress me out, especially the one in English.”

Along came Jehoshaphat

At 7:30 a.m., a jeep emerges behind us, right on time. We head back to the path as the green vehicle rumbles behind us, setting our pace. None of the children stop, and it seems their walking is only growing faster. Issa and two other girls, also heading into first grade, look back at the four soldiers in the jeep. Step, glance, step, glance. “They’re just not used to it yet, that’s all,” explains Inshirah.

We pass by a faded wood sign on our right that reads, “Welcome to Havat Ma’on.” On our left is a small forest planted by the Jewish National Fund. It’s a strange place, I tell myself, thinking about how it sticks out like a sore thumb in the arid desert of the South Hebron Hills.

All of a sudden Inshirah’s younger brother, Hamza, whispers: “Now they’ll give you trouble,” and points at a man who appeared between the trees, armed with a pistol. The man walks briskly toward the army jeep and yells something at the soldiers. I stop, and the children continue on their own.

The soldiers then drive toward me, roll the window down, and tell me, hesitantly, in Israeli-English: “Leave. You cannot be with the children.” I stare at them and think about which language to respond in. “Says who?” I ask, in my own Israeli-English. But they don’t answer.

“That was Jehoshaphat,” Inshirah casually says after I catch up with the kids. “Everyone knows him. He is the founder of the outpost. My father once visited his page online. He trains teenagers in his yard, teaches them how to shoot weapons so they are ready for battle.”

The rest of the journey goes off without a hitch. The soldiers leave when we are around 650 feet from the school, which houses over 150 students, from first grade to high school.

“The Palestinian Authority builds schools even in far-flung places,” says one of the residents of the village after the children enter, “especially in places where its sovereignty is challenged by Israel.” The bell rings and the children gather outside to sing the Palestinian national anthem.

A policy of dispossession

I reach Inshirah’s house before dawn, at 5:30 a.m. The sun is only starting to rise, and the hills are awash in a gentle, golden light. Two-year-old Ibrahim is deep asleep on the mattress in the yard. Lately he has been sleeping there, since he prefers the cool air. Members of the households are getting ready, drinking tea, and eating bread, cheese, and olive oil together. Inshirah wakes Ibrahim up. There is something moving about witnessing the intimate morning routine of a family.

Hamza, Inshirah's younger brother, herding his father's goats in the West Bank village of A-Tuba. (Rachel Shor)

Hamza, Inshirah’s younger brother, herding his father’s goats in the West Bank village of A-Tuba. (Rachel Shor)

Hamza is the first to wake up and feed the goats. He is a quiet boy, and when I ask him how he spent his summer vacation, he says, in a near-whisper, that he mostly herded his father’s goats. This year he’ll be going into 10th grade, but even during the school year, he wakes up at 6 a.m. to feed the animals. In the West Bank, the summer holidays extend over three months. A-Tuba is a village of around 100 residents, and Hamza is the only 15-year-old there. “It’s easy to get bored,” he says, “so I tend to the goats.”

Omar, the father, offers me tea. He grew up on this hill and could never imagine living anywhere else, he says. Havat Ma’on was built on land belonging to his family, and when he was a kid he would play there. “There’s a big rock that looks like donkey. I remember riding it as chickens would run toward me and peck at my body,” he recalls, laughing. Unlike his children, Omar did not complete his education and dropped out of school in seventh grade. “It was a different time. We didn’t even have electricity,” he says.

To this day, Israel refuses to connect the residents of A-Tuba to basic infrastructure, including power and water — much like most of the Palestinian villages in Area C. It’s a way for the state to push the residents out of the area and move to larger cities like Yatta or Hebron. Before marveling at how Israel sends soldiers to “protect Palestinians from settler violence,” it’s worth remembering that Israel also goes a long way to erase Palestinians from the map. It’s part of a decades-long government policy to reduce the number of Palestinians in the South Hebron Hills. Omar told me that they connect themselves to power independently and purchase water from the nearby village at a high cost.

Zahriyah, Inshirah's mother, baking bread for breakfast in their home in the West Bank village of A-Tuba. (Rachel Shor)

Zahriyah, Inshirah’s mother, baking bread for breakfast in their home in the West Bank village of A-Tuba. (Rachel Shor)

The mother, Zahriyah, does not need electricity to bake bread. While placing the dough in a stone oven, she lets me in on her thoughts: “I used to accompany the children to school every single morning for two years. I started doing so after settlers hurled a stone at my eldest daughter in 2004. She was in second grade and suffered a head wound as a result. A few months following this incident, the soldiers started accompanying the children. My kids are used to this situation by now, they are not scared. But I continue to worry.”

The conversation with Zahriyah reminded me of how in second grade, my mother used to walk me to school every morning, even though it was only a mere three-minute walk from our home. I hated it and begged her to let me walk on my own. I enjoyed the independence I finally earned in third grade when she finally acquiesced. How different my morning routine was from Inshirah’s, whose journey to school takes place in the shadow of decisions by Israeli settlers, soldiers and Israel – three different players upholding the same system of dispossession.

To this day, the state applies immense pressure on Palestinians in Area C — and the South Hebron Hills specifically — to leave their land and homes, which, for the most part, are under threat of demolition anyway. To this day, armed soldiers accompany little children to school in the beautiful village of A-Tuba. Each actor plays their part to keep this absurd routine going, and here we are, at the start of another school year.

Yuval Abraham is a photography and linguistics student. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Bruce Gould

      Here’s an entertaining video of settler violence from those self-hating foreign-funded traitors, Btselem:

      https://www.btselem.org/video/20190807_routine_settler_violence_fully_backed_by_military_in_june_2019#full

      Over the course of June 2019, settlers vandalized Palestinian property in at least ten villages in the West Bank, burning some 1,800 trees and dozens of dunams (a dunam equals 1000 square meters) of grain fields, uprooting more than 700 vegetable seedlings and damaging at least 55 cars and spray painting hate graffiti on buildings.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Amir

      Just the once won’t hurt…usually they protect the settlers who throw stones at Palestinians

      Reply to Comment
      • Itshak Gordin

        Recall that the Arabs of Judea and Samaria constantly throw stones at the Jews. Some Jews have decided to do the same in a very small way. It’s unfortunate but it’s like that ..

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          As you can see, Itshak Gordin Halevy’s capacity for dishonesty is boundless. You should have no illusions about him or about the settlers in general, for Halevy is representative, not some antisocial outlier. He is typical.

          Reply to Comment
          • itshak Gordine

            But no not at all, Ben. I am honest, I write what everyone thinks and I am not a follower of self-flagellation. I suggest you go to southern Spain on some of their religious holidays. You will be able to advance on your knees by whipping you.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            You know, Halevy, again you reveal an aspect of your character and fundamental attitude to others. I’ve noted your cold sadism before and we see it peeking out here too. The very last thing you, flagellator of Palestinian-Arabs, are is a self-flagellator. It comes with the territory you inhabit. As I see it you are not intrinsically different than Donald “you just grab them by the pussy and they let you do it” Trump, who thinks in doing this he is bestowing manna on them, and they really like it, those lucky ones, and if they have a problem with it they are “nasty.” I note also your coded message to me and the rest of us: “If you think about the welfare of Palestinians you are a self-hating traitor to the Jews, and respect for human rights is a goyische weakness that we Jews don’t bother with, and others’ religious rituals we can mock. We gods who walk the Earth.” You are representative of that strange settler land where the Lords of the Land style themselves both eternal victims and god-like sovereigns. A interesting having-it-both-ways style as usual.

            Reply to Comment
          • itshak Gordine

            The well-being of “Palestinians” Are you kidding ?. They are the kings of charity business and corruption. So much so that some states are reluctant to maintain them. You can not be a refugee for decades. Whoever is in this situation is a crook. The real refugees in the world appreciate ..
            Your contempt for Judaism and its traditions is visible to each of your words.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Most apparent here is an unbridgeable chasm across which we talk to one another.

            In my view every sentence and almost every word of yours is dishonest. And shows contempt. And self-righteousness with blindness to how you hurt others. This is what I cannot abide about you and the settlers you represent. I have no illusions about you.

            I am not responsible for your *abuse* of Judaism. Nor will I be lectured to by you on what constitutes the “real” Judaism and respect for it. You who show a profound lack of respect for others.

            Reply to Comment
        • Amir

          “Arabs of Judea and Samaria” is it a movie title?

          What is the relationship with Palestinians in the West Bank, Palestine.

          Ah no, you mean Palestinians throw stones at soldiers who block the roads and raid villages at night and settlers who came from the US to settle in stolen Palestinian land

          Reply to Comment
          • itshak Gordine

            There has never been an independent Arab State of “Palestine” in History.

            Reply to Comment
          • Amir

            It has always been called Palestine, Paelestina then called Filastin from the 7th century. Coins attested.
            Being autonomous or part of a bigger empire doesn’t remove the legitimacy of Palestine.

            2000 years of Palestine or Filastin name versus couple of years of vanished kingdom

            Reply to Comment
          • itshak Gordine

            Palestine is the name given by the Romans after defeating the Kingdom of Judah. There has never been an independent Arab state of “Palestine”. Thank you for not distorting history.

            Reply to Comment
          • Amir

            The so called kingdom of judah is a detail in Palestine history.

            History of Palestine didn’t start with judah. Why History should only retain judah? While Palestine had different names like Djahi and Retenu

            The vanished kingdom doesn’t even correspond to Mandate Palestine. Do you have any evidence that your family come from judah tribe or that your family originated from judah then immigrated? NO

            Palestine has always existed

            Reply to Comment
          • Itshak Gordine

            As Levi, I am not a member of the Jehuda tribe. No other people than the Jewish people have lived so long (nearly 900 years) on the land of Israel. The others have just passed. Now we have come back to this land, we are developing it and defending it. The so-called “Palestinians” are people from Arabia, Syria, Iraq and even the Maghreb. Just read their names.

            Reply to Comment
          • Amir

            Palestinans, Christians and Muslims have common ancestry, the Christians, 2000 years, didn’t come from Mars. They are indigenous.
            jews were never the sole inhabitants of Palestine
            Ancient jews/israelites left or converted to Christianism and Islam.

            Sorry to stop your propaganda of “Palestinian names list from Arab countries” but there are more than 10 or 15 family names among Palestinians…

            Check the family names of modern “jews”. Most of them ending with -berg, -stein, -baum, etc which indicates their European origin.
            Others have Arabic or Berber names, Boukhobza, Hayoun, Abitbol, Zemmour or indicate a place, Elfassi, Trabelsi
            Some have hispanic root: Castro, Lumbroso, Perez, Elpaz etc etc

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            Amir:
            These German-sounding, Spanish-sounding and Slavic-sounding family names were generally FORCED on Jews by foreign Kings and Princes throughout the exile. Most Jews were originally named Aaron ben Yonatan, Moshe ben Yakov, Itshak ben Avraham etc etc.

            You really need to read more about history before writing embarassing rubbish on these talkbacks.

            Reply to Comment
          • Amir

            “These German-sounding, Spanish-sounding and Slavic-sounding family names were generally FORCED on Jews by foreign Kings and Princes throughout the exile. Most Jews were originally named Aaron ben Yonatan, Moshe ben Yakov, Itshak ben Avraham etc etc.”

            LOL, you made my day
            YOU are the one who talks rubbish (and gems), as usual, when you write something in here.

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            More daft intellectual nonsense from Amir.

            Reply to Comment
          • Amir

            If they were forced, they could have changed them anytime when they emigrated to US in the 19th and 20th century, or North Africa following the reconquista but they kept it.

            You argument of “they were forced” doesn’t work, except for you guys.

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            Those moving from one diaspora country to another diaspora country did so for economic or security-based reasons. This usually did not involve changing names.

            In contrast, those making aliyah often changed their family name to something Hebrew, reflecting their desire to eliminate the shackles of diasporic minority status in exile.

            Nothing remarkable about all this – its basic history.

            Reply to Comment
          • Amir

            “In contrast, those making aliyah often changed their family name to something Hebrew, reflecting their desire to eliminate the shackles of diasporic minority status in exile”

            They changed it by force. Most of them were asked to change it.

            They can’t be exiled from a place they or their family never lived in for more. They are immigrants. This is how they called themselves.

            edut-amram.org

            I invite you to go through the testimonies. Shocking!

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            Yes, any Jew who moves to Israel and refuses to Hebrewize their name, gets beheaded !
            So says Amir
            It must be true !
            Ha hah ah

            Reply to Comment
          • Amir

            This is the testimonies of thousands of jews from the Arab countries. The white ashkenazes wanted to ashkenaze the mizrahi and sepharadim

            You know better than me (affair of the yemeni and moroccan children)

            Reply to Comment
        • Amir

          “In November 2004, a Knesset committee ordered the army to accompany the students twice a day. Fifteen years later, the problem has yet to be solved. Not a single settler has been arrested, and the IDF patrol, which was meant to be temporary, has become permanent.”

          In case of Palestinians, IDF is very fast in shooting at heads and arresting, why can’t they arrest settlers? any reply ishaq?

          Reply to Comment
          • itshak Gordine

            In case of (very rare) Jewish terrorism, the culprits are tried and imprisoned. By contrast, Arab terrorists are cited as heroes in Ramallah and Gaza and their families are paid for life. It’s the difference between us and you.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            It ain’t rare. That is it “rare” is the big lie. And the culprits are treated as heroes, they are half-worshiped, “our boys” in the IDF. And Ganz actually runs on a platform of what a good terrorizer of Gazans he is. And we won’t even talk about the bloodthirsty support of Azaria and Goldstein and such. That Israel punishes Jewish terrorists is a big lie. These are lies Israelis tell themselves in order to sustain a sense of false innocence that allows them to continue on with that they are doing.

            Israel Is the Terrorist
            Ilana Hammerman
            Young Palestinians are not carrying out acts of terror- they are leading a desperate struggle against an army that is a thousand times stronger than they
            https://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-israel-is-the-terrorist-1.5976966

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            “It’s the difference between us and you.”

            Your smugness is never-ending, but actually the big difference between “you” and “them” is the massive power imbalance, so that the massively armed occupier can of course afford to disdain asymmetric methods and turn up his nose and wear false moral pretensions about this. But even there, the massively armed occupier uses asymmetric methods all the time (anything by Shin Bet, mistaravim, snipers, extra-judicial assassinations, arrest of children, dragging people out of their houses at 3AM for no good reason, capricious arrests, detainments without a shred of due process, black mailing gay people while pinkwashing the blackmailing, the list goes on. It’s terror.) And that is even before we talk about Jewish resistance against the British when the Jews were the weak party. Since when did you round up Begin and Shamir and the Stern Gang and other “culprits” in that context and have them tried and imprisoned? Since when did you not cite them as heroes?

            Reply to Comment
    3. Joel Arbour

      Hope you have a good note in scool not only for work but are most intelligente that after .

      Reply to Comment
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