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The stark difference between Israeli and Arab schools on the same side of the separation barrier

Just five minutes from Kfar Saba, under full Israeli control, children from the village Arab a-Ramadin will attend a school made of clay, without electricity, and most certainly without computers. All my years as a teacher and administrator couldn’t have prepared me for this place.

By Eitan Kalinski

The village of Arab a-Ramadin's children's school. (Rami Ben-Ari)

The village of Arab a-Ramadin’s children’s school. (Rami Ben-Ari)

As I stood in front of a structure called ‘School for the Children of the Village of Arab a-Ramadin,’ located five minutes from Kfar Saba, I felt myself shamefully shed over 40 years of teaching. A stone’s throw from Kfar Saba’s cultural centers and educational palaces to the west, and the settlement of Alfei Menashe to the east, stands a cramped condemnable clay structure with a gaping roof. We’ll call it a school.

In Kfar Saba, which as I mentioned is five minutes away from this school, the staff of teachers at every school is diligently undergoing final preparations to receive the students who will arrive to smart classrooms, laboratories for chemistry and physics, computer and robotics rooms, a gymnasium, spacious well-lit classes, air conditioning that will give you chills during heat waves, heating that will warm students when it’s cold, an expansive yard for recess, bathrooms and water fountains in the yard, and lockers and cold water in the corridors.I have been a teacher for over 40 years. I assumed managerial positions for several years and led a teacher’s seminar in Safed. All my organs associated with the education system suffered from shock on Saturday, when I left a tour with dozens of young members of Combatants for Peace and stood before this structure. I felt the intensity of a painful gap between what I experienced throughout all my years in the school system, and the trampling of respect for student and the teacher, which will take place on September 1 at the ‘gate’ of the Arab a-Ramadin school.

On the other hand, for the children of Arab a-Ramadin — located in Area C, under Israel full Israeli jurisdiction — a dedicated staff of teachers imbued with a mission to do the impossible, wait within the clay walls of the classroom. Under a gaping frayed ramshackle roof, three students will sit around one desk because of the shortage, and over 40 students will cram into one classroom. Rays of sunlight will shine through one tiny window to light the room that isn’t connected to electricity.

The Alfe Menashe enclave (Map: B'Tselem)

The village of Arab a-Ramadin in the center, isolated on the Israeli side of the separation barrier. (Map: B’Tselem)

Inside the cage

Descriptively embroidered cloth caught my attention through the window, with remnants of lesson plans for seventh graders from the previous year depicting that science was the first lesson each Thursday. Second lesson: English; third lesson: Arabic; fourth lesson: sports; fifth lesson: literature; sixth lesson: geography. The seventh and eighth lessons were devoted to assisting those interested in receiving help with homework.

I admire the seventh grade science teacher who taught the second lesson on Thursday in conditions in which they could only tell stories about science, unable to introduce students to contemporary 21st century studies.

The village of Arab a-Ramadin is impossibly trapped: it’s in the West Bank, though disconnected from the rest of it by the separation barrier as it’s located on the Israeli side. One needs to travel through a checkpoint to get to the nearest Palestinian city, and to undergo a long and humiliating security check on the way back, including restrictions on the amount of goods that can be brought home. On the other side of the village Israel sprawls into Kfar Saba just around the corner, but the villagers aren’t permitted to cross the invisible border. So they find themselves trapped between the place where they’re permitted to be, but are physically blocked from entering, and the place open before them that they’re forbidden to enter.

On the chalkboard in the seventh grade classroom, a quote from a poem by Mahmoud Darwish remains:

I am an Arab
My ID number is
50,000
I have eight children
And the ninth is due after the summer
Does that anger you?
I am an Arab…

On the chalkboard in the seventh grade classroom, a board urgently in need of new life, remains a quote from another of the poet’s poems:

Leave our wounds
Our land
Leave the aridity
The sea
Everything…

A classroom in Arab a-Ramadin's children's school. (Tatyana Gitlits/Combatants for Peace)

A classroom in Arab a-Ramadin’s children’s school. (Tatyana Gitlits/Combatants for Peace)

Leaning on my cane I could hardly stand up, so I stayed in place for a good hour reciting Bialik’s poem to myself:

Should you wish to know the Source,
From which your brothers drew…
Their strength of soul…
Their comfort, courage, patience, trust,
And iron might to bear their hardships
And suffer without end or measure?

Should you wish to know the source from which the children of Arab al-Ramadin draw courage and strength of soul to suffer without end or measure at the ‘madrasa,’ it tends to fall in the center of the village. Dilapidated buildings symbolize the determination of the villagers to continue clinging to the land on which they’ve stayed since 1950, after some were expelled and others fled in panic in 1948, from Be’er Sheva and the surrounding area. Israel has wounded the beautiful view on the way from Kfar Saba to Alfei Menashe with barriers and fences, as it needed a road ethnically clean of the Palestinians legally living there since the days of Jordanian rule.

I was a young proofreader at a newspaper called Voice of the People, when in 1955 the educator Nimer Marcus, brought his 14-year-old student Mahmoud Darwish, from the village of Kafr Yasif to Tel Aviv for a meeting with the poet Alexander Penn, the editor of Voice of the People’s literary supplement. In this meeting that took place in the editorial staff’s cramped room, the poet Alexander Penn saw it fit to steal away from his work to read excerpts from the poems ‘In the presence of the bookcase,’ ‘City of killing,’ and ‘On slaughter,’ to the young Mahmoud Darwish, in his booming voice that shook the walls. I remember Penn’s exchange with the young Darwish to this day: “We must learn to accommodate one another’s pain.”

In Arab a-Ramadin resides a population determined to hold on to its land, drawing power from Mahmoud Darwish’s poetry. Opposite them stand the Civil Administration’s armed forces, seeking to displace them from their land.

Eitan Kalinski is a retired Bible teacher.This article was originally published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here

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    COMMENTS

    1. Makenda

      Dilapidated buildings symbolize poverty, powerlessness and passivity. Nothing more. Everything else is happening in your mind old man. It is amazing how spoiled privileged white people find meaning and symbolism in the abject poverty of brown people.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Ben

      Another volume in the annals of land theft, ethnic cleansing and Jewish supremacism, of flagrant violations of the Geneva Conventions with respect to protected persons under belligerent occupation. Just another day in the wonderful Paradise of The Democratic Peoples Republic of The Nation State of the Jewish People. That Light Unto the Nations of which we are so proud. We glean cultural learnings of settlements for make benefit glorious nation of Netanyahustan.

      Reply to Comment
    3. R5

      R5: Makenda – it’s entirely possible that the pupils of the Arab school have lighter skin than many of the Israeli students in Kfar Saba. I encourage you to visit the Northern West Bank as well as Israel so you can see who’s white and who’s brown, since you’re mimicking some pretty ignorant jibber jabber about “privileged white people.” And if you’d been to Kfar Saba, you’d see that big parts of it look poorer than pretty much any middle class suburb in America. This article’s description is misleading. Good luck in your quest for knowledge!

      Reply to Comment
    4. Lewis from Afula

      Ben, What about the land theft of the homes, lands, businesses and property of 1 Million Jews?
      Does it count?
      The day that the false p people get compensation will be on the same day that Baghdad compensates Israelis for the $5 Billion stolen from Iraqi Jews alone.
      What is fair is Fair.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Ben

      That old standby, the “we only took the Palestinians’ land because the Iraqis took some Jews’ land during the ingathering. Because we don’t do international law. And life is an unending tribal struggle, a tribal balance sheet.” I encourage you to take it up with the Iraqis and the courts. Oh, but wait, that would mean acknowledging and according credence to international law with respect to, among other things, illegal, belligerent occupations and misappropriation of territory. And we wouldn’t want to do that, would we? So better to pretend to whine about the Iraqis than actually doing something. And if the Palestinians are “false” people but what the Iraqis did is not false, then why would you say “fair is fair”? You contradict yourself.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Lewis from Afula

      The so-called “fakestinians” are just that… FAKE.
      This famous non-people had dozens of chances to get a state but they opted to DECLINE every offer in history.
      Why?
      Because they don’t exist.
      That’s why they don’t have their own language, religion, king, historical capital or currency.
      Palestinianism is essentially an antisemitic excuse. An excuse to ethnically cleanse 1 Million Mizrachi Jews and steal their land, homes, bank accounts and property. If you were honest with yourself, you would admit this rather than talk poppycock.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Liz

      The Jews who lived in the yishuv (yes, look it up!) would talk of their Palestinian neighbours and friends. So many liars because someone whose post sounds as if it is written by someone who has ingested hasbara rather than real knowledge says so!

      Reply to Comment
    8. Ben

      “…non-people…Palestinianism is essentially an antisemitic excuse….”

      A display of hostile anti-Semitizing, settler-style narcissism and contempt for other people. If some Hindu tribe from India occupied the West Bank and you were an Indian Hindu you’d be calling Palestinianism an anti-Hinduist excuse. I think that in whatever culture you were born into you would temperamentally gravitate to the narcissistic-nationalistic far right wing of it. Some day, Lewis, perhaps, you’ll make the journey David Mizrahi made and you’ll be much happier:
      http://972mag.com/the-metamorphosis-of-a-jewish-supremacist/121671/

      Reply to Comment
    9. And if these poor powerless, passive people were Jewish, various agencies would spring into action and provide what’s needed. This village is under the sovereignty of the state of Israel. It’s a disgrace.

      Reply to Comment
    10. There’s a lot of racism on the left. In my country ethnic groups who are successful miraculously acquires a white skin; individual who don’t conform to expectations of poverty are called coconuts (brown on the outside and white on the inside). So wholly offensive.

      Reply to Comment
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