“The little ones can pass safely” (?): The walk to school in Hebron this month

As physical violence escalates all over this land, heightened military repression and collective punishment has characterised Palestinian children’s walk to school in H2 Hebron in these first two weeks of October.

In the ten days that Palestinian children have gone to school this month, Israeli forces have fired more than 143 teargas canisters as children walked to and from school, as well as five stun grenades, from two military checkpoints in H2 Hebron (approximately 0.3 miles apart). Two Palestinian children in this area were hospitalised as a result of excessive teargas inhalation on their walk to school on 12.10.15. On two of those ten days, Israeli forces also fired rubber-coated steel bullets into a crowd of children (rubber-coated steel bullets can be lethal, for example killing 13 year-old Ahmad Sharaka near Ramallah this week).

Furthermore, Israeli forces ambushed and arrested two boys aged 11 and 12 after school on 13.10.15 (see video and full account here). In view of that stated in Article 37 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, child arrest is in clear violation of human rights law. In this instance of child arrest, Israeli forces violated their own already repressive Military Order (no. 1651:191 – a) – which asserts that “a child (defined as those under the age of twelve in Israeli military law – applied to Palestinians but not Jews) will not bear criminal responsibility for any action or omission”.

The violence of military occupation and apartheid takes many forms; it is structural, it is bureaucratic, it is psychological, it is spatial, it is physical. Messages of force and authority, asserting that “we [Israel] are the Masters”, are therefore communicated in a range of ways, varying according to the demographics or dynamics of a particular time or area.

One would think that the presence of school children would deter the Israeli military from this relentless use of teargas, stun grenades, rubber-coated steel bullets, detention and arrest – even if a collection of those children, occupied, harassed and humiliated their entire lives, are throwing stones at the heavily armed grown men occupying checkpoints and rooftops. Yet one Israeli Border Police man recently told CPTers that the Israeli military supposedly “keeps the children safe”, and that “the little ones can go to the school safely”. Soon after, another Border Police man fired a steel-coated rubber bullet into a crowd of small boys throwing stones at a soldier on an occupied rooftop who felt so little threat he was wearing no helmet. Meanwhile the day before a total of 81 teargas canisters had been fired in a similar scenario at this checkpoint (Qitoun). See video here.

Such military repression is, tragically, far from ‘abnormal’ in H2 Hebron. Although, one would presume that for most of those reading this article, this is far from ‘normal’ when one considers their own, or their children’s walk to school. However, as physical and fatal violence has intensified in these tense first two weeks of October – in which 30 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces, 1300 have been injured by live ammunition and rubber-coated steel bullets, with four Israelis killed and 67 injured –other forms of military repression has also heightened– evident in the increased use of physical force and child arrest at school time.

In this context, unsurprisingly, the little ones, even far from this checkpoint – little ones as young as four who we walk to kindergarten – cannot walk to school safely as a Border Police man stated to a CPTer. In fact, one of our little friends we walk to kindergarten had to hold his jumper over his nose to avoid the sting of teargas as he left his home on Monday this week. Firing over 143 teargas canisters, five stun grenades, rubber-coated steel bullets and arresting minors is, however, supposedly the Israeli military’s approach to ‘safety’ when it comes to Palestinian children.

A Palestinian boy shows military detritus littering the floor of his walk to school. He hides his face given the aggressive policy of child arrest, in which children s photos are taken and used as 'evidence'.
A Palestinian boy shows military detritus littering the floor of his walk to school. He hides his face given the aggressive policy of child arrest, in which children s photos are taken and used as ‘evidence’.