September 1 is the first day of the new school year in Palestine. Like students all around the world, Palestinian children are excited about their first day back at school. They wake up early and put on their uniforms and backpacks with their new notebooks and pencils. But in the tiny hamlet of Jubara, the teachers and children never know if they will be able to reach their school or not. It all depends if the soldiers will open the gate in the Apartheid Wall and let them go to their school in the neighboring village of Ar Ras.
Jubara is a hamlet of 300 people (about 50 families), too small to be considered a village. It has no school and relies on neighboring villages and the city of Tulkarem for food, schools, and healthcare. 50 elementary school students from 1st-7th grades attend the school in the nearest village of Ar-Ras. 38 students in grades 8-12 attend secondary school in Kafr Sur and Kafr Zibad.
Since the completion of the Apartheid Wall around Jubara, the entire village is trapped between the Wall and the Green Line (the 1967 border with Israel). There is only one road which passes through Jubarra. The southern entrance is blocked by a heavy steel gate in the Apartheid Wall, which has been permanently closed since the completion of the fence this summer. The northern end of the road which links Jubara to Tulkarem is controlled by a military checkpoint.
Before the closing of the gate, students could walk to school in good weather, or pay 1 shekel to take a taxi. If the gate is not opened, the students and teachers will have to walk or take a taxi for several kilometers, then wait in long lines to pass through the checkpoint, which could make them hours late for school. After the checkpoint, they must take a taxi on the dirt road to school, which costs 4 shekels each way. Since almost all of the families in the village are unemployed, they will have to choose between sending their children to school or having food to eat.
Before the school year began, village leadership contacted the Israeli District Command Office (DCO) to arrange for the gate to be opened, but were not given a conclusive answer. The villagers decided to make a demonstration at the gate on the first day of school to demand that the soldiers open the gate for the students every morning and afternoon. They asked for international observers and media to be present for the demonstration.
We arrived at the gate at 7:00 a.m. on Sept. 1, 2003. About 50 students and teachers from Jubarra were already gathered at the top of the hill above the gate, ready to go to school. Several army jeeps and a dozen green-uniformed Israeli soldiers with machine guns were stationed in front of the gate. Soon, a small group of television and newspaper journalists arrived and joined the students and villagers at the gate.
About 7:30 a.m. the students, teachers, and headmaster marched forward to the gate. The headmaster approached the soldiers and asked them to open the gate to allow the children to go to school, but the soldiers refused.
We approached the soldiers and asked when the children would be allowed through. “We don’t know,” they told us. “We have orders not to let anyone through.”
“But isn’t the gate supposed to be opened for the children to go to school?”
“Absolutely, the gate will be opened every day from 6:30 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. and from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m.”
“Then why don’t you open the gate now?” we asked.
“Today is a special day.” We asked why again, but the soldier just walked away.
Finally, about 7:45 a.m., the soldiers opened the gate just wide enough for the children to walk through in a single line past the soldiers with their machine guns. First the young boys with their blue uniforms, then the young girls with their blue-and-white striped blouses, finally the older students and teachers, followed by the TV crews and journalists. The children gathered in a circle around the journalists, eager to tell their story on television.
A few minutes later, the soldiers shouted at the journalists to come back inside the gate. We listened to the clanging sound of the metal gate being being slammed shut and watched the soldier lock the heavy chain around the gate. Then the soldier slowly stretched the coils of razor wire in front of the gate, once again imprisoning the people of Jubara in their village. On the fence was a sign reading “Mortal Danger! Anyone who comes near this fence or damages this fence endangers his life” in Hebrew, Arabic, and English.
As we stood looking at the closed metal gate with its electric sensors and coils of razor wire, army jeeps drove along the new security road at frequent intervals. We wondered, will the army keep its promise to open the gate again at 1:00 to allow the children to return home? What will happen tomorrow and all the other days when no international observers and media are present?
Media-friendly ethnic cleansing
Jubara is one of 16 communities, totalling 11,500 residents, which have been completely cut off from the West Bank by the construction of the Apartheid Wall. They are trapped between the Wall and the Green Line, and can only enter and exit their villages at the whim of the soldiers who control the gates and checkpoints. In late August, Jubara was completely closed for eight days and no one was allowed in or out of the village. People were not able to get milk, eggs, and other food, because there is only one shop in the village, and the shopkeeper could not go to Tulkarem to get food.
There is no hospital or medical clinic in the village. To reach medical care, they must call an ambulance from Tulkarem to come to the checkpoint, and hope that the soldiers will allow the ambulance to enter their village.
The soldiers at Jubara checkpoint have a list of all of the 300 people who live in the village, and no Palestinians are allowed to enter Jubara except for the people living in the village. Friends and relatives cannot come to visit and trucks carrying essential items for the village are not allowed in. The soldiers told us that Palestinians from outside the village need a special “permission” to enter the village, but when we asked the soldiers where they could get the permission, they said they didn’t know.
Jubara is entirely dependent on agriculture (orange, lemon, olive trees, greenhouse vegetables and chicken farms) for its subsistence. Inside the village we saw the empty fields where the orange trees had been uprooted and burned by the soldiers. We saw the empty greenhouse frames which farmers have not been able to plant, and the empty chicken farm which once housed 40,000 chickens, but now is empty because the owner cannot sell his chickens and cannot buy the food to feed them. We looked at the scarred remains of the olive trees on the hillside which had been burned by the soldiers.
Even the sewage trucks, which empty the cesspools, and the garbage pickup trucks are not allowed regularly into the village.
How long will the people of Jubara be able to stay in their village? Or will their life become so impossible, that one by one, all of its families will leave, to become yet another generation of refugees, carrying out the silent invisible transfer of Palestinians from their land?
Names have been withheld to protect the identities of the authors.