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“We are living in a prison…” was the response I received from the head teacher of Yanun School when discussing the impact of the Israeli occupation on the lives of Palestinians. On Monday 13th April, myself and four other volunteers went to visit the village of Yanun in the Nablus governorate of the West Bank. Surrounded by lush valleys and olive groves, it is bewildering that such an idyllic and peaceful place plays host to social unrest and conflict. The population of Yanun has dwindled in recent years and, having once been home to around 100 people in 2007, there are now only six families remaining. The primary reason for the shrinking of Yanun is the five Israeli settlements that encircle the small village. Villagers have been intimidated, beaten and even killed by armed settlers. They have had their water polluted and their fields and crops burnt. In 2002 the entire population of Yanun, apart from two families, fled the village as a result of extreme settler violence and harassment. Abdel Latif Sobeih, the village council chairmen, told The Guardian: “They would shoot at us, at our sheep, our cattle. Then they started coming to the outskirts of the village and throwing rocks at the doors. I have been beaten up in my house in front of my family, in the courtyard and out in the fields.”
Since 2003 a house in Upper Yanun has been inhabited by international volunteers from the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), a Christian NGO that uses international presence to obstruct and report human rights violations. The EAPPI introduced their programme to Yanun as a result of the aforementioned attacks from settlers on the local people, hoping that their presence would impede some of the violence. On our visit to Yanun School we met one of the volunteers from EAPPI. She told us that since arriving she regularly witnesses Israeli settlers parking at the bottom of the valley and revving their engines, trying to intimidate the remaining residents of the area.
Under the Oslo II Accord, Yanun is classified Area C, meaning it is under full Israeli civil and security control. A consequence of this categorisation is that Palestinians living in Area C are unable to build upon or develop any of the land. This has facilitated the occupation of said land by Israeli settlers and forced out Palestinian families. The teachers at Yanun School told us that they used to be able to travel to the nearest city, Nablus, in less than five minutes. With the restrictions on the movement of Palestinians as imposed by Area C regulations, it now takes the people of Yanun at least 45 minutes to get to Nablus.
A long-term consequence of Area C classification for the residents of Yanun is being unable to build new homes for young families. It was explained that within the remaining six families most of the children will have to move away to find a spouse and start a family. This would make it virtually impossible for any young families to return to the village, as they would be unable to build a new home. With the population of Yanun ageing and fewer children being born, the future of the Palestinian village is at risk.
Yanun School was established in 1971 and is located in Upper Yanun. The Area C restrictions prevented the villagers from being allowed to build a new school and so Yanun School is situated in a rented old house without any garden or playground for the children. As a result of the shrinking population there are only eight students at the school. Teachers use mixed age classes and focus on different age groups at the start and end of lessons. Currently it is only the 2nd, 4th and 5th grades that are being taught.
Whilst there are only eight pupils, there are seven teachers, all of whom were appointed by the Palestinian Authority (PA). The high ratio of teachers to pupils is an effort to preserve the village and prevent families moving to larger villages and towns. Speaking to the head teacher of the school, it was clear that whilst the pupils benefit from small class sizes and a close relationship with their teachers, their learning suffers as a result of the occupation. For example, the school is located ten metres from a wall, past which residents and school children are at risk of being attacked or shot by settlers. This means that the children are always in close proximity to danger.
According to research conducted by Harvard University, there can be significant long-term psychological and physical effects on children’s ability to learn as a result of regular exposure to violence and stress-inducing situations. For children who are surrounded by continuous threats, they are susceptible to heightened fear and worry. When we asked the teachers about the impact of the occupation on the children, they said that the children are “always scared”. Their constant fear of settler attacks affects their focus and attendance and also means that they are often tired and sad at school. According to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, “the importance of education is not just practical: a well-educated, enlightened and active mind, able to wonder freely and widely, is one of the joys and rewards of human existence.”
When we asked how he saw the future of Yanun and the school, the headmaster said he had no way of predicting what would happen within the next few years due to the perennial instability, but that they would nevertheless stand strong and remain resilient. Despite living in Aqraba (a larger village located near to Yanun), the headmaster told us that he was sending his two daughters to Yanun School next year in order to keep it open for the next six years. Through this act the headmaster encapsulated the staff of Yanun School’s personal commitment to protecting the future of the school in order to ensure that current and future local children have this right realised. Despite the constant threat and fear of occupation the teachers at the school have succeeded in creating a positive and protective hub for the children to learn in. It reminds me of a Palestinian friend who told me: “They can occupy our land, but they won’t occupy our minds”.
 Head teacher, personal communication (April 2015)
 The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, ‘Population, Housing and Establishment Census 2007- Census Final Results in the West Bank’ (2008) available online: http://www.pcbs.gov.ps/Downloads/book1487.pdf (accessed on 18/04/15)
 Human Rights Watch, ‘Separate and Unequal: V11 Nablus District, Yanun and Itamar’ (2010) available online: http://www.hrw.org/es/node/95059/section/8#_ftn353 (accessed on 18/04/15)
 United Nations, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Occupied Palestinian Territory, ‘Area C Humanitarian Response Plan Fact Sheet’ (2010) available online: http://unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0/59AE27FDECB034BD85257793004D5541 (accessed on 18/04/15)
 National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, ‘Persistent Fear and Anxiety Can Affect Young Children’s Learning and Development: Working Paper no.9’ (Harvard University, 2010)
 Head teacher, personal communication (April 2015)
 Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, ‘General Comment No.13: The Right to Education (Article 13 of the Covenant)’ (1999) available online: http://www.right-to-education.org/sites/right-to-education.org/files/resource-attachments/CESCR_General_Comment_13_en.pdf (accessed on 21/04/15)