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Every day approximately twenty children, aged between six and twelve years old, from the villages of Tuba and Magayer Al Abeed walk to their nearest school in the village of At-Tuwani. Surrounding these villages in the South Hebron Hills, are the illegal Israeli settlement Ma’on and outpost Havat Maon (Hill 833).
Palestinian roads connecting At-Tuwani to these villages in the east (Tuba and Magayer Al Abeed) existed prior to the establishment of the settlement of Ma’on in 1982. The most direct road between At-Tuwani and Tuba passes between Ma’on and the outpost of Havat Maon (Hill 833) on the hill Tel Abu Jundiya. A second slightly longer road runs on the eastern and then southern edge of Tel Abu Jundiya. Settlers frequently attacked Palestinians when they used these two roads, forcing Palestinians to travel further from the settlement and outpost to avoid attack. Therefore a longer path through steep hilly terrain, traversable only by donkey or foot, became the normal route to travel between the eastern villages and At-Tuwani. The children remain the only members of the village still allowed to use the direct road connecting the villages in order to reach school, although with great difficulty.
Often, on their daily route to school, the children are subjected to threats and violence by the Israeli settlers. After a series of settler attacks on the children in 2004, the Children’s Committee of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, ordered a military escort to accompany the children on their route to school every day. In spite of this, the military escort often does not turn up on time or escorts the children only half the way, which makes the children vulnerable to attacks. To make the situation more complex for the children, settlers have recently installed a gate on the road, which is sometimes locked and therefore prevents the children from going to school completely – and these children are therefore being denied their right to education.
According to Operation Dove and CPT, who have maintained an international presence in the village since 2004, on the morning of 17th March, 2008, the children were unable to meet the regular military escort. The escort jeep stopped well short of the appointed meeting place, and despite repeated calls to the military by the international volunteers and concerned Israelis, the escort jeep never came forward to meet the children. The children could not walk towards the escort jeep because of the threatening presence of a settler. The settler was near the military escort and was speaking with the soldiers. He shouted threatening remarks at the children, and also threatened them with a rock. Eventually most of the children decided to take the long route to school, walking unescorted through the hills and arriving in At-Tuwani at about 9.00am, about an hour after school had started. Four of the children returned home and did not attend school because of the problems with the escort.
This situation is not unusual; the military escort often refuses to accompany the children for the entire route, in spite of the law ordered by the Knesset, obliging them to do so.
The gate: blocking children’s access to education
In addition to this, the gate recently installed by the settlers is further contributing to denying the children access to education. Soldiers have told international volunteers that the gate is locked, and they cannot pass through it. The escort jeep now stops well short of the gate.
The installation of the gate means that from the exits of their villages, the children cannot see whether the jeep is waiting for them on the other side of the gate. Often a few children go ahead, in order to check for the presence of the escort. This is an extremely dangerous situation for the children, as settlers are often in close proximity. One house in the illegal outpost lies only 50 metres away from the road, and often a settler is working in and around the nearby chicken barns around the time the children leave for school.
In the afternoons, on the children’s walk back home, the situation is even more distressing. The escort jeep stops well short of the gate in the road, the children go on ahead, and the escort jeep leaves the area before the children are back in their villages and out of sight. This leaves the children unaccompanied for the last half of their walk past the settlement outpost, well within reach of the very people who have previously attacked them.
The most recent attack on the children was on April 7th, 2007, when settlers stole their backpacks, and three of the children suffered injuries while fleeing the attack.
The new gate on the road represents yet another expansion in the illegal settlement outpost of Havat Maon (Hill 833). Despite orders issued by the Israeli government calling for the removal of this illegal settlement outpost, to date no action has been taken towards its removal.