The Children of the Occupation: Hebron, West Bank

The Israeli occupation in Palestine affects all, but one often forgotten group is the children. Their basic right to education is in jeopardy when the occupying state enforces its power.

Text and pictures: Emilia Ingman

During my student exchange in the West Bank in 2019 I learned how deeply the Israeli occupation affects the normal life of the Palestinians, but also how sometimes even the media forgets the youngest victims who are unable to speak their mind. Only after visiting Hebron, I realized who gets neglected in this prolonged conflict: the Palestinian children.

Firstly, the right to education is one of the basic rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the occupation threatens the access to school for children in Hebron. The city is located on the southern part of the West Bank and is severely experiencing the occupation in a very visible way. No other city, besides Jerusalem, seemed so guarded. While visiting Hebron it wasn’t hard to notice the excess number of gates and fences that separated certain parts of the city available only for the Israeli settler population. There were also limits on where the Palestinians who lived in Hebron gained access to. The movement is very controlled in Hebron, and for example people with any other passport than Palestinian one was allowed to enter the Israeli side, but not the Palestinians.

The Israeli settlers are living a protected life in gated communities in Hebron.
The presence of surveillance is visible in the streets of Hebron. 

Secondly, the city is heavily guarded by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) who secure the area. The children walk to school and back home under supervision of the IDF soldiers and as an outsider it was very unpleasant to witness the way the soldiers handled the children. Children have to walk to school along these fences and sometimes go through gates that are open only during certain times of the day. Our tour guide explained that if a parent was late to pick up their children, the gate would be closed until the next morning. Everything I saw seemed very different from my route to school as a child.

Young Palestinian girls returning home from school

Thirdly, clashes between Palestinians and Israeli settlers are common, often violent and sometimes include minors. Arresting Palestinian minors and nighttime house searches, which are also occurring in Hebron have a negative impact on the feeling of security that is crucial for children when growing up. General threat of violence can be extremely harmful for children and as the conflict is so prolonged many children are being raised by parents who experienced the same things.

Lastly, growing up in a peaceful environment is a privilege which often goes undermined. Even though there is no exact war going on in Palestine, it’s hard to imagine growing up in a place like that. Even I noticed the consequences of the conflict in my everyday life there as a foreigner.

After visiting Hebron, it was easy to start picking up different details of their stories that my local friends told me and I understood how important basic security is while growing up. Many of them had been young during the Second Intifada, which was a Palestinian uprising against the occupation in 2000 until 2005. Some of their fathers, uncles or even older brothers got arrested during clashes varying from peaceful to violent and this affected their childhood.

Children are often a part of the society that is neglected when politics are discussed. We tend to focus on the bigger problem, treat people as masses and forget that the children are always the next generation that shapes the future’s society. It’s unrealistic to hope that children could be separated from the extremely polarized politics that dominates Israel and Palestine. But yet there should not be any circumstances where a child would have to miss or skip school due to a hostile environment. The children of Hebron are still enjoying their right to education but the cost of it seems too high for such young children. Seeing that there are very young children already experiencing the hostile environment of the constant military presence made me realize how vastly the occupation damages people’s lives. The situation in Hebron is delicate but the circumstances in other cities are not significantly better. The most dominating thought left on my mind was how these children need someone to speak on their behalf.

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