On 28 September, Israeli occupation forces (IOF) stormed Jenin and killed four Palestinians. In response, Palestinians in al Khalil/Hebron carried out a small protest near Abu al Reish checkpoint, which is located in proximity to several schools. Israeli military responded violently to the protest, resulting in clashes between Palestinian youth and the IOF.
During the events, the schools continued their day normally, trying not to be distracted by the shooting. However, the clashes moved towards al Hajeriyeh School, a primary school for boys. Israeli soldiers entered the schoolyard by force and one boy ran in fear, jumping over the schoolyard walls to the other side.
On the grounds of the boy’s ‘escape’, the IOF stormed the school and shot a stun grenade inside the office of the principal, Ammar Rajabi, burning him. Some teachers tried to intervene and stop the soldiers from getting inside the classrooms, but the IOF brutally bashed them, causing injuries where some teachers needed to be transferred to the hospital.
The IOF forced themselves inside a ninth-grade classroom. “We were having math class, and they started looking at each child’s face,” said the teacher, Mr. Ihab. “Clearly, they were going to choose anyone. When I saw the children’s faces, all I could see was Rayan’s face (a 7-year-old boy who died from ‘fear’ of Israeli forces). I saw extreme fear; the students were waiting for one of them to be taken away.”
Mr. Ihab describes how helpless he felt when he tried to remove the IOF from his classroom. “I heard the children chanting, “go Mr. Ihab,” supporting me in my resistance, but the IOF put me down on the ground and pushed down on my neck, then I started to bleed.” What would a child feel when their teacher is humiliated in front of them? He is responsible to protect them, but he cannot defend himself.
The soldiers eventually chose two students, Abed al Rahmad Geith and Omar Abu Hamdiyeh. After an hour of fighting with the IOF trying to stop the attack, the soldiers eventually agreed they would only detain the boys for 15 minutes while they checked their cameras. If the military did not have pictures of the boys in their records, they would let the children go. One of the detainees’ fathers arrived as soon as he heard of the incident, but he was attacked and beaten by the IOF too.
Mr. Ihab continued to resist the attacks, so the soldiers dragged him toward the military jeep to arrest him. An Israeli officer stopped the soldiers, though, and ordered his release because he was a teacher.
Teachers in the area suffer from violations by the Israeli occupation daily, including other teachers who must try to teach and keep the children calm during incidents like this. With everything that happened that day, the school resumed its activities, and the students finished all their classes.
On the same day, the IOF also stormed other schools in the area and shot tear gas into several of the school grounds. The girls school had to coordinate with the Education Director to arrange for the little children to get out safely. Mr. Ihab has two children who study there. As they were leaving, his children saw the soldiers dragging their father. “When they got home, all they were talking about was, where is dad? Is he arrested? We are not going to school anymore!” said Mr. Ihab.
A few hours later, the Israel Civil Administration called the schools and apologized for the “individual act.” How can a violent raid with dozens of fully armed soldiers who humiliate and take students from their class be considered an individual act? Soldiers would not dare to perform this action if it were not a crucial part of the IOF’s role in the occupation. The IOF attacks Palestinian schools on a regular basis. This semester, the IOF stormed eight schools in the H2 area of al Khalil/Hebron on different occasions.
“In a country that respects its law, usually the army apologizes when they do people wrong, and hold the individuals accountable. But, in the case of the Israeli military, they apologize once every 100 incidents. It’s a tactic the IOF use to clear their name regarding an incident that gets high media attention so that they can say, ‘we do wrong sometimes, but we apologize.’ In the case of the school attack, even if a boy threw a rock towards you, that is not an excuse for fully armed soldiers and border police to invade a school,” commented CPT Palestine partner H.H.
The question that remains is, will these individuals ever be held accountable?