by Joy Ellison
“They said there are twenty-one kids,” my teammate Jessica told me. She and I were sitting on Khoruba hill, waiting to finish what we call school patrol. She had just spoken on the phone with our fellow CPTers in the village of At-Tuwani. They were waiting for the Palestinian school children to gather after school ended, before the walk to their homes in Tuba and Maghayir al Abeed villages. Our teammates had called to let us know that the Israeli military had arrived to escort the school children past the Israeli settlement of Ma'on and Havat Ma'on settlement outpost. We could expect to see the children soon—all twenty-one of them.
“Twenty-one kids?” I asked, dumbfounded. “Where on earth did they come from?”
“They say that Mohammed* brought them,” Jessica replied. I shook my head, stunned. “Wow,” I said. Then we looked at each other and grinned.
That morning, my teammates and I had observed only five children from Tuba and Maghayir al Abeed arrive at school. A larger group of children had gathered at the appointed location and waited for the Israeli military to escort them to At-Tuwani. Every school day, these children walk between Ma'on settlement and Havat Ma'on settlement outpost and are regularly attacked by adult Israeli settlers. Because these attacks on the children have come to the attention of Israeli and international media, the Israeli military escorts the children and is supposed to ensure their safety.
My teammates and I monitor the escort. Usually that means calling the military and asking, entreating, and cajoling them to escort the children in a timely fashion. Too often, the army refuses to respond and the children are left to face the setters on their own.
That morning after my teammates made several calls to the military, the children were still waiting at 8:10 a.m. Since school had already begun, most of the children returned home, and five children decided to walk through the hills unescorted, on a path where settlers have frequent attacked and harassed them. Thankfully, no settlers approached the children, but my teammates and I felt deflated.
However, while we trudged back to the village of At-Tuwani, Mohammed, the father of some of the children, gathered the kids who had returned home. Abandoning his own plans for the morning, Mohammed walked with them through the hills along a safer path where settlers from Ma’on and Havat Ma’on could not see them. It must have taken them over an hour to reach the At-Tuwani school, but they did. Thanks to Mohammed, fourteen more children had the opportunity to learn that day.
The bravery and determination of the school children of Tuba and Magher Al Abeed and their parents always impresses me. But as I watched all twenty-one kids make their way home, I realized just how highly these families value education. When these children go to school, they're learning more than reading, writing, and math. They are learning what they have to do to live with dignity. They are learning the meaning of resistance.