Day dawns on another school patrol in al-Khalil (Hebron). Setting off at 6:50 a.m. we are greeted by smiling children who take the time to stop and give us a high five or shake hands. As we walk through the Souq (market), an array of colourful fabrics reflects the warmth of the Palestinian shop owners inviting us in for tea.
Then we turn the corner and everything changes. There is a metal turnstile, a metal detector and another turnstile, all lined up in the dark part of a menacing tunnel. Every day the children must walk through this checkpoint. Soldiers search their bags and point machine guns into their faces, into the faces of little children who have hopes and dreams and who long just to be able to walk to school without fear and intimidation.
The teachers too must go through the checkpoint. Somehow, in the face of humiliation, having to remove their belts and lift up their shirts and trouser legs in front of their students, they manage to maintain their dignity.
It was heart wrenching to watch the same teachers stopped every day by the same soldiers. One time I watched and documented, feeling helpless, as soldiers detained a teacher. He was desperate to get to school and start his students’ exam, but still they held him for 19 minutes, knowing the longest they could legally hold him is 20. It was as if they were trying to taunt him. I wondered, what good am I doing here? What am I doing here at all?
Upon his release the teacher answered my questions when he looked me in the eyes and said “thank you.” I was reminded that we are here so that people like this teacher, who demonstrate amazing dignity and strength every day as they face the forces of the occupation, are not alone and are not ignored. And we are here so that people near and far may open their minds, hearts and eyes, see what is happening here, share it with others, and pray that one day there will no longer be a soldier and a checkpoint to greet every child and teacher on their way to school.