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Israeli violence and closures force Hebron students into remote learning

Military restrictions and settler attacks have made schools in West Bank unsafe for hundreds of Palestinian students
Haneen Abu-Shamsiya has turned to online education after her school in Hebron, in the occupied West Bank, was shut after the outbreak of the war on Gaza (Mosab Shawer/MEE)
By Mosab Shawer in Hebron, occupied Palestine

Eight-year-old Haneen Abu-Shamsiya is supposed to be sitting in her classroom in Hebron in the occupied West Bank, but, for months now, she has been forced into online learning after her school closed down due to Israeli military restrictions around the city.

Since the war on Gaza broke out on 7 October, about 2,000 Palestinian students in Hebron have been studying online. The Israeli army has closed all roads leading to around 50 schools in the city, installing barriers and checkpoints that have made the route for students treacherous.

Residents have also been facing increasing attacks and harassment by Israeli settlers, making parents afraid of sending their children out on the streets.

“I wish I could go back to school like before. I miss school a lot. I want to go back to my classmates. These online classes are not clear, and we don’t understand well compared to face-to-face classes,” said Haneen, who is a grade-three pupil at Qurtuba school, one of the few schools providing online education in the city of Hebron.

Haneen is not alone. Brothers Ramez and Murad, 11 and 10, are also not thrilled about the sudden change.

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On normal days, before their school was forced to close, the two boys had to pass through three Israeli military barriers to reach Qurtuba school in the southern part of Hebron.

Pupils in four schools in Hebron, in the occupied West Bank, resort to distance learning after schools were forces to close their doors. (Mosab Shawer)
Pupils in four schools in Hebron, in the occupied West Bank, resort to distance learning after schools were forces to close their doors (MEE/Mosab Shawer)

“When we used to go to school they [the Israeli army] would check us. Now, the Israeli army has deprived us of education ... although it was hard to reach my school because of the barriers. I am yearning to go back, to study with my classmates and meet my teacher and head teacher,” Ramez, who attends online classes for grade six, told MEE.

His brother Murad, a grade five student, agreed.

“I have not been to school since 7 October. I study online, but I prefer the school. In the online lessons, we do not have a whiteboard, we cannot take our books. I miss doing PE lessons, playing football and buying food from the school canteen,” he said.

Temporary solution

Out of 50 schools in Hebron, only four in the Old City managed to turn to distance learning, with lessons set via Microsoft Teams or Zoom. Some lessons are broadcast via television, according to an education official.

“We are working hard to find a solution to have students resume face-to-face tuition, but it is extremely difficult now. In order to protect our pupils, and for their safety, they are studying online,” Atef al-Gamal, head of the Palestinian education authority in Hebron, told MEE.

He added that the authorities were obliged to resort to distance learning as a temporary solution given the situation in Hebron.

According to a report by the Palestinian education ministry, 46 schools were attacked by the Israeli army and settlers between 7 October and 13 February. 

In areas that are deemed relatively safe, hundreds of thousands of students have been engaged in hybrid learning, attending classes at school and receiving e-lessons at home on alternate days, the ministry said.

Atef al-Gamal, head of head of the Palestinian education authority in Hebron, says compensation plans are being prepared to help students
Atef al-Gamal, head of head of the Palestinian education authority in Hebron, said compensation plans are being prepared to help students (MEE/Mosab Shawer)

“Face-to-face education is still the most efficient ... it allows better interaction between students and teachers and a better follow-up as well, compared to the online education, where the student is behind the screen at home. But students’ safety is a priority,” said Gamal.

“We are trying our best to compensate with online education. We hope that in the coming years there will be more contingency plans, but for now we ask the parents to closely follow up with the students’ performance.” 

Challenge for parents

Parents are also facing challenges as their children struggle to settle into online learning.

Raid al-Sharif, the father of Murad and Ramez, said students were forced to abide by this transition to distance learning, which entails many challenges.

“Online education is full of challenges. Not all children pay the same attention while attending e-lessons, because they are kids in the end. We follow up with them, and we are not saying the situation is extremely bad, but face-to-face education is much better,” Sharif told MEE.

Sharif also pointed to the financial requirements of online lessons that some families might struggle to meet. 

“I am able to provide my two sons with smart phones to use to attend the lessons, but other families could find that very difficult. Not everyone can afford a device that could cost around 500 shekels [$132]. We are talking about six months of online schooling,” he said.

Brothers Ramez (Left) and Murad (right) yearn to go back to their classrooms in Qurtuba school in Hebron (Mosab Shawer)
Brothers Ramez (Left) and Murad (right) yearn to go back to their classrooms in Qurtuba school in Hebron (MEE/Mosab Shawer)

The children’s wellbeing is also affected, according to Sharif.

“Their psychological state also gets worse. They are staying in the same room to attend all the lessons. They don’t get to see faces or meet anyone. They have energy that is not vented out, so this definitely affects them negatively,” he said.  

Given the fact that many schools in Hebron were forced to shut as the Israeli army imposed strict road barriers, Sharif cannot think of any solutions to have his children go back to their classrooms.

He said the only option would be to withdraw the students from Qurtuba and register them in other schools that are in accessible areas, but he believes that abandoning these institutions put them at risk of being taken over by Israeli settlers.

“It would be a crime against our own neighbourhoods and schools. The situation should then remain as it is,” Sharif said.

“We will try to help our children reach a safe zone, but not at the expense of our neighbourhoods that are in danger of being stolen by Israeli settlers and the Israeli army.”

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