Samstag, 12. Februar 2011
GAZA´S FORGOTTEN CHILDREN by VERA MACHT
On a sunny day in March 2009, Wafaa Jehad Elnagar, now 17 years old, did something that millions of children did on that day, and do on every day: she went home from school. But unlike other children in this world who do that safely every day, for Wafaa walking home is a serious danger. On that day, when she was on her usual way home along a street watched over by an Israeli control tower, an Israeli sniper aimed at her, and the bullet smashed her knee for good. Wafaa is one of 89 000 children living in the buffer zone whose parents never know exactly whether or when they will see their children again when they send them to school in the morning. Her brother was shot dead by a soldier during the war, while on his way home. The letters that were dropped by Israeli planes on the houses near the border stated that no one is allowed to approach the area nearer then 300 meters, on threat of death. Since bullets don’t have a feeling for distances, the high risk zone is considered 500 meters by the UN, and in reality children get hit by bullets at much further distances. And how can you avoid an area in which your school is situated? In total, there are thirteen schools in the buffer zone, including one UNRWA school, and they are distributed in seven school buildings. Space is scarce for students in Gaza, where not even the UN gets the required entry permits for enough concrete to build urgently needed school buildings.
Almost every day the Israeli army breaks into the land of Gaza to flatten ground which can be no more flattened, always accompanied by arbitrary shooting in the area. The Shuhada’ School in Khuza'a, in southern Gaza, is the last building before the high security border. In between are only a few hundred meters barren, flat land. "They have a clear view to the school. It’s obvious for the soldiers in the tanks that this is a school, there's even the UN flag on top of the building," says the headmistress of the school, Myasser Mahmoud Elsalhy. "When they start shooting in this area, the school must be the target for them. During these shootings, we can’t let the children enter the playground, we can’t even let them go to the upper floors of the school. Or we have to finish classes for that day. Generally, there are no extra-curriculum activities we can offer for our students, there is no outdoor sport, no celebrations. These things would be dangerous for all of us." But the school makes the most of it. It has recently opened an exhibition - displaying all the bullets and shrapnel they have found in the last year alone on the school grounds. Asking the students how it is to attend a school that is under attack every day, you first encounter an anxious silence, but when the girls begin to speak, it doesn’t take long until the first of them starts crying. "We are constantly afraid," says Heba, her yet unveiled
black hair tied together with a blue ribbon, matching the color of her school uniform. "Every time we hear bombs or artillery shells, we hide in a place far from the windows, where we can’t hear or see anything, and wonder whether the war has started again. My family also lives close to the border, and one night soldiers broke down our door, stormed in and dragged my father out, where he had to stay for a while. We never found out why." Her teacher tells how she entered a classroom one day, and found the students lying on the floor, the teacher above, trying to protect them. And she tells how one morning in 2009 the students of a class were not quick enough to hide, and a boy was hit by the shrapnel of an artillery shell while sitting at his table and writing. The shrapnel went through his nose, some centimeters further to the right and he would have been dead. The ambulance from the Red Cross didn’t come to the school to help – it is too dangerous for the paramedics, according to their security guidelines. The area is also too dangerous for employees of international humanitarian aid organizations who are allowed to approach the border only up to 1000m, according to the UNDP security plan. Without previous coordination with the Israeli military, they can’t even go nearer in armored vehicles. For school children however, the area doesn’t seem to be considered as too dangerous. At the last education cluster meeting of international NGOs, which took place in Gaza city, schools in the buffer zone had been declared to be "not a priority" for humanitarian aid programs. This was the only thing that an employee of Save The Children International was allowed to say publicly about the buffer zone. "I personally regret these rules, but I am not allowed to speak about schools or children in the buffer zone", he says. "We cannot enter the buffer zone, and therefore we don’t work there. My hands are tied." Not all children seem entitled to be saved. Asking the UN, which after all also runs a school there, you get the same answer, and are only pointed to the recent UN report in which the problems of children who grow up under these circumstances, however, are not mentioned at all.
The headmistress of another school in the border area, situated in Bait Hanoun in northern Gaza, tells how organizations make appointments with her to visit the school, only to cancel at the last moment. They cancel because of fear of another incursion, because of failed coordination with the Israeli side, or maybe because none of the employees wants to put himself in such danger. "Workers from UNICEF have also announced themselves, yet no one has come," says the elderly woman, headmistress of a school whose walls are perforated by bullets and artillery shells. "We just want someone to coordinate with the Israeli military that during school hours they won’t shoot around the school building. But nobody does anything to help us." She sounds resigned. And so Aburjela Sabah from the small local NGO "House of Future" is quite alone with her work as a psychologist for the children of Kuza'a’s buffer zone. "The constant fear for their lives and health in which children in the buffer zone are living leads to serious psychological problems," she explains. "When you grow up here, you don’t have a
childhood. You have no normality, no peace, and not the basic feeling of security that children are in crucial need of. Children there have no rights, not the right to free education, not the right to play, not even the right to life. They can’t leave their house without putting themselves in danger“. She describes the cases of children playing around their house and running into shells left behind by the Israeli military. “They pick them up, not knowing what it is, and get their hands blown off, or even sustain fatal injuries“, Sabah says. “And at night the children hear the noise of the bullets. The results of these living conditions are sleeping problems, depression, or bedwetting, just to mention some of the psychological disorders. They start to exhibit aggressive behavior amongst each other or don’t want to leave their house at all anymore”. "We, the children here in the buffer zone," says Heba, the black-haired girl with the blue ribbon from Khuza’a’s school, "we carry our souls unprotected on our hands."
by VERA MACHT