Bedouins are nomadic people, who choose to live in tent-like structures. In times gone by, many Bedouins were wealthy people, owners of many camels and donkeys. They also used to have large flocks of sheep and many goats. This unfortunately is no longer the case. Khan Al Ahmar is a Bedouin Village, situated seventeen kilometres outside of Jerusalem on the Jericho Road.
The Jahalin Bedouins were originally from the Negev Desert but after the Second World War and the establishment of the State of Israel, the Bedouins were forced to flee from the Negev in 1951. Many of their men were killed and others were forced into serving in the Israeli Defence Force, their livestock was confiscated or stolen from them and their Bedouin Camps were burnt and/or destroyed by other means.
After trying to find a suitable place to live, they finally settled next to the Jericho Road outside Jerusalem. According to the Israeli Government, they are there illegally. The Israeli Government has made some attempts to relocate them but those options are unacceptable to them – firstly, they would have to live in a city environment (the site chosen for them is actually a garbage dump at the moment) and secondly, they would have to give up their animals. Their choice of lifestyle does not appear to be considered by the Israeli Government. They have nowhere else to go.
One of the many challenges, facing Bedouin people, is that of the education of their children. Their clan leaders recognise that the children need formal education and they are doing everything in their power to ensure that their children go to school. Two of us (Ecumenical Accompaniers from East Jerusalem) went to interview some of the leaders in the Khan Al Ahmar Bedouin Village, in order to hear their stories.
No structure is permitted where this Bedouin Village is situated. Building permits are unobtainable and so the construction of their “mud and tyre school” was undertaken illegally. The International Funders were aware of this but the plight of the children and the need of the village weighed heavier than the legal requirements of the Israeli Government.
The traditional welcome at a Bedouin Village is very important. First, guests are received at the common tent near the entrance to the village and there traditional tea is served and small talk takes place. Only after that could we begin our interviews. Our conversation began informally with Abu Khamis, their spokesperson, asking him what the community felt about the Freedom Theatre Group, which toured the country and performed at the school at the end of September 2012. He agreed with us that the drama had not been appropriate for the children. The adults appreciated it because they could understand it better. The drama group had interviewed people from the Bedouin Village, who were in the audience, and then acted out their story in mime. Abu Khamis indicated that they also felt that the informal drumming session before the time was a good way of including some of the children.
Once we moved to the school, Firas (our interpreter) spoke to one of the community leaders who told him that on the 8th October a Settler Security 4×4 vehicle came down into their village and drove around there for a while. Nobody knew what they were looking for but the villagers do not like it that they invade their village without warning. The Settler Security Officers often come and take photographs in the villages and the Bedouins believe they report on their activities in the villages to the Israelis.
We were then introduced to the Principal or Head-Teacher, Ms Halimeh Al Zahyka. She explained that there are nine teachers, two administrators and one principal – twelve members of staff in all. In response to our question as to what some of their major challenges are, over and above the demolition order that hangs over the school, she said the poor facilities at the school and the acute lack of resources.
Some of the basics are now in place but several classrooms still do not have walls or windows. The ‘courtyard’ between the classrooms is a rocky patch of earth – dusty in hot and windy weather and muddy in cold and wet conditions.
The teachers find it difficult to teach at this school but one teacher told us that her aim is to teach and that she will continue to do just that. In response to a question about particularly bright children, the teacher said she does everything in her power to encourage those children to study – “even if this school is demolished” she said, “we shall ensure that those children continue to study”.
Teachers share transport and it takes them approximately 30 minutes to get to the school from Al ‘Eizariya – an area where other displaced Bedouins were moved to. This is where most of the teachers live. What makes it particularly uncomfortable for them, is that there is no access road to the freeway for the Bedouin Villages. It is extremely dangerous to cross the freeway when traffic is heavy.
There are approximately 90 children enrolled at the school and about 50% are girls. This is remarkable in itself because since this school opened, the Bedouin girls have access to education. Before the school was built, only the boys would walk almost 20 Kms to Jericho to school, but girls were not allowed to go because it was too dangerous. Five children did die by being hit by a car on the freeway, either on their way to or from school.
Although these 90 Bedouin children do have access to education at present, it is in jeopardy because of a demolition order hanging over their school. All building is restricted in the West Bank. Even if they did apply for a building permit, they would not be granted one because, according to the Israeli Government, these Bedouin Villages are illegal. Therefore, at any time the situation here at the Khan Al Ahmar School might change and the anxiety causes insecurity among the teachers and the villagers.