School Days in the West Bank
Yale Alumni Magazine
by Elizabeth (Andrews) Sanders '94 and Marthame Sanders '92
For a pair of alumni who are teaching at a Catholic school near Jenin, daily life includes encounters between school buses and Israeli tanks.
This August was the first time we
had been back to New Haven since Elizabeth graduated. For
those seeking nostalgia, late summer is the time to visit Yale. The hopeful
anticipation of autumn is in the air, yet there aren't droves of shockingly
young students to disabuse you of the notion that the campus is yours (or
that you haven't aged since those shortest, gladdest years of life). We
visited our old haunts -- having coffee at Atticus as we did on our first
date, savoring slices at various pizza places, entering the breathtaking
halls of Sterling Library, and most importantly, paying a visit to Silliman
College, the heart of our Yale experience. We left New Haven longing for
those crisp, hopeful "back to school" days of our past.
We all knew what he meant: Last
year, there was no school for an entire month due to road closures, military
operations, and fear for students' security. Students from Jenin missed
an additional month from incursions and curfews on their city. Several
times students from other villages like Qabatia or Tubas would wake up
in the morning and catch the bus, only to find a tank blocking their path
-- a snow day without the snow. Occasionally, tanks would start taking
formations on a road between Zababdeh and another town after school had
begun. To keep the kids from being stranded by a road closure, the school's
administrators would leap to action, taking kids from that town (often
Jenin or Tubas) out of their classes and herding them onto their buses.
When this happened, the two of us usually rode with them, our Palestinian
colleagues holding the wishful assumption that our passports would render
the bus bullet-proof. Nevertheless, we willingly went, calming the kids
and knowing that an international presence reduces their odds for harassment
Father Aktham had contacted the Red Cross on Saturday afternoon, hoping they could convince the Israeli Army to allow the school buses to pass in a convoy with their jeep. Most of Sunday was spent waiting as the Red Cross made phone call after phone call to Israeli army officer after Israeli army officer. Nearly 24 hours into these negotiations, a suicide bomber blew himself up on a bus in Haifa. We felt more sorrow, frustration, and hopelessness at this news of more needlessly dead and wounded people, contributing to the cycle of violence that victimizes everyone. And as we pondered how to deal with 50 stranded schoolchildren and their anxious parents, we also knew no permission would come now.
Finally, our Red Cross negotiator got a "no" from his
Israeli counterpart. Everyone wanted to try anyway, but he advised against
it, fearing for the safety of the kids in case an Israeli military action
was in the works. But since risk is part of everyday life here, the administration
decided getting the kids home was the best idea. And so, in the dwindling
"Out of the Blue" is an occasional column open to all members of the Yale community.
We have just passed through a year full of such stories, a year in which getting to school is in itself a success. We face a year which will potentially be worse. And so we can't help but worry. We worry for the safety of our children on the roads, facing risk and uncertainty daily. We worry about their parents, who still believe enough in education to scrape together the money for private school in a time when West Bank unemployment has hit the 50 percent mark. We worry about people in other parts of this land, not as fortunate as us, who live in mourning for loved ones lost, who live in fear of bombs and rockets, and who live suffocating, forbidden to leave home day after day under curfew. And we worry about how the politics of the world will impact us locally. And yet, in this desolate atmosphere there still occasionally comes the exuberant optimism of youth -- the wide-eyed curiosity for life and learning. We keep kindled the hope that these children will satisfy that curiosity, that they will live to fulfill some of their dreams and be able to look back on their school days with at least a taste of sweet nostalgia.