JERUSALEM—On a small hill east of Jerusalem Al-Khan Al-Ahmar Mixed School was built in 2009 from mud-coated car tires, because of an Israeli resolution banning any concrete buildings in that area.
According to the Oslo Agreement concluded between the Palestinian Liberation Organization and Israel in 1993 territories classified in what is known as Zone (c) lie under Israeli control. These territories represent 64 percent of the West Bank, Palestinian authorities say.
Al-Khan Al-Ahmar school stands and serves 140 students in grades one through nine from five Bedouin settlements, situated in what is known as “The Jerusalem Desert”.
Halima Zoheeq, the school’s principal, said “This modest school guarantees that students can pursue their education. In spite of the lack of basic services and vital facilities, the school is the only alternative for students in the region. ” Without this school, children will drop out, especially the girls, as their parents will not allow them to walk alone through Israeli checkpoints, Zoheeq said.
According to Zoheeq, the school needs science and computer laboratories, stationary, sports courts, a stronger source of electricity, and a fence, in addition to numerous educational equipment.
The school has nine classrooms, a staff room, a modest office for the school principal, a room for healthcare, and a sand court, which serves as the playground.
The student who got the highest school grade (98 percent), this year, Ekram Arar, says “I walk everyday for almost an hour. Sometimes in winter and on rainy days, I can’t go to school. During summer, I fear snakes and scorpions which I can encounter anywhere on the sandy roads.”
Ekram, who is proud of performing well in school, sits at the first row in her sixth-grade class, which has more than 26 students. She listens attentively to the geography lesson, without caring about her dusty shoes. However, just like all her fellow students, she can’t ignore the hot classrooms, caused by the way the tire walls absorb the sun’s heat. Mohammed Al-Qobg, the monitoring officer in the Ministry of Education, said “Al-Khan Al-Ahmar is one of the schools that suffer from Israeli violations. Building a school from car tires as an alternative for a modern school makes learning in a safe and healthy environment quite impossible for students.”
During the morning salute, students stand in rows and sing the national anthem. Some students stare at colorful drawings on the muddy walls, and read the Arabic and English phrases hanging there in an attempt to entertain themselves. Explaining the idea of building this school, Eid Khamees, a representative of the Municipal Council at Al-Khan Al-Ahmar district and a member of the school’s council of parents, said they had approached the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in the 1990’s to build a school for Bedouin settlements, but the agency refused to help them. The parents then presented the idea to an Italian institution “vento di terra”, which had built a shoe factory at one of the Palestinian camps, and the idea was welcomed. The Ministry of Education, Israeli peace activists, and some foreigners collected about 2,800 tires and then built the school.
The school went for a long time with no electricity. Then sometimes it had some provided by a noisy diesel generator. Last year, with the help of an international NGO the school installed solar panels on its roof. Water supplies are provided through a mobile water tank.
Hala Moshahera, a science teacher from Jerusalem, did not expect to teach at Al-Khan Al-Ahmar school.”The idea was awkward,” she said. “Car tires make classrooms very hot especially in summer, which affects students and their ability to understand their lessons. After two years of working at the school, I adapted to these difficult circumstances.”
Students face many risks on their way to school, especially as they pass though a dark tunnel.
Ahmed Al-Gahaleen, ninth grade student, catches the ball and then kicks it strongly to hit the roof of one of the classes made of zinc panels, which causes a piercing sound. He loves the game and is frustrated that he and his friends cannot play it at school.
“The sand playground is very small,” he says, “During the summer it is very dusty and in winter it is muddy, which stains our clothes and spoils our shoes.”
He is worried about pursuing his education after the ninth grade, which is the last grade in this school. “I am worried about that,” he says. “Next year I have to register in another school in Areeha, 20 kilometers away from my home.”
Moshahera said that in spite of the difficult conditions under which students learn, they get high marks and are keen on their studies. I will always defend those students and support them all the way. That is the true meaning of the right of everyone for education and learning.”