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After tear gas use against West Bank students doubles, coronavirus restrictions see incidents drop to zero

Three quarters of Palestinians surveyed by Save the Children reported attacks on their schools

Tear gas attacks against students in and around schools in the West Bank, in the occupied Palestinian territory, have doubled in one year, leaving children stressed and anxious. But since the start of the Coronavirus outbreak and the consequent closure of schools, these attacks have dropped to zero. Save the Children says this trend needs to be maintained post pandemic.

New research from the aid agency has revealed that the most common types of attack1 reported by students in the West Bank are the use of tear gas and military raids. After consulting more than 400 children from the most conflict affected communities in the West Bank, Save the Children found:

  • Three quarters of children reported that their schools have been attacked. This figure rises to 93% of children in Nablus.
  • Three-quarters of children fear encountering military personnel or settlers on their way to school, who they are afraid may verbally abuse them or threaten them with tear gas or physical assault.
  • A quarter of all students don’t feel safe at school, and many suffer from anxiety and stress which manifests in physical symptoms including uncontrollable shaking, fainting, loss of self-confidence, and despair.
  • Almost a third of children reported having difficulty concentrating in class due to the issues they regularly face. 80% of them cited ‘fear’ as the main reason they struggled with their schoolwork.

Since schools closed in early March as a containment measure against the spread of the Coronavirus, there have been no recorded attacks on children’s education2. In contrast in March 2019, there were 47 education-related incidents recorded, including nine cases of firing tear gas on schools and students. The use of tear gas doubled between 2018 and 20193.

Rima*, 13, remembers such an attack on her school in Bethlehem: "Some students started crying and others suffocated when the soldiers fired tear gas. We couldn’t breathe because of the tear gas, as well as our fear and anxiety. There was a gas smell and it burned our eyes. We didn’t have the necessary equipment at school to help ourselves. It was painful and scary."

Farea*, 12, from Hebron said: "Soldiers attacked my school three or four times last year. They threw tear gas and shot live ammunition. Some teachers and students couldn’t breathe, the ambulance came, and we all went home."

Tear gas inflames, irritates and damages lungs in the short and medium term, at the least. The Coronavirus has demonstrated that it’s particularly deadly to those with previous lung disease, inflammation and damage.  While early Covid-19 evidence suggests that children are less vulnerable than adults, Save the Children is concerned that the chronic exposure to tear gas could be a risk factor.4

Jeremy Stoner, Save the Children regional director for the Middle East and Eastern Europe, said: "Palestinian children’s right to education has been undermined for too long. It shouldn’t take a global pandemic for them to be spared from the terrifying and harmful ordeal of being teargassed when they are trying to learn, not to mention how scary the Israeli military presence around schools is for children. Parties to the conflict have now been granted a rare opportunity to press the reset button and ensure that Palestinian students can learn in safety, and no longer associate school with violence, fear and anxiety.

"Children in the West Bank told us very clearly that, as they grow up knowing nothing but conflict and occupation, they still want the same education that other children around the world enjoy. No one should be allowed to deny them that right."

Save the Children is calling on the Government of Israel to take immediate steps to ensure that Palestinian children have safe access to a quality education, in line with their obligations under international law. All use of tear gas and live ammunition against children, including in and around school premises and in densely populated areas, must stop permanently, and all parties should redouble efforts to find long-term solutions for lasting peace.

 

Notes to Editors:

  • On March 5th, the first cases of Covid-19 were reported in the West Bank. As of April 23, there were 480 cases in the West Bank and 17 in Gaza, with a total of two deaths. In Israel, positive cases stand at 14,592 and deaths at 191, according to the World Health Organisation.
  • In the West Bank, schools will open again to allow 76,000 secondary students (including 200 with disability) to sit for their exams starting May 30th. Extra halls have been arranged to allow for social distancing, and the process is expected to last 10 days. Save the Children is supporting the Ministry of Education to prepare for the classrooms and halls by supplying them with hygiene and disinfection materials.
  • The children consulted in September and October 2019 were from 17 schools in East Jerusalem, Nablus, Bethlehem, and Hebron that experienced the highest number of reported education-related incidents over the past two years. Save the Children recognises that this was not a representative sample as it is drawn from schools that have experienced the highest numbers of incidents. However, it is felt that the findings will contribute to a dialogue on how best to ensure that Palestinian children can enjoy a safe education and remove many of the barriers they face.
  • The Israeli military uses tear gas as a riot-control method in response to perceived threats. While the military does not publicise its riot-control procedures, it has previously stated that its policy establishes that ‘soldiers must demonstrate restraint while also ensuring that riots and events like these are contained and prevented from escalating’ and as such must ‘utilise appropriate, measured and legal means and equipment to do so’

1. ‘Attacks’ here were defined by the children surveyed and reflect their perception of what constitutes an attack. The most common types of incidents that they reported included the use of tear gas in and around schools, military raids, military presence around schools, and the detention of students at school.

2. oPt Education Cluster

3. oPt Education Cluster in February 2020: 'Around 33% of the reported education-related incidents (109 cases) involved firing tear gas canisters on schools’ premises and/or students while commuting to schools affecting 6,653 students. This reflects a significant increase in the number of tear gas cases compared to the year 2018 (53 cases).'

4. https://www.law.berkeley.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/NoSafeSpace_full_report22Dec2017.pdf and https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20601631 


For spokespeople please contact Dan Stewart: d.stewart@savethechildren.org.uk / 020 3763 0119 or 24 hrs: media@savethechildren.org.uk / +44 (0) 7831 650409.

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