I saw how disappointing it was for the children of Gaza not to be able to watch the FIFA World Cup 2010 games because of the electricity cuts (currently up to 16 hours per day) and the Israeli reconnaissance planes flying overhead, which disrupt TV broadcasts when the electricity is back on. I was convinced the children of Gaza were having a really tough time.
Then I had an opportunity to be in the West Bank again for various meetings. One day, I accompanied a crew from al-Jazeera to one of our projects in south Hebron in the southern West Bank. I was facilitating access for the journalists so they could see the situation for children there, but it was also an opportunity to see new parts of my country that I have never seen.
The plan was to visit some Palestinian villages that are located in Area C, areas within the West Bank under full Israeli control, where Palestinians are not allowed to build houses, schools and health centres, or even make repairs to their homes or agricultural lands.
The situation for communities living here is so critical that, according to our most recent research, rates of stunting in children in Area C are double that of children living in Gaza.
We drove past several villages in South Hebron, including At-Tuwani and Imneizel, where Palestinians are living without the basic necessities of life, just a few meters away from Israeli settlements with superior infrastructure and facilities.
Honestly, what I saw up until this point was nothing in comparison to what I witnessed in Susya village – a village of tents. Before stepping out of our vehicle, I noted the digital display showing the outdoor temperature was 40 degrees Celsius. I stepped into the heat with a colleague from a local partner and we began to look for children who could tell us what life was like there for them. Oddly we found no children in the tents. We were just about to give up when suddenly I saw the head of a little boy. I thought he was walking towards me but he disappeared. I immediately thought he had fallen, so I ran behind the mountain to find him. I couldn’t believe what I saw.
Several children were sheltering inside a cave in the mountain because it was the coolest area in the whole village. “Oh My God! Are we in 2010?” I asked myself.
I spent most of my time with Mohammed, a 3-year-old boy who seemed more interested in playing with a watermelon that his grandfather brought to him than speaking with me. I started playing with the watermelon too, as I continued speaking with Mohammed’s grandfather.
They told me that their story began in 1985. This is what they said:
The residents of Susya village were evicted from their homes at the hands of the Israeli military. Israeli settlers then inhabited the area and the Palestinians refused to leave their land so they started digging caves. The Israeli military closed most of their caves, so the residents set up tents. The Israeli military destroyed many of their tents too. The grandfather of Mohammed said that a few week earlier Israeli settlers, who are living meters away, came around 2:30 am and set fire to two of their tents.
From speaking with the children and their families, I learned that children here feel insecure. They are underweight and malnourished because of a lack of fresh and nutritious foods. It’s also difficult for them to get to school or to a doctor because an Israeli military ban on Palestinians using the local roads means they must walk to the closest school and medical centre 3 km away through mountainous roads in the burning heat. The good news is that despite these difficulties, children are still going to school, feeling that it’s essential to securing a better future.
During my visit the only thing that made me feel a little bit better is that Save the Children is prioritizing Area C in its programmes and is helping children and their families through counselling support, the provision of much-needed school supplies (books, stationary, etc) and by rehabilitating and repairing houses and lands where possible.