“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” – Nelson Mandela
It is a sad story when schools become battlegrounds and restricting the education of vulnerable children is used as a weapon. Unfortunately, this has often been the case here in the Holy Land, whether it be in horrific events such as the shelling by Israelis of a UN school last summer in Gaza, the checkpoints that children in Hebron pass through every day on the way to school or the threat of destruction to Bedouin schools.
Recognising the power of education to both destroy and build a society, a new initiative named Netketabi, meaning ‘my netbook’ is seeking to transform the Palestinian educational system. The project originates from the goal of providing every single Palestinian child with a computer. The Executive Chairman of Netketabi, Dr Sabri Saidam explains how, despite the continuing doom and gloom of politics, computers, knowledge accumulation and global participation is the way forward and helps to keep a society hopeful.
With 62 per cent of Palestinian society aged between 14-34, 82 per cent of whom are connected to the internet, Dr Saidam has identified a so far untapped resource to become a force for good in society. This seemingly simple initiative is becoming a vital resource for some of the most marginalised teachers and children in geographically challenged areas in the West Bank and Gaza. Visiting a very basic and small school the importance of this project became clear.
Built out of dried mud and old car tyres the Al-Khan Al-Ahmar primary school was constructed by an Italian NGO and a group of volunteers in 2009 fulfilling a desperate need for a school for the local children from the surrounding Bedouin communities. Before the creation of the school, children would have to walk 14 kilometres along the busy highway to the nearest school in Jericho – this dangerous trip causing the death of four children. The danger of this journey meant that parents would only allow their boys to go to school, something which has changed completely since the school was built, as 50 per cent of the students are now girls.
Despite the positive impact this school has had on the community, providing vital access to education to the children from the five neighbouring Bedouin villages, this school has, like many others, been used as a pawn in the Israeli occupation’s aims to displace and arguably irradiate the Bedouin community.
The school, unlike the tents and makeshift shacks, the only other Palestinian-owned structures left in the area, is technically a building. As it is located in Area C (which makes up 60% of the West Bank and is under full Israeli control), it is near impossible for the school to obtain a building permit. At first this may appear to be simply an unfortunate bureaucratic issue, however the reality of this situation means that at any time, bulldozers can come and destroy the school, and with that, the education and ambition of all the students.
Watching over the school on top of a hill, the Kfar Adumim settlement, declared illegal by the UN, petitions for the school’s destruction. Armed settlement guards regularly come down into the village and take pictures of the school. This unsettling, threatening act has led local people to fear that in fact the Israeli government is focusing its efforts on how to demolish and relocate 20 different Bedouin communities including the “tyre school”, rather than just demolishing the school alone.
Said to be the most vulnerable community in the region, for over 60 years, the indigenous arab Bedouin have faced a state policy of displacement, home demolition and dispossession of their ancestral land. The Israeli government is accused of withholding basic services, such as education, in order to ‘encourage’ them to give up their ancestral land. This accusation is supported by the treatment of the Bedouin surrounding the school. Nearby settlers have ensured the Bedouins pay a high price for the school, as many of them had previously worked in the settlements, and were fired in retaliation for building the school.
Dr Saidam, a keen philanthropist, explained that despite the very existence of the school being under threat “…denying the school the right to proper equipment is not going to help. It is going to cause more resentment, more anxiety and more apathy”. Dr Saidam is strongly driven by the belief that once you become educated, no one can ignore you. Netketabi is providing a computer lab with customised learning laptops and wifi connectivity for the school.
This system will make learning relevant, providing interactive learning resources, allowing the children in this deprived school to access a 21st century advanced learning experience. Netketabi is a quiet but strong way of increasing capacity, building society and ensuring these Bedouin children are able to communicate both their struggle and their talents with the global society.
Reaching far wider than just this school, Netketabi is devoted to developing knowledge and providing hope and investment across Palestine. So far, an incredible 14,230 customised laptops have been distributed in the West Bank and Gaza. Focusing on the most marginalised children in Palestinian society, the project has commenced by providing community learning and development centres for children with disabilities and learning difficulties. Not only does this have a significant effect on the skills and the confidence of individual children but can be seen as a peaceful way of building resistance to the occupation.
“Just as some countries around the world pride themselves on heavy industries of oil and gas and others focus on building their arsenals, we in Palestine, through Netketabi, believe in developing knowledge, developing the future as it were. We want the world to say, here are the Palestinians, the productive Palestinians, the competent Palestinians, the knowledgeable Palestinians.” – Dr Sabri Saidam.