On a clear and sunny morning in September 2009, some 40 kids came to the Khan Al Ahmar Primary Mixed School to start the new school year and the first day of class. At first glance, all looks as one would expect: the girls turned out with white ribbons in their hair and the boys boisterously running through the generous school yard and the freshly painted classrooms. Khan Al Ahmar, however, is no ordinary school. It is a school serving Bedouin children from various clans of the Jahalin tribe, all of them UNRWA-registered refugees who live on a dusty outcrop off the main road between Jerusalem and Jericho. This school is built entirely out of rubber tyres.
The children used to attend UNRWA schools in Jerusalem but, since the construction of the Barrier, they no longer had access to the city and, as West Bank residents, had to take public transportation to Jericho to attend one of UNRWA’s schools in the Aqbat Jaber refugee camp. This was an expensive and dangerous alternative, especially for the youngest children who had to stand along the busy highway to wait for the bus. With no other schools in their vicinity, the concerned parents of the youngsters stopped sending the younger children to school altogether last year.
Having heard of the plight of the communities in the Khal Al Ahmar area, an architect from the Italian NGO Vento di Terra in March of 2009 had the idea of building them a school right next to their encampment and building it entirely from rubber tyres, thus insulating against the heat of the summer and the cold and rain of the winter months.
"The Bedouin were suspicious at first. They didn’t trust the project could work," remembers In’am from Vento di Terra. "But once the first building came up in March they were encouraged and saw the project through to the end. They are now very proud to have this school."
In’am recalls that it was a group effort, with volunteers from the Italian Cooperative, the Bedouin Cooperative, the International Solidarity Movement, ICAHD and Rabbis for Human Rights all pitching in to help build the school from scratch during the blistering heat of summer. Donations came in from all over the world, including a small donation from the Vatican.
Today, the school boasts four classrooms, one for each of the four grades that will receive instruction here. The school itself has been accredited by the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Education which has sent four teachers and school supplies to this remote location.
The school’s construction has not been without controversy as the Israeli authorities issued a demolition order against the school which was built in Area C, or the area in the West Bank under Israel’s security and administrative control. However, for the moment, Israel’s High Court has suspended the demolition. A hearing on the injunction forbidding the use of the school is expected soon.