Anas Hajajleh, a 10-year-old boy, has begun fifth grade this month in one of the West Bank schools operated by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). The thought of seeing his friends and teachers again and studying the subjects he loves – he plans to one day be a doctor – puts a smile on his face. This year, however, what used to be a five-minute journey to school will be now take significantly longer due to the closer of a road to cars that the Hajajleh family used to access the school Anas attends just 1.5 kilometers away. And that’s not the only problem he will face going back to school this fall.
Anas’s village, Al Walaja, is encircled by the West Bank Barrier, rendering it a Palestinian enclave in the Gush Etzion area, its connection to nearby Bethlehem and Beit Jala through a tunnel. The Hajajleh family’s home will be isolated by the Barrier; soon, their only access even to the village will be through an electronic gate in the tunnel running beneath the Barrier.
“I miss school, and I miss my friends and teachers,” Anas says. However, he worries constantly about being late, since his school is located on the other side of the Barrier. Even before the school year begins, Anas is anticipating difficulties and delays in the daily commute and fearing its impact on his attendance.
The Barrier has not only changed the daily routine of this young Palestine refugee’s journey to school; it will increase the social and physical isolation of his entire family. “We will not be able to meet our friends or play with them freely” because of the anticipated security arrangements, Anas says, noting that his family will have to to inform the Israeli authorities 12 hours in advance of any visits from friends or relatives and wait for their approval. Under no circumstances will visitors permitted to stay with the Hajajlehs overnight.
Anas’s father, Omar, says: “We constantly feel isolated because of the Barrier and the electronic gate which will soon be installed. We sometimes feel that our children do not have any hope. They do not show any optimism; we worry that they are sometimes depressed.”
Mr Hajajleh is looking forward to the new school year with the mix of determination and worry created by years watching the Barrier slowly isolate his home and family. “We have a permanent access issue,” he explains, “but no matter what challenges we face and will continue to face in the future, the education of our children will remain our top priority. As refugees, education is the best investment we can make for our children.”
Like Omar Hajajleh, the UNRWA believes that education is one of the most vital investments that individuals and communities can make in themselves. UNRWA is committed to supporting the educational goals of Palestine refugees, helping them build bridges to the future for themselves and for their children.