Precede NABLUS With Palestinian Flag Up, Students Find Days of Demos Over
HEBRON, West Bank (AP) _ When Ala Wawi looks back on his school days, he remembers learning about how to organize strikes, demonstrations and attacks on Israeli soldiers, but not much else.
Now, at age 19, he’s going back to school hoping for different lessons. The school year that began today marks the first time schools in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank have been under Palestinian control after 27 years of Israeli occuption.
The system of 1,540 schools with 600,000 pupils is the first branch of government Palestinians are running outside Gaza and the Jericho region of the West Bank, where self-rule started in May.
″It’s a day of celebration,″ said Palestinian Education Minister Yasser Amr, launching the school year at a Hebron elementary school. He exhorted students to ″forget about the past″ and hit the books.
Students, teachers and administrators say they face a daunting task in overcoming jammed classrooms, crumbling buildings, outdated textbooks and a student body that has been unable to concentrate through the seven-year uprising against occupation.
″We are a lost generation. Many of the students cannot even read,″ said Wawi, who is returning to school after two years in Israeli jails.
Officials hope the Palestinian flag raised over schools will inspire new efforts to restore education.
″PLO chairman Yasser Arafat will tell all students that the time has come to study, to forget about the past. He will urge them to respect their teachers and their schools,″ said Yasser Amr, education minister in the Palestinian self-rule government.
Money for schools, like the other aspects of autonomy, is a key problem.
Amr said Israel had allotted about $150 million annually for the Palestinian school system of 600,000 students and 15,000 teachers.
Israel will cover the first month’s costs, but then money is to come from taxes and foreign donations. The Palestinians have yet to collect taxes, and donors worldwide have been reluctant to send funds until an accounting system is in place.
Teachers lament not only aged buildings and the lack of modern learning aids such as computers, but an outdated curriculum. Some of the textbooks are 30 years old.
Teachers said the dated materials meant students learning such absurdities as Libya still being an Italian protectorate, that the British rule Yemen and that the population of the Arab world is 132 million, 86 million short.
″The Israelis asked us to stick strictly to the textbooks. So the students have to write wrong information in the exams even if they know the correct information,″ said Ahmad Saeed, a geography teacher since 1989. ″If the student wrote that the Arab population is actually 218 million it is a wrong answer.″
Maj. Elise Shazar, spokeswoman for the Israeli military government, said Israel was not responsible for any outdated material.
Shazar said the government vetted the textbooks for material that incited against Israel. But ″all the material they received from us is what the Jordanians sent us,″ she said.
Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan in 1967. The school’s curricula were set by Jordan and approved by Israel.
Teachers also worry that seven years of demonstrating against Israel have warped the students’ ability to study.
″They used to get up and leave the classrooms without permission,″ said Saeed. ″It is a rebellious generation, difficult to control, and it will take a long time to change.″
Wawi recalled how in the first days of the uprising, in Dec. 1987, activists from Fatah, the main Palestinian faction, tried to get into his school to convince students to pour into the streets.
″The headmaster closed the three gates of the school″ to prevent their entry, he said. ″We broke the three gates open.″
Wawi only knows of three colleagues who graduated from high school and says even those who advanced got through by rampant cheating. Teachers who interfered often found their cars torched.
Wawi was jailed in 1992 for throwing a gasoline bomb that missed a passing army, and for other uprising activities; he was released in May.
Most of his friends are giving up on school, he said.