For the past few weeks I have been working on a project revealing the horrid conditions of Palestinian education in the Jordan Valley. There are myriad reasons why the Palestinians in the Valley receive little to no help in the development of the educational system there; however, the main obstacle is the classification of nearly 95% of the Valley as Area C, meaning education is Israel’s responsibility and the PA is unable to do much for the schools. For the next few days I will be posting excerpts from my project, including profiles on four schools in the Jordan Valley as well as a look at how the Israeli occupation changes the lives of the Palestinian youth. See the post on Area C here, educational infrastructure here, the legal right to education here, the role of the PA here, a case study on the Ka’abneh village here and demolitions here. Unless noted, I took all the photos in this series when visiting the Valley.
Much like the Jiftlik School, the school in Zubeidat is a large, legally-built building that looks capable of providing a good education for the children of the village. Though not completely wrong, this impression does not reveal the true ills that are found in the streets and in the schools of this town. The poverty caused by Israel’s restriction of movement and the subsequent poverty are major obstacles to good education in the town.
The population of the Zubeidat village comprises the descendents of Palestinian refugees ethnically cleansed in 1948 from the town of Beer al-Sabe’ (currently Beer Sheva), yet the town has been denied refugee status from the UN. In 1995, Oslo II was signed and the built up area of the village was classified as Area B, though all the surrounding agricultural land – previously rented to the Palestinians by the Israeli government – was labeled Area C, boxing in the Palestinians of this impoverished town. The irony lays in the notion that villagers of Zubeidat are only able to receive building permits in the area where there is no room for expansion, though Israel constantly denies building permits for the open spaces immediately outside of the town center.
Families in Zubeidat are similarly pinched by the surrounding Area C. Before 1967, families were able to make a good living by farming in the fertile lands that surround the village and stretch to the Jordan River. In 1968, though, Israel established the Argaman settlement by confiscating valuable farm land from Zubeidat residents. Today, the Palestinians of this village are locked in by Area C and in the shadow of the settlement located on the hilltops above. Consequently, 2000 Palestinians are packed into a village area of no more than 42 dunums (slightly over 10 acres). The high population density caused by Israeli policies has resulted in an incredibly high rate of poverty of 40% – an economic handicap that trickles down to drastically effect the education system in the village.
The Zubeidat school is located in Area B within the village and thus receives funds from the Palestinian Authority. A large white building with green and yellow trim, the school features a small play area and soccer nets on the paved school yard. Although outdated, the school has both a computer lab and library, continues through 12th grade and offers the Tawjihi. The main problem in Zubeidat is that the increasing poverty that plagues the village is causing the school’s dropout rate to drastically increase. As 60% of the inhabitants of Zubeidat are school-aged youths, a massive economic burden falls to a small percentage of the population in the labor force. Due to the small labor force, the percentage of children that are encouraged to work in addition to school, or quit all together, is rising.
The dearth of available land for agricultural development for Palestinians has forced a large proportion of villagers to work in settlement farms, which offer a daily salary of between 30-60 shekels for eight hours of labor – a wage that has not increased since 2003 and is less than a third of the Israeli minimum wage. Low wages in settlement farms – stagnant despite annual inflation – leave families in Zubeidat with consistently diminishing real income, increasing the already astronomical poverty levels. The inability of Palestinians in Zubeidat to collect a fair wage in the settlement farms has forced many children to balance school with work on the farm in order to help their families. It is estimated that 90% of the students work on farms in addition to school while 60% of the students arrive at work at 4:00 in the morning to work before school.
The dependence on child labor in Zubeidat has led to an unacceptable dropout rate and an even more unacceptable success rate. While the graduating class of 2009 had a 20% dropout rate, the 2009 success rate – which was hovering around 85% in the 1990’s – has plummeted to 30% today. Even those lucky few who leave Zubeidat to attain a university degree often return to cheap farm labor, leading many to question the benefit of ever aspiring to university study. Indeed, the likelihood that a Palestinian from Zubeidat works in a settlement farm is so high that children often refer to such work as ‘leaving school early to attend Argaman University.’
The Zubeidat school has no afterschool programs, no youth center and no true community play area. While it lacks the resources and space to provide these essentials for the children and the community, the policies of the Israeli government and the Argaman settlement have led to an economic and social situation in Zubeidat that forces children to prematurely end their education. The education system in Zubeidat is stunted by its need for another school, a community center, a play area and a new kindergarten, but, perhaps more importantly, the village needs more land and better incomes. Without the means to effectively combat the soaring poverty levels caused by unjust wages in settlement plantations and the dearth of other opportunities, Palestinians in Zubeidat are left unable to fight the negative dropout trends and fatalism that has engulfed the children’s psyche.