Virus gives Palestinian teachers in West Bank time to rebuild schools

Standing next to a pile of building materials in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Ibrahim al-Barghouti gives instructions to his fellow educators as they give their school a facelift during coronavirus closures.

Principal of the Hassan Allan high school in the village of Deir Abou Mishaal, northwest of Ramallah, Barghouti had long had it in mind to renovate the school and add three classrooms.

Hoping to make the best out of a bad situation, he decided to take advantage of the school closures mandated by the Palestinian Authority two months ago as part of efforts to stem the spread of the virus.

Barghouti asked 24 school teachers and staff if they would trade pens for paintbrushes and shovels to help revamp the school, he told AFP, adding with a smile that all of them agreed to help.

“We are building and renovating the school with our own hands and thanks to donations from the villagers,” all as volunteers, he said.

Some staff already had experience in construction and put it to good use by showing others how to assemble beams, lay tiles or pour concrete, all while wearing surgical masks to protect against the virus.

Only 285,000 students returned to class this week in the West Bank, out of 1.3 million in the territory but Hassan Allan’s 300 students must wait to see their newly refurbished school.

The school administration had made several grant requests to the education ministry for expansion and renovation work, which were denied “for lack of resources,” said Mohammad Othman, a biology teacher busy laying tiles.

The Palestinian Authority is facing a severe economic crisis, especially since its decision in late May to break off all cooperation with Israel in response to plans, now suspended, to annex parts of the West Bank.

Usually, Israel collects and transfers to the Palestinians millions of shekels per month in VAT and customs duties levied on products imported by the Palestinians that transit through Israeli ports.

The decision by the PA to no longer accept the money was a blow to its budget, which has also been hard hit by the pandemic, preventing it from paying civil servants’ salaries.

As a result, teachers at the Deir Abou Mishaal high school have been paid half their salaries or less since May.

“The moral support of the village residents suffices,” said Youssouf Salman, the school secretary.

Teacher Dhamir Hamdan agreed. “A lot of people could say to themselves, ‘why work without pay?'” he said.

“But here we work as volunteers for the good of the people of the village and future generations.” (AFP | Hossam Ezzedine)