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July 16th 2006

Not just another English lesson

It is Sunday and I am on my way out to Al Azarye to meet with Tamara, Linda, Manal and Mana for English conversation lessons. Every Sunday for the last two months we have been meeting for a few hours to practice their English. The women take out their books and pens and we are ready to begin.

But this is not just a regular English class, not for me. After going through some grammar and work through some exercises, the women start telling me about their lives, and how it is to live under occupation.

Divided family
One of the women in the class is Manal, she is married and has three children. Manal`s family is from Jerusalem and thus she holds a Jerusalem ID, but her husband is from Hebron and is therefore registered as a Westbanker. This means that he can not visit his wife’s family without a permit, because all Palestinians over 16 with Westbank ID have to get a permit to enter Jerusalem. (Permits are issued by the IDF –the Israeli Defence Forces, the Israeli Military and the process to get a permit can take up to weeks or months.) Her children are registered as Westbankers too, but since they are all under the age of 16 they are still allowed to enter Jerusalem without a permit. “My oldest son is 14, which means that in two years he will no longer be able to visit his grandparents in the Old City without a permit,” Manal explains to me “and to get a permit is very difficult” she adds. It is not only complicated to visit her family. When they want to visit his family in Hebron, her husband has to cross one checkpoint (a border control post) and Manal another, because of the different ID cards.

Why and when?
We start doing exercises to practice the interrogatives. The exercise is to write 3 sentences each, using different interrogatives. The women start reading their sentences; when will we be free? When will the occupation end? Why do we have to pass checkpoints when we move around in our own country?

For me this is much more than just an English lesson. It is a way to get to know the daily struggle for Palestinians living under occupation. A reality filled with checkpoints, restriction of movements, Israeli soldiers and separation barriers.

The lesson is over and we leave the classroom. I say “good bye” and “see you next Sunday”, the women tell me “inshalla” – if God wants. Although this is a common expression in Arabic, it means so much more in this context. The road net is changing rapidly; new restriction of movement is being implemented, the building of the separation barrier continues, and it is now to be built on the other side of the road to the classroom where we meet every Sunday.

Inshalla we will meet next Sunday

Karen Elisabeth Ohm Heskja is currently working as an Ecumenical Accompanier for the EAPPI (Ecumenical Accompaniers Programme in Israel and Palestine), an initiative of the World Council of Churches to accompany Palestinians and Israelis in their non-violent actions and concerted advocacy efforts to end the occupation. (For more information on the EAPPI: www.eappi.org )

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