In the heart of the old city of Hebron - amid checkpoints, razor-wire fences, military watchtowers and Israeli soldiers - al-Ibrahimiya kindergarten, run by 53-year-old Zleikha Muhtaseb, provides a safe haven for Palestinian children.
"I decided to create this space for them just to be kids, because outside the kindergarten, they are not treated very well," Muhtaseb, who grew up in Hebron, told Al Jazeera.
Hebron is the largest city in the occupied West Bank and is divided into two sectors, H1 and H2, controlled respectively by the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli military. The kindergarten is located in H2, an area with a heavy military presence. The private kindergarten, created and maintained by Muhtaseb in a building adjoining her home, is supervised by local education officials, and Muhtaseb ultimately hopes to expand it to serve more Palestinian children.
"When they see the soldiers patrolling the streets, this affects them ... When they see the checkpoints, the fence, everything, of course this makes them think that we are surrounded from everywhere," Muhtaseb said, noting the kindergarten offers the children a safe space to talk about their frustrations and their experiences with soldiers. She says her goal is to encourage children to resist the occupation in a peaceful way.
"My main goal is to use education to change the society," she said. "I always believe that education is the main tool to secure lasting change. If you educate the children and educate the mothers, then you educate the whole society."
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