Filmmakers: Tom Evans and George Azar

In a series of programmes, Witness looks at the struggle of getting an education under occupation, following the fates of two schools in Nablus.

Filmmaker Tom Evans spent several months inside two schools in Nablus in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, at the close of 2007.

Almost a full academic year on, as the exacting and crucial exam season approaches, he returned to the same schools and followed up on the stories of those he met a year earlier.

How have the students balanced the demands of academia and occupation? How will they cope with the stress of the final exams which could determine their future?

The Two Schools in Nablus series offers a rare glimpse into the daily lives of those living under occupation.

Lessons on the Frontline

Palestinians have always seen their children's education as the key to a better future.

Astonishingly, even though six out of ten families live in poverty - almost ninety per cent of children go on to university.

But now the education system itself is in crisis. International sanctions have meant teachers going for months without pay, and schools face chronic overcrowding, with classes of fifty pupils or more.

In this, the first report from filmmaker Tom Evans, we look at the daily struggle of getting an education, under occupation.

Learning under Siege

In Learning under Siege, Osaid takes the exams he missed while in prison, the teachers anxiously await pay day, and King Talal school is invaded by a gang of new students.

In most countries, school children face nothing more challenging than juggling their studies with leisure activities and perhaps a weekend job. Things are a bit tougher if you are a Palestinian from the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Since the current Intifada began, more than 2,000 Palestinian children have been arrested - and 350 are currently in Israeli prisons. Some of these were involved in resistance to the Israeli occupation. Others were merely in the wrong place at the wrong time.

As we see in this, the second of Tom Evans' films, it is not easy trying to keep up with your schoolwork when your classroom is on the frontline.

Learning to Die

More than half of Palestinians are of school age. But, during Israel's regular raids to hunt down militants, school is the last thing on their minds.

In this, the third of Tom Evan's reports from Nablus, we find out exactly what it is like to be a child in school when Israeli forces come to call.

With the situation in the West Bank spiralling out of control, the children are finding it impossible to focus on their studies. But things are about to get a lot worse.

Chaos descends on Nablus as the teachers and students get caught in the middle of a viscious gunfight - with tragic consequences.

Two Schools in Nablus: a Witness Special

Some call them the lost generation: the children of the second intifada that began in 2000.

They are growing up in the West Bank, where Israel has installed a network of checkpoints, barriers and walls, they claim, to protect Israelis from Palestinian suicide bombers.

For Palestinians the restrictions have destroyed their children's education, something they see as a way out, a key to a better future.

We follow the two head teachers and their staff as they teach, inspire pupils and survive the challenges of life in Nablus; Osaid, as he writes the end-of-year exams he missed while in prison; the teachers as they anxiously await pay day and the tragic pandemonium that breaks out when Israeli soldiers launch a nearby raid to root out militants.

Two Schools in Nablus - The Return

2007 was a turbulent year for the Palestinian residents of Nablus. As that difficult year drew to a close filmmaker Tom Evans spent several months inside two schools struggling to maintain this extraordinary high standard of education against overwhelming odds.

Now, almost a full academic year on, Tom Evans returns to his two schools in Nablus as exam time approaches.

We left them after an Israeli raid on a nearby camp, which cut off both pupils and teachers from the school and resulted in the death of one of the students. Now, in this fourth report from Nablus, we return to see how the schools are coping as the end-of-year exam time begins. 

Two Schools in Nablus - The Journeys

It is close to the end of term, and as the students wait anxiously for the exam results that will shape their lives - in or out of Palestine - two of their teachers have their own anxieties to deal with - this time because of the travel restrictions imposed by the occupying Israelis.

Whether it is a simple trip to Jerusalem or a long hoped-for family reunion across the border in neighbouring Jordan, even well-educated civil servants like teachers will be faced with almost impossible travel restrictions.

In this, the fifth report from Nablus, filmmaker Tom Evans follows the emotional journeys of some of the students and teachers in the two schools in Nablus.

Two Schools in Nablus - The Goal

In the sixth and final report by Tom Evans from the two schools in Nablus, our students are approaching Tawjihi, their final school-leaving exams which will determine whether they have a future in university or not.

In Palestine, Tawjihi is a major public event, with the results being announced on the radio.

For the individual students in our two schools, it is a fundamental rite of passage, opening up the possibility of a route out of Nablus, even emigration, and they will eventually have to choose their goal - to build a new life away from the constraints of occupation, or stay and help re-build the country of their birth.

Two Schools in Nablus is a unique insight into the huge significance in Palestine of the Tawjihi. By now Tawjihi is almost over, but the anxious wait for the students is about to begin.

Return to Nablus - a Witness Special

We return to Nablus in Palestine's West Bank, where we have been following life in two schools struggling to maintain the Palestinian tradition of education in the face of restrictions imposed by the Israeli occupation.

It is an attitude summed up by one of the teachers, who describes education as "our weapon to fight the occupation".

How have the students and staff of the two schools balanced the demands of academia and the occupation? And how will they cope with the stress of the final exams which could determine their future?

In this Witness Special, filmmaker Tom Evans returns to the two schools in Nablus as their academic year comes to an end to give us a unique picture of education under occupation.

Two Schools in Nablus airs from Tuesday, December 9, 2008.

Source: Al Jazeera