Amid violence, young scholars
excel and dream
High achievement a long tradition in West Bank city
By Charles A. Radin,
Globe Staff, 8/29/2002
TULKAREM, West Bank
- Undercover Israeli troops infiltrated this West Bank city Aug. 7 and
engaged in a roaring gun battle with Palestinian militants, killing at
least three - but the story did not dominate the news on any of the three
local television stations.
Results of the Tawjihi,
the Palestinian high school matriculation exam, were being released, and
it would have taken more than a small battle to displace news for which
all Tulkarem was holding its breath. Year after year this city of 95,800
people, almost on top of the so-called Green Line between the occupied
Palestinian territories and Israel, produces many top finishers on the
exam. This year was no different.
Only about 4 percent
of the 51,000 Palestinian students who took the exam were from Tulkarem,
but about 30 percent of the top finishers, and half the top finishers
in sciences, were from here. Theories abound as to why: Some say the loss
of agricultural land to Israel in the Jewish state's war for independence
forced youth with ambition to farm to seek other occupations. Others say
that, Israel or no Israel, agriculture has long been a dead-end job here.
Still others say interest in the sciences has been a self-perpetuating
part of the culture here for so long that no one really knows how or why
the tradition got started.
What they know is
that no war is going to change such a proud part of the local heritage,
although this year, says Jamal Tarif, director of the education department,
''taking the exam was like going to war.'' Helped by residents calling
down information from the windows of their homes, students organized groups
to monitor Israeli troop movements and let other students know what passages
to the examination sites were safe to use.
Tarif lined up three
auditoriums to be used as alternative sites for administering the exam,
in case Israeli-imposed curfews made holding the exam in a central location
impossible. When he decided to use the alternative sites, the decision
was conveyed to students by word of mouth.
''If I put it on radio
and TV, the Israelis might have seen it as a challenge and acted against
us for violating the curfew,'' Tarif said.
In other Palestinian cities affected by Israeli-imposed curfews, it took
around 40 days to complete the exams. In Tulkarem, everything was finished
within the four days Tarif designated. Still, the grading and rankings
could not be announced until marking was completed throughout the territories.
Then the big day:
The names of all who passed were read over and over on local radio and
TV. Parents whose children did not pass, or who passed with lower marks
than expected, beat a path to Tarif's door. One such parent was Abbas
Abu Ghazaleh, whose daughter scored a very good 83.3, but whose class
grades in school this year were all over 90.
''I think there must
be some mistake,'' Ghazaleh said, acknowledging he was worried that his
daughter's test score likely would significantly reduce her chances for
Tarif shrugged his
shoulders. ''It is like a wedding, or a funeral,'' when the results come
out. ''If they succeed, they laugh. If they fail, they cry.''
Just how literal he
was being became illustrated by the collapse of a girl whose score was
read out as 62.5 - a passing, but entirely undistinguished, mark.
''She had to go to
the hospital, and she stayed there several hours,'' said Othman Hamshari,
director of the local television station Salam. ''She stayed until we
corrected it on the air and people reassured her it had been corrected.''
The girl actually scored 92.5, a mark that put her among the best students,
though still well short of the top 10 rankings that are the dream of the
Like their parents
in the Palestinian middle class, the top students say they would not participate
in terrorism or violent political activity, but they do not condemn the
suicide bombers, many of whom also are young. There are many ways to struggle,
the top students say, but they feel the bombers are trying to do something
for their fellow Palestinians.
''I feel they die
for us,'' said Hathayfa Afif Atili, who lives in a Tulkarem district village
and placed second among all Palestinians on the science exam, with a score
Atili, who aspires
to be a doctor, said he is not interested in politics in the same way
as his brothers, three of whom were imprisoned by the Israelis for associating
with the Islamic extremist group Hamas, an organization dedicated to the
destruction of the Jewish state and listed as a terrorist group by the
United States and Israel.
''The struggle has
many faces,'' he said. ''I feel when I educate myself, I am part of the
struggle. ... Science is the road to liberation. ... The Tawjihi is the
gate to the future.''
Iman Wasfi Mahmoud
Othman, who finished seventh, said she and her schoolmates felt they should
be doubly determined to do well this year because ''the dream of the occupation
is to destroy the people, their lives, and their minds. We don't want
them to have their dream and destroy us. It was difficult to study under
curfew,'' she said, ''but it is necessary to defy them. Maybe I can do
something if I am educated.''
Four people were killed
in the gun battle in downtown Tulkarem on the day the examination results
were announced, including Ziad Mahmoud Mahmad Da'as, local leader of the
Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, and two members of his organization. The fourth
fatality was Maher Jizmawi, 18. His father, Muhammad Sadeq Jizmawi, said
his son was on his way to the Ihsan Samarra School to get his exam results
and was shot down from behind by Israeli special forces who had infiltrated
in pursuit of Da'as.
A spokesman for the
Israeli army said Jizmawi was inside the building to which its forces
tracked Da'as throughout the gun battle, and attempted to escape after
the other people in the building were killed or wounded. The army said
Jizmawi disregarded warning shots fired in the air and an order to halt
before he was fired upon and killed.
Last weekend, men
who identified themselves to news agencies as members of the Brigades
abducted a local youth who, under torture, implicated his mother in the
Israeli attack on Da'as. They then dragged the 35-year-old mother of seven
from her home, filmed her confessing that she passed information on Da'as
to Israeli security, shot her multiple times, and dumped her body in the
middle of the city.
In this climate of
violence, the students were sweating out the remaining days until college
acceptances were announced. Akram Saif el-Din Kharbat, who finished 10th
on the science exam with a score of 98.4, said he was determined to persevere,
''because this is our dignity, to concentrate on our study. When I become
something important, I will serve the Palestinians.''