Mary Yoder is a Columbus native and member of the Columbus Mennonite Church. She currently serves as a member of the Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) in Hebron. CPT reports from around the world are available on this website

  School patrol is part of CPT’s daily routine. From 7-8 AM 2000 children from K-8th grade descend on Tariquibnziad Street, going to various schools. At 11:00 AM another 2000 students descend the streets. Since IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) took over 3 large schools, including a brand new, state the art facility, Palestinian children on “T” Street are crowded into small spaces and have a shortened day for split sessions.

The army closes these schools approximately twice a week We are never told the reason. Some soldiers will say its for “security”. This past Spring, 2000 school computers in the West Bank were either smashed or stolen by IDF.

This past Saturday’s school patrol started with two soldiers harassing teachers and telling them to go home. At 7:30AM, 2000 students were entering the school yards when the IDF drove down the street at neck breaking speed. Children started screaming and running in all directions. Loud sound grenades were detonated. The screams became louder.

Next, I watched in horror, as a thick white cloud moved down the street toward my “look out” post. (tear gas) Children were running in the school yard but teachers were frantically trying to get them to run home. They were screeaming and running in circles. Some were overcome by noxious fumes, since they had been gased from two different directions.

Minutes later, I spotted an army jeep close to the school intersection. I covered my nose with Kleenex and ran into the cloud of gas toward the jeep. I planted myself in the middle of the intersection with legs and arms spread out. The jeep revved its engine and came right at me but stopped short of hitting me.

CPTer, Christine Anderson, ran to the jeep and pleaded with the soldiers to give the children ten minutes to clear the streets. I waited several minutes, then walked to the drivers side of the jeep. I was shaking and overcome with anger so that I could hardly speak. Finally I screamed, “GIVE THEM TEN MINUTES!!!”

Flippantly the soldier who was driving replied, “OK, ten minutes and we’ll be back.”

The street was silent in just five minutes. When the soldiers did returned, the only children still lingering were the ones in my mind, eyes bright red from the gas and wet with many tears.  

Geneva convention IV: Articles 63,69,72-79: The occupying power must not hinder the proper working of all institutions devoted to the care and education of children.