Imagine: you are Anas, a first-year college student. You’ve been studying for your calculus exam the past three days, but you’re still not quite sure if you have a full grasp of Taylor series yet. Inside the class, a tense few minutes pass while you wait to begin. You receive the test and peer down at the questions, your brain accelerating at an instant.
A moment passes, however, and you hear gunfire from outside. You try to focus, but attention from question #2 is dragged away by the cries for help you hear from the window. It’s been like this for weeks, but it’s still so hard to concentrate. Suddenly, you begin to feel that stinging pain in your eyes, your nose, and you know what’s coming next. You stand up, exam jitters overwhelmed by what’s airborne. You rush out of the classroom, but where to go? The tear gas has already surrounded the building, the campus, and your life.
For months, Anas had dealt with this every single day. His classes had fallen weeks behind. And yet, no matter how many times he’d flee from class, the tear gas still stung the same.
Welcome to Khadoori Institute.
A Palestinian agricultural and technical college, Khadoori’s location right on the pre-1967 border with Israel in the city of Tulkarem is what makes it so special. Authorities built the separation wall across Khadoori’s campus, taking 200 dunums of land in the process. Authorities transferred a chemical factory to property next to the campus in order to circumvent Israeli environmental laws. This factory, located next to the university’s agricultural area, has polluted the environment and poisoned the grounds of this institution specializing in agriculture.
But the most egregious action against the students was when the IDF took an additional 23 dunums of school property in the 1990s to place a military training field on Khadoori’s campus next to the first portion of the separation wall built in 1994. As in the past, since tensions rekindled in October 2015, soldiers have shot at protesting students on campus with live bullets, rubber bullets, tear gas, pepper spray gas, and also spraying skunk liquid over university buildings. These military incursions were occurring daily for two months when I visited, with the military sometimes coordinating ambushes and using soldiers dressed in plainclothes to attack and arrest students. Hundreds of students have been arrested and injured, classes are forced to cancel, and the educational process is completely paralyzed.
If it isn’t obvious enough, having a military training field in occupied territory on university school grounds seriously violates international law and the human rights of students and the occupied. Proud students around the world boast how there is no other university like theirs, but Khadoori’s students can lay claim to this for far more ominous reasons.
Located just ten minutes away from the Mediterranean Sea (with a wall standing in between, of course), the campus’s beautiful greenery lived up to its reputation as an agricultural institution. The buildings, the greenery, everything was picturesque. But at the further end of the campus, adjacent to the greenhouses, were the chemical factory and military training field. When I arrived at noon, already, there was an ambulance parked, waiting for injured students. Across the field was the separation wall. Soldiers were still inside their military tower overlooking the campus, fully protected. A few students threw rocks that fell halfway towards these soldiers, but soldiers responded with gunfire nonetheless. “This is one of the calmest days,” commented Obi, my student guide, nonchalantly.
The students gathered to watch the curiosity of bullets unfold. Another student accompanying me mentioned that she couldn’t wait to graduate after this semester. As a recent graduate yearning for those glory years, I could not relate— and understandably so. “It’s so stressful and scary being a student here,” she said, trembling as we approached the soldiers. “I can’t be near the soldiers. I don’t feel safe anywhere on campus as a woman.”
Adjacent to the chemical factory and military training field, the library receives the brunt of the soldiers’ tactics. I worked in one of the libraries on my college campus, and we would always have corny events to attract students to the library. Jamal, the library director, had a harder time getting students to study there with the tear gas, bullets, and all. “Students complain to us all the time that they need a quiet place, they need somewhere to study, but I can’t provide it when they shoot twenty gas bombs at once,” he said.
This dilemma has been apparent for years. In 2002, the military burned down the old library, with much of its valuable collection destroyed. The previous week, soldiers had sprayed rancid Skunk liquid all over the library, preventing students and faculty from entering for days. Tear gas surrounds the library every day, and I noted the multiple bullet holes in windows. A pregnant worker at the library was once exposed to toxic gas that resulted in the loss of her baby.
As the library director served tea in his office, we could hear gunfire from outside and see the soldiers through the window. The clashes were slowly heating up, but this was just another day at Khadoori, he asserted, nothing unusual.
An hour later, I was speaking with a professor in the center of campus. Suddenly, my eyes and nose began to feel irritated—the tear gas had reached halfway across the campus.
I left the building and went towards the soldiers. The soldiers had made their way across the field and were now launching bullets and tear gas toward the students on the campus quad. A sniper watched the crowd from the military tower. The greenhouses—already untended for weeks due to the clashes— had several plants on fire from the tear gas. People cried leaving classrooms not because of failing that calculus exam, but because there was literally a tear-inducing agent in the air.
Obi shook his head, struggling to keep his eyes open. “All I want to do is learn,” he said, “but this is not an environment to learn!”
As I watched among the students, the soldiers launched dozens of tear gas canisters in our direction, sending us running through the campus. I fled with the students and went into the library lobby, escaping the scathing fog outside. Students laid on the floor in agony while others wondered how to possibly make it to class. This scene of students bunkered inside the school building reminded me of Harry Potter and his wizard companions at the Battle of Hogwarts weathering a siege by Death Eaters—only now, the invaders were dressed in military camouflage. This was the school library! How could this be real?
Indeed, this was a prime place for an IDF training ground, for they had at their disposal thousands of Palestinian students to practice for the typical pattern at clashes in the West Bank: Israeli provocation (i.e. Israeli soldiers training on school grounds), Palestinians act upon these provocations (i.e. students throwing rocks), and the soldiers use this as an impetus to use excessive force on targeted and surrounding populations, encroaching further on the land in the process.
This was some kind of educational training, but not of the academic variety. These were practice drills for the soldiers, and the students were their dummies without a name.