At the start of the school day, students at the Tariq bin Ziyad school in Hebron mill around outside the white-brick building, talking to friends and playing football.
The teenage students show no rush to head to class. Conversations drift from friendly rivalries between Real Madrid and Barcelona supporters, to jokes about relatives back home.
Suddenly, just seconds later, the students all sprint towards the school doors – but it is not the school bell that gets them moving.
The now-familiar deep thud of a launched tear gas canister can be heard 150m down the road. Another 20 canisters follow in quick succession, turning the air white with gas.
Students pile into the building as quickly as they can. Those in the back shout frantically for the others to move faster; the gas is suffocating.
The gas stings the eyes and makes it difficult to breathe. It isn’t unusual for those badly affected to pass out.
“All of this affects us – the students, their learning, our teaching,” Shukrie explains.
The teachers try to keep a sense of routine but have to react quickly in response to the events outside. Classes must be abandoned and breaktimes reshuffled or shortened.
The school and its surroundings, a built-up neighbourhood of schools, shops, and some residential buildings, are located beside the Israeli-controlled part of the Old City, which houses around 500 illegal settlers. In recent weeks, this area has seen a marked increase in Israeli army incursions and violence from soldiers and settlers.
“We can’t do anything,” Shukrie says. “We just have to rush students into the classrooms, try to keep them safe, calm them and then treat the students who are passing out from the gas.”
Psychological first aid
The escalation in violence in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories has killed 77 Palestinians and 10 Israelis in recent weeks. Around a third of the Palestinian deaths have been in Hebron.
According to Natalia Garcia, the mental health activities manager in Hebron for Doctors Without Borders (MSF), recent events have exacted a heavy psychological toll on residents of the city. While there have always been tensions due to soldiers, settlers, and Palestinians living in such close quarters, the situation has been exacerbated over the past month – hitting the children particularly hard, she says.
“People are more afraid now than they were a month ago,” Garcia explains. “There have been incidents from the army, even in the schools. We’ve had to deal with the aftermath of this – with trauma in children.”
“Schools are now having to carry out psychological first aid for their students.”
This takes the form of immediate counselling sessions, where children are encouraged to express their feelings through drawings and re-enactments, she says.
“There is more anxiety. Some children are showing signs of isolation or increased anger, as ways to try and cope with what they are experiencing and witnessing.”
For some children, this anxiety can be reflected in a fear of going out or socialising; for others, it takes the form of rage as they lash out at family and friends.