An Algebra Lesson

An Algebra Lesson


Freshly painted playground
at the Nabil Samwil School

Algebra”, he said “is really just about making something that is broken, whole again”. Asam, a middle-aged Palestinian math and science teacher, dipped his bagel in hummus and thought for a moment. “I used to teach high school, but it was a struggle. The problem is that these kids have grown up as second class citizens under occupation and they have no drive to do better, to learn, to succeed. I feel like when I am teaching the younger ones, that I have more of a chance to point them somewhere good. They haven’t yet lost hope.


The Mosque/Synagogue

The Nabi Samwil Basic Primary Mixed School began as a one room schoolhouse with 9 children. In 2013, it expanded to include some metal caravans, a yard and playground built with funding from the Queen Rania Foundation of Jordan. It is a bright and cheery place, and the student’s laughter often bubbles out of the open doors of their classrooms.

Next to the school are two houses occupied by settlers as communal and office space. Sometimes they have held weddings there. The headmaster, Khalil, told us that the weddings are very loud and disturb the children’s classwork and he has complained to the Police, but no one follows up.


Original One Room Schoolhouse

The village of Nabi Samwil is believed to hold the tomb of the prophet Samuel. During the Byzantine period, a monastery was built here to host Christian pilgrims. During the Ottoman era, the church was converted into a mosque. From 1948 to 1967, the village was used as a military post by the Jordanian military. After this, Israeli settlers attempted to control the area, which caused most of the villagers to emigrate to Jordan and other places.


The students sang 
“If You’re Happy And You Know It” 
for us in English!

In 1971, the mosque was divided into a shared mosque and synagogue, and the remaining 150 Palestinian villagers were moved from that area about 500 meters away as the area was claimed to be of archaeological interest, their homes were demolished. A few weeks later, Israeli authorities presented a plan to expand the National Park surrounding the tomb of Samuel by confiscating the 183 dunams of farmland which belonged to the villagers. So they delivered demolition orders for everything BUT the original school room. All the other buildings were razed, the land was excavated, and the area was converted into a National Park.

Today, life in the village for these children and their families is far from easy. Often there are difficulties bringing sufficient supplies and livestock through the nearby Al Jib checkpoint. Cooking gas is provided by an Israeli company, but it costs double the price of what they could get in the West Bank. The people in the village are prohibited from building new structures or repairing existing structures, and they are only allowed to plant one-season crops (no trees).


The English Teacher makes 
a design for future mural

The village itself is located on the Jerusalem side of the wall but only two families hold Jerusalem ID cards and can enter the city for work, to access health care or visit family members. Others who hold West Bank ID cards are unable to enter, and if they are caught, they will face 3-4 months in jail. 

We visited with the 18 students of the primary school. Five teachers and the headmaster travel in from nearby communities to teach. English instruction begins in first grade. The students are clearly very bright, and it gave us great joy to sit in and hear all that they had been learning. At one point, we set up tables to share the breakfast we had brought: bagels, hummus, tomatoes, cucumbers and chocolates for dessert. Like children all around the world, the students love sweets!


Re-purposed Tires 
serve as Begonia Planters

When these students get older, they will likely face many difficulties. Their school bus will have to cross the Al Jib checkpoint and they will be required to walk across a military zone to their school in Beit Iksa. The young men of the village typically face unemployment, since the villagers are not allowed to go in the direction of Jerusalem (to turn left on the highway) without a permit. It is very difficult for young men to get a working permit, so most of them will end up working illegally for very low wages in the nearby settlements. 

That is, of course, unless something changes for them. Perhaps those who are responsible for this situation will learn the value of Algebra. I sure hope that they do, because these young people deserve the opportunities that employment and education will grant them. 


I served on the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) as an Ecumenical Accompanier. Any views or opinions contained herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the WCC. Please do not forward or use any part of this communication without permission. Thank you.