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“I want to be a lawyer to help my father protect our land and our house,” says14-year-old Hakam Hajajleh. The house that he, his two brothers, and his mother and father call home is just beyond the projected route of the West Bank Barrier on the eastern edge of al-Walaja, a village which will be largely encircled by the Barrier once construction is completed. (On 17 August, a few days after UNRWA spoke with Hakam’s family, the Israeli Ministry of Defense resumed construction of the Barrier near the village, despite an April ruling by the High Court of Justice that ordered the state to reconsider expansion of the Barrier in that region.)

Trapping his home between the Green Line, the Jerusalem municipal boundaries and the Barrier, the occupation affects his family’s private life on a daily basis. Facing this challenge at an early age, Hakam is placing his bets on getting an education to help secure his family’s future.  He got his start at the Basic Co-Educational School in al-Walaja, one of 97 schools run by UNRWA in the West Bank.

Hakam Hajajleh is in the eighth grade at the UNRWA Basic Co-Educational School in al-Walaja, which was built by the community for the use of UNRWA in 2007 and has some 320 students enrolled with 13 teaching staff. As with all of its schools, UNRWA delivers human rights education at Hakam’s school to promote non-violence, healthy communications skills, peaceful conflict resolution, human rights, tolerance and good citizenship. The vision of the policy is to “provide human rights education that empowers Palestine refugee students to enjoy and exercise their rights, uphold human rights values, be proud of their Palestinian identity, and contribute positively to their society and the global community.” © 2015 UNRWA Photo by Isabel de la Cruz

Hakam Hajajleh is in the eighth grade at the UNRWA Basic Co-Educational School in al-Walaja, which was built by the community for the use of UNRWA in 2007 and has some 320 students enrolled with 13 teaching staff. As with all of its schools, UNRWA delivers human rights education at Hakam’s school to promote non-violence, healthy communications skills, peaceful conflict resolution, human rights, tolerance and good citizenship. The vision of the policy is to “provide human rights education that empowers Palestine refugee students to enjoy and exercise their rights, uphold human rights values, be proud of their Palestinian identity, and contribute positively to their society and the global community.” © 2015 UNRWA Photo by Isabel de la Cruz

Hakam Hajajleh is in the eighth grade at the UNRWA Basic Co-Educational School in al-Walaja, which was built by the community for the use of UNRWA in 2007 and has some 320 students enrolled with 13 teaching staff. As with all of its schools, UNRWA delivers human rights education at Hakam’s school to promote non-violence, healthy communications skills, peaceful conflict resolution, human rights, tolerance and good citizenship. The vision of the policy is to “provide human rights education that empowers Palestine refugee students to enjoy and exercise their rights, uphold human rights values, be proud of their Palestinian identity, and contribute positively to their society and the global community.” © 2015 UNRWA Photo by Isabel de la Cruz

Hakam took an early interest in photography, and at the age of 10, he attended a photography workshop so that he could document the developments related to the construction of the Barrier around his house. He took this photograph of the construction of the tunnel that will form part of the Barrier, which will eventually isolate his family’s home. The Israeli Civil Administration initially informed Hakam’s family that their house would be enclosed by an electronic fence, with access to al-Walaja granted only via an electronic gate. However, a compromise agreement reached in 2014 eliminated the fence and instead provides the family with access through a tunnel and an electronic gate, albeit governed by drastic conditions. While the tunnel has since been completed, the electronic gate has not yet been installed. © 2012 Photo Courtesy of Hakam Hajajleh

Hakam took an early interest in photography, and at the age of 10, he attended a photography workshop so that he could document the developments related to the construction of the Barrier around his house. He took this photograph of the construction of the tunnel that will form part of the Barrier, which will eventually isolate his family’s home. The Israeli Civil Administration initially informed Hakam’s family that their house would be enclosed by an electronic fence, with access to al-Walaja granted only via an electronic gate. However, a compromise agreement reached in 2014 eliminated the fence and instead provides the family with access through a tunnel and an electronic gate, albeit governed by drastic conditions. While the tunnel has since been completed, the electronic gate has not yet been installed. © 2012 Photo Courtesy of Hakam Hajajleh

At home, Hakam shares a room with his 12-year-old brother, Anas (left).  Due to the installation of a gate blocking vehicular access to the the Cremisan Monastery by Israeli authorities in May 2013, what was previously a two-kilometre journey has now become nearly seven kilometres. As a result, Anas, who attends school at the Monastery, has had to make adjustments to his routine like the rest of his family. “It used to take five minutes by car for my brother to reach school,” explains Hakam. “Now it is a 30-minute detour around the village.” Hakam and his brothers are not the only students affected by the occupation. Students living in the Seam Zone (areas between the Green Line and the Barrier) have to cross checkpoints on a daily basis, while schoolchildren in Bedouin communities must travel long distances to access their schools. Should they want to build schools in their communities, they face drastic restrictions due to their location in Area C. © 2015 UNRWA Photo by Isabel de la Cruz

In spite of the difficulties Hakam faces in his daily life, he still believes in getting an education and has plans to attend university to study law and become a lawyer. “I am so excited to go back to school,” he says. “I really like my school. The teachers are nice to me, and I have many friends there.”
© 2015 UNRWA Photo by Isabel de la Cruz

Hakam (right) is accompanied by his classmate and good friend Mohammed (left) on the short walk back home through the tunnel that will eventually form part of the West Bank Barrier. “Unfortunately, not many of my friends are comfortable with visiting my house,” says Hakam. “It was easier in the past, but I think it will get more difficult when the electronic gate is installed. I will have to cross this gate everyday on my way to school.” © 2015 UNRWA Photo by Isabel de la Cruz

Mohammed lives just a couple hundred metres down the road from Hakam and is one of the few friends who still visit him. Once the Barrier and electronic gate are in place, Mohammed’s visits will have to be coordinated with Israeli authorities. “Hakam is my best friend in school,” says Mohammed. “I am really worried that it will not be easy for me to keep visiting him at his house once the electronic gate is installed.” © 2015 UNRWA Photo by Isabel de la Cruz

The terrace of the family home overlooks the village lands that have been unilaterally declared within the Jerusalem Municipal Boundary, confiscated for illegal Israeli settlement expansion or declared a national park. Hakam’s father, Omar Hajajleh (centre), talks about the daily challenges faced by his family: “We constantly feel isolated because of the Barrier and the electronic gate that will soon be installed. We sometimes feel that our children do not have any hope. They do not show any optimism; we worry that they are sometimes depressed.” © 2015 UNRWA Photo by Isabel de la Cruz

Sitting on his family’s terrace, where the incessant noise of ongoing construction from the nearby Israeli settlement of Gilo can be heard, Hakam tries to stay in touch with the outside world by tapping into the free wireless signal he can pick up from across the valley.  It is a small benefit he gets from his life on the edge. © 2015 UNRWA Photo by Isabel de la Cruz

When asked about what he would like to be in the future, Hakam answers, “I want to continue my education. Education will enable me to go to university and become a lawyer to help my father protect our house and land.”  For many Palestine refugee students like Hakam, education is the only hope they have to overcome the challenges they face on a daily basis and achieve their dreams. © 2015 UNRWA Photo by Isabel de la Cruz