Back to overview

Ismail Mukbil: A life story of patience and hope

Contributed by Arab Educational Institute on 12.05.2006:

Ismail Mukbil


Ismail Mukbil was principal of the UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Work Agency) Boys School in Hebron and is now principal of the UNRWA boys school in Beit Jala/Aida camp. He lives in Al-Arroub Camp north of Hebron.

“I am a school principal at an UNRWA school in downtown Hebron. During the Al-Aqsa Intifadah, my school was closed, and my students were obliged to go to another school outside Hebron. Many of them were in fact unable to attend classes, due to the curfew in Hebron and the many problems in traveling.

I was born to a simple Palestinian family of six boys and one girl. My father worked hard to raise us in spite of his old age. He worked in menial jobs that mostly depended on muscles. When I was six year, he was in his sixties and my mother in her forties. His sole aim and hope was to once see his sons and daughter in good and dignified jobs. He did his best to give us the opportunity to complete our university studies. When I was a grown-up child of fourteen, I remembered him saying: “My son, study hard to be a teacher so as to get rid of all the hardships that I faced during my life.” It was the aim of every Palestinian refugee to have well-educated sons and daughters since they lacked the land to earn a living. I never forget what happened when I was at secondary school in Hebron. The students of my age wanted to become friends with me, but as soon as they heard that I was a refugee they stopped trying. Once a good student from Hebron wanted to become friends since I was also a very good student and known for my quietness and politeness. However, when he asked me where I came from and I told him that I was from Al-Arroub refugee camp, his face turned red and he managed with difficulty to continue talking to me although he clearly preferred not to do so. Most people in Palestine consider Palestinian refugees – especially the ones who live in camps – as of lower standing and class.

The student’s behaviour aroused something within myself. I decided to prove myself despite the bitter circumstances. I wanted to complete my secondary school although I had not enough money to even take a taxi. During some days of the week I walked the three kilometers to the school. When other students asked me why I walked, my reply was that I preferred to read some class topics while walking. My parents tried to give me the best they had. In 1970 I joined the tawjihi, the last class in the secondary cycle. I worked hard so as to get a high average. I was able to join the Teacher’s College in Ramallah. My father, who was very ill at the time, was happy to see me coming back from the college. Each time I shook hands with him, hugged him and kissed him. I know from the expressions of his face and his unseen smile – he was completely paralyzed – that the aim of his life was fulfilled. I wanted to help him and support the family.

From that time on I learned the lesson that one needs to give more than to take, to help deprived people and to raise children the way that my father dreamed of. The people of my camp are simple, poor, and with a good heart. They need somebody to support them, to help them overcoming their problems and bad conditions, mainly at times of crisis. They are deprived of many things, of freedom, humanity, social care, health care and all the necessary things that many people inside and outside Palestine have. The only thing I can give to support them is education. I help many students in my camp in different subjects and encourage them to complete their study. My advice to them is to be patient since patience bears fruitful results for those who believe in it.

A coincidence is better than a hundred appointments (Arabic proverb)

It was on Ramadan 1992 when my family and I were invited by my brother to share the Iftar meal, a special meal for Moslems that is eaten after sunset. At noon on the tenth of Ramadan we left Al-Arroub camp for Jerusalem where my brother and his family live. Relatives, friends and neighbours enjoyed a special meal together. As we had school the next day, we decided to travel back home at midnight. My brother drove us back in his yellow [Israeli-]plated van. When we were about one km from Al-Arroub camp, we saw a car driver along the road who waved at us. He did not speak Arabic so my brother, who knows Hebrew fluently, asked what he needed. Initially the stranger was very frightened when he learned that we were Palestinians. My brother reassured him and told him that we were ready to help him. My brother said to me that he was an Israeli from West-Jerusalem who was on his way back from a wedding party in Harsina (a settlement inside Hebron city). His car had broken down, and he was looking for a mechanic. He worked as an engineer at Jerusalem Municipality.

My brother and I left to find help in Al-Arroub camp. We told a mechanic about the Israeli engineer and his car. The mechanic was willing to accompany us and fix the car although it was late in the night. He took all the tools and equipment needed and came to the place where the man was waiting. After the car was fixed, the man was pleased and gave the mechanic some money which was refused. The Israeli thanked all of us and urged us to visit him in the coming days. The event passed and became history.

In summer 1999, history came back. While my daughter took part in a Seeds of Peace summer camp in Maine in the United States, she became a close friend of an Israeli girl who supported the Palestinians and peace. One day while my daughter called us, the Israeli girl told my daughter that she was familiar with the phone number. Her family turned out to be that of the man from Jerusalem. He called us and our relationship came alive again. They expressed their sadness to what is going on now and opposed the oppression and suffering of the Palestinians. We started to exchange visits and phone calls but everything stopped after the Al-Aqsa Intifadah. Still my family and I respect the Israeli family who are full of humanity and against what is happening now to the Palestinians. We are praying to see peace spread all over the Holy Land, the land of the holy religions and the holy places.

Never give up hope

Rami is a thirteen-year old smart boy, whose behaviour says more than a thousand words. He is very clever but shy. Before the mid-term exams, Rami was absent. As school principal, I investigated the reasons for his absence since he was not ill and he had not asked permission for a school leave. To my astonishment, one of his friends told me that he had seen him at a bakery near his house.

The next day, I decided to visit him at the bakery. It was sad to see Rami in his poor clothes helping a baker in his job. I asked the baker whether I could speak with him for a few minutes. After a moment of hesitation, he agreed and asked Rami to bring two wooden chairs and to attend for the tea. After I introduced myself, he told me that Rami’s father had disappeared and that nobody knew his fate. He was a man who was often drunk. Because of that his wife had left him, together with Rami’s grandmother, and the wife had married an uncle. After the grandmother died, Rami was forced to leave school so as to earn a living. The baker sympathized with Rami and gave him work and a place at the bakery to sleep. I thanked the baker for the tea and his explanation, and he agreed to let me with Rami alone for a while. Rami started to weep in front of my eyes. I felt very sorry for what happened to him, and assured him that his teachers and I would provide him with the money and all what he needed. He agreed to come if his mother also agreed. I invited his mother to come to school and asked her to help us to solve Rami’s problem. She supported Rami and us and she told us that she was afraid that her husband would prevent her from taking care of Rami. She told us that most of Rami’s cousins were uneducated people. Although they were of school age, they all earned a living by carrying things at the vegetable market.

We – I as principal, the school counselor and the teachers of Rami – did our best, and Rami joined school for a few weeks. He then disappeared again. He rented a cart to work with vendors. I decided to see him personally again, and ran into him in the vegetable market while he pushed a cart full of fruit and vegetable boxes. When he saw me he almost fainted but I smiled at him. He promised to visit me at school after class time, so that there would be no students and teachers. He kept his promise and visited me in May 2000. He told many sad stories about himself, his family and relatives. I suggested him to join a school for orphans, which is in fact one of the best schools in Hebron. He agreed after some hesitation and I assured him that I would do my best to support him. He accompanied me to the new school where he found food and a dwelling place together with his classmates whose lives were not better than his. I promised to visit him from time to time and to keep contact with his new principal and teachers.

Now Rami is a different student. He is a good friend of most of his classmates. His teachers and principal support and respect him. Rami became like a cousellor to his cousins and he advised them to go back to school again. I am happy to help Rami and save him from the negative influences from his environment. As a school principal, I face many cases like Rami’s, sometimes more complicated, sometimes less. My school is in an area of Hebron which is deprived of many things, including educational opportunities, health care, and social services. My teachers and I try to lessen the burden on the shoulders of these deprived children.”




Scenes from Palestinian Life During the Al-Aqsa Intifadah


Publication of the Arab Educational Institute, Bethlehem, Palestine

April, 2001

There are no comments. Add one!