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Watch: West Bank escort program shatters long-held perceptions

22:22 Jul 10 2011 31.4,35.15

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Date: Sun. Jul. 10 2011 10:22 PM ET

Every day for the last seven years, a group of Israeli soldiers in the West Bank have discreetly followed marching orders that fly in the face of the nation's long-standing conflict with Palestinians.

With guns in tow, a team of Israeli Defense League soldiers in the restive village of Al Twani spends one hour every day escorting a group of Palestinian children to and from school.

The intent is to protect the children from right-wing Jewish settlers in Ma'on, a community that sits along the children's route to school.

In the absence of the soldiers, some of the Palestinian children report being harassed by hard-line settlers.

"They attacked me with stones," Delal Assad-Ali told CTV. "They broke my hand."

At school, teachers say that the children who pass by the settlement on their way to school are reserved and isolated -- often only drawing in black ink.

According to one of the settlers, there have been proposals to prevent the Palestinian children from walking past the settlement, but nothing has been done yet.

In an area that's seen a sharp rise in clashes between Jewish settlers and Palestinians, the IDF escort program is a little-known tradition that puts many young minds at ease.

"We feel really happy to hide behind the soldiers," one young boy told CTV. "There is relief when they arrive."

The boy's relief bears a strong contrast to the long-held Palestinian perception of the army as a symbol of occupation and oppression.

But the children aren't the only ones who gain something from the program, says activist Joe Yoder.

"When the soldiers are doing their job well and when they are friendly towards the kids I would say that they're more receptive to seeing the Palestinians as human beings," he told CTV.

With a report from CTV Middle East Bureau Chief Martin Seemungal
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