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Environment

German-funded 'ghost hotel' helps Palestinians prepare for future

Palestinian youth learn how to cook and set dining room tables at a training hotel in East Jerusalem. Despite the region's checkered history, the school offers students a hint of hope.

Students at the Jerusalem Industrial Secondary School

Learning how to cook in East Jerusalem

Rami Mattour teaches the food-preparation basics to a group of about a dozen young boys in a restaurant kitchen.

"Don't ever mix up the dirty with the clean stuff," Mattour said. "We're preparing rice and beans with beef and tomato and maybe some salad."

Dressed in white shirts and black-and-white patterned aprons, the hotel management students cutting onions and boiling rice are Palestinians attending Jerusalem's Industrial Secondary School, where they learn to prepare meals, set a neat table and work the reception desk.

Palestinian spot in an Israeli industrial area

Deputy Head Wasfi Tamimi on his school's roof

The hotel's roof offers Tamimi a view of Jerusalem

Part of East Jerusalem's only Palestinian vocational school the training hotel is popular with its students. But there are no guests for the students to attend to in the large lounge with its shabby blue curtains or to speak with in the drafty corridors. The school's location, on the Israeli side of a border to the Palestinian territories means the students are left catering to each other.

The Industrial Secondary School, about the size of 20 football fields, sits within an Israeli industrial area. In addition to the "ghost hotel," it also offers courses for aspiring carpenters, upholsters and electricians.

The hotel was supposed to be a place of four-star comfort serving travelers at the nearby Atarot Airport, but just weeks after it opened in May 1967, the school fell victim to the Six-Day War, when East Jerusalem was seized from Jordanian control by Israeli soldiers.

Daily security struggle

While the school was allowed to resume its activity, the area surrounding it later became an industrial zone in the 1980s and the hotel stood empty until 1999, when it was turned into a training center. Some 40 percent of the school's 350 students live in the occupied territories of the West Bank and struggle daily with security checkpoints in order to attend class.

Training hotel in East Jerusalem

A victim of the Middle East conflict, the hotel was never opened to the public

"I need to wake up at 5 o'clock in the morning," said Anwar Badwan, one of the teachers at the school. "Before I woke up at 7:30 and was at work at 8 o'clock."

The West Bank lies on the other side of one of the biggest checkpoints outside Jerusalem and part of the Israeli separation barrier is also visible from the rooftop, where Wasfi Tamimi, the school's deputy director, said he looks out at the Palestinian villages and Jewish settlements that dot the landscape.

"You can see the Qualandia checkpoint, you can see what comes after Ramallah, you can see all of West Jerusalem," Wasfi Tamimi, the school's deputy director, said from the hotel's roof.

German help

The German Development Service (DED) has provided support for the training center since 2004. Today, two development workers are providing teacher training and counseling.

"I like to come here, but after finishing my degree, I am also looking forward to traveling outside this country to continue my education," said Raed Faran, a 15-year-old hotel management student.

Student Raed Faran on his way home from school

Most Industrial Secondary School's graduates find jobs

Between 75 percent and 90 percent of students graduate and around 80 percent of them find employment or move on to further education, according to the DED. As the Palestinian economy is made up of small businesses and there are few natural resources, education and schools like this one are assets for Palestinian society where more than a third of people are unemployed.

Since 2008, the Industrial Secondary School has been seeking Israeli Education Ministry approval for the degrees it grants. Success on that front would improve the options open to graduates. Tamimi said he would like to see the school's facilities used more efficiently to serve the local community. If his vision becomes reality, it would include using the training hotel as a guest house for visitors attending seminars or workshops at the school.

If this idea gains ground, the students could find themselves serving real guests rather than just one another.

Author: Annette Streicher / sms

Editor: Anke Rasper

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