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In West Bank, corruption-busting teenagers shake up local government

While Israeli-Palestinian talks aim for Palestinian statehood, a devoted band of educators is grooming the rising generation to be citizens of a vibrant democracy.

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Refaat Sabaah saw an opportunity to help teachers address such tensions through civil education, and founded the Teacher Creativity Center in the 1990s. It has worked with the Palestinian Authority's Ministry of Education for a decade.

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Educators, once resistant, now laud initiative

TCC held a five-day workshop in January to introduce the social-audit program, the one Fatmeh took part in. But teachers were convinced that local officials – not to mention parents – would oppose the idea, says TCC coordinator Fadel Suleiman.

"They said, 'It's not our duty. Don't put us in this situation,' " he recalls. But by the end of the workshop, the teachers had shifted. Upon returning home, they managed to win over parents, if not administrators. "I was against [my students] being monitors, lawyers, arbitrators," recalls Abla al-Akhdar, Fatmeh's headmistress. "The mayor didn't want us to check anything, but our teachers and students insisted.... Thank God, we succeeded."

Many educators at the culminating conference in Ramallah echoed Ms. Akhdar's sentiments.

"This is an unprecedented approach to providing liberal thinking to our students," says Um Mohammed, a headmistress from Deir Ghusun, who boasted that her team had uncovered many illegal procedures. "Here we have female students using words like 'tenders, contracts, projects' – words they didn't know before. Suddenly our students are reading the laws, analyzing the laws, [enforcing] compliance of the laws."

'We discovered a bribe of 28,000 shekels'

Students also took pride in their participation, which was based on a competitive selection process at each school.

"We discovered a bribe of 28,000 shekels [$7,000]" in Yabad municipality, says Ahmed Atatara from Jenin, while checking his Facebook page. "Everybody now is jealous, everybody wants to be asking questions like us."

Now there will be an additional computer for him and his teammates to use, because they were one of three teams to win a PC and printer in recognition of their affect on the Jenin community.

"We provided like a [warning] siren for [those in power], like, 'We are watching you,' " says Ahmed's principal, Mohamed Saadeh.

The project's future is subject to funding. This year TIRI, a London-based NGO dedicated to "making integrity work," gave $50,000.

Despite uncertainty and the resistance encountered by most of the teams, those involved vowed to press on.

"Shall we stop all our work just because people at the top are not responding to our recommendations? No. All these challenges should push us to do more," says Mr. Suleiman, reminding the group that students like Ahmed and Fatmeh were learning to become leaders themselves. "In 10 years, they'll be in those positions."