[ Ed. note – A few days ago I put up a post about the destruction of a kindergarten in a Bedouin village in the West Bank just east of Jerusalem. Israeli authorities went there on Monday of this week and tore down a small building of wood and metal that had been intended to serve as a schoolroom for some 25 children ages four to six. Now comes a new outrage.
On the very next day, after obliterating the kindergarten, Israeli soldiers went to another village in roughly the same area, the Palestinian village of Jubbet al-Dib, which lies near Bethlehem. Here they seized mobile classrooms that had been set up to serve as an elementary school. The facility was to have accommodated 64 students at the first through fourth grade levels, but the classrooms were hauled away on trucks. This took place on Tuesday, August 22–one day before the new school year was set to begin.
In my imagination I can almost see the Israeli soldiers having a nice chuckle about it all as they drive away from Jubbet al-Dib with the mobile classrooms loaded on the backs of their vehicles. Does that sound a bit overly cynical? Perhaps. But it does seem as if the Israelis are making a concerted effort now to block Palestinian children from getting an education–and I’m not the only one saying that. As you will see from reading the articles I’m posting below, others have reached similar conclusions. A Norwegian NGO, for instance, calls the theft of the classrooms part of “a wider attack on education in Palestine.”
The official excuse given by authorities is that the schools lacked permits. But of course in apartheid Israel the permit-issuing process is presumably controlled entirely by Jews.
“Just when they were due to return to the classroom, Palestinian children are discovering that their schools are being destroyed,” said Hanibal Abiy Worku, a spokesperson for the Norwegian Refugee Council, the above-mentioned NGO.
According to a statement put out by the group, some 55 schools in the West Bank are threatened with demolition and stop work orders. Were things ever this bad in the Jim Crow south? ]
Israel Seizes Mobile Classrooms in Palestinian Village the Day Before School
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — Days after residents in an isolated Bethlehem-area village received stop-work orders for mobile homes being set up as a school — structures for which locals insisted they had obtained the necessary permits — Israeli forces reportedly raided the village Tuesday and seized the classrooms.
The raid into Jubbet al-Dib came a day before the first day of the school year, leaving some 64 students from the 1st to 4th grade without a school to attend on Wednesday, Palestinian Authority-owned Wafa news agency reported.
Wafa quoted local activist Hasan Breijieh as saying that Israeli forces hauled the mobile classrooms on trucks and took them away under the pretext they were established without Israeli permission.
Locals reportedly attempted to block the confiscation of the classrooms, which Breijieh reiterated were licensed. Israeli soldiers fired tear gas canisters and rubber-coated steel bullets at the residents to disperse them, without causing any injury, according to Wafa.
Sami Marwa, director of the education department in Bethlehem, told the news agency that the school was set up to serve several small communities in the area, and had enrolled 64 students.
He said teachers and staff had been preparing for the first day of school since Sunday. The school consisted of eight mobile homes, Brejiyeh told Ma’an when the stop-work orders were delivered, when Israeli forces also confiscated vehicles donated by an Italian NGO.
After the classrooms were hauled away, the Palestinian Ministry of Education started seeking an alternative school for the children to attend, Wafa said.
The Norwegian Refugee Council released a statement later Wednesday condemning Israel for the confiscation as part of “a wider attack on education in Palestine.”
NRC Policy Manager Itay Epshtain, who visited Jubbet al-Dhib this morning, was quoted in the statement as saying, “It was heart breaking to see children and their teachers turning up for their first day of school under the blazing sun, with no classrooms or anywhere to seek shelter in, while in the immediate vicinity the work to expand illegal settlements goes on uninterrupted.”
According to NRC, some 55 schools in the occupied West Bank are threatened with demolition and stop-work orders by Israeli authorities, many of them built with funding from the European Union states and other donors.
“In the first three months of this year there were 24 cases of direct attacks against schools, including incidents where tear gas canisters and sound bombs were fired at students on their way to or from school. Last year, four communities’ educational facilities were demolished or confiscated and 256 education-related violations were documented in the West Bank, affecting over 29,000 students,” NRC’s statement said.
“Just when they were due to return to the classroom, Palestinian children are discovering that their schools are being destroyed,” NRC Country Director for Palestine, Hanibal Abiy Worku, said. “What threat do these schools pose to the Israeli authorities? What are they planning to achieve by denying thousands of children their fundamental right to education?”
“We call on the governments and donors funding Palestinian children’s education to exercise all of their influence to prevent this violation in all its forms,” Abiy Worku said. “The destruction of educational structures funded by European money is not just a violation of international law. It is also a slap in the face to the international community providing aid to the occupied Palestinian population in a bid to ensure safe places of learning for children.”
Israeli rights group B’Tselem also condemned the demolition in a statement, saying that the move “epitomizes the administrative cruelty and systematic harassment by authorities designed to drive Palestinians from their land.”
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Israeli civil administration contested last Thursday that the structures had not received the necessary permits, and that the construction was “illegal.”
When a spokesperson was contacted again for comment on Wednesday following the confiscation and repeated claims from locals that the structures were licensed, they said that the building was “a blunt violation of stop work orders” and had not received permits. “Therefore, the confiscation was carried out in accordance to the Civil Administrations authorities.”
Palestinians living in Area C — the more than 60 percent of the West Bank under full Israeli military control — must apply for construction permits with the Israeli civil administration for any kind of development on their lands. However, oftentimes these requests are denied and the application process can be lengthy and expensive.
Israeli forces confiscated solar panels in Jubbet al-Dhib last month that were installed last year with funding from the Dutch government, under the pretext that they were built without permits.
Rights groups have highlighted that Israel’s permit system in Area C has served to limit Palestinian construction in Israeli-controlled areas of the Palestinian territory, where the land is reoriented for the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements or for other purposes serving the Israeli government or settlers.
Some 150 Palestinians reside in Jubbet al-Dhib, which is neighbored by the illegal Noqedim settlement — home to Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman — as well as the illegal El David settlement. In addition a number of Israeli outposts, that, despite being illegal even under Israeli domestic law, are connected to the power grid and other infrastructure.
Meanwhile, approximately 1.25 million schoolchildren started the new school year in the occupied West Bank and besieged Gaza Strip after the summer holiday ended.
The incident in Jubbet al-Dhib came amid a series of obstacles facing Palestinians on the occasion of the first day of school.
Another school, a kindergarten, was demolished in the Bedouin community of Jabal al-Baba on August 21.
Israeli police stationed in the Old City of occupied East Jerusalem prevented 100 textbooks being delivered to schools located inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, the mayor of Hebron was verbally assaulted and threatened by Israeli settlers, as the mayor attempted to visit schools inside the Old City to inaugurate the first day of school. He was eventually evacuated from the area by Israeli soldiers.
‘We Came to School and Found the School Destroyed’
BETHLEHEM, West Bank — Israeli military jeeps came barreling down towards Jubbet al-Dhib’s first and only primary school late Tuesday night, terrifying locals who had been finishing preparations for the school’s grand opening set for the next morning. Soldiers shot tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets as they cleared the way for bulldozers and flatbed trucks brought in to take the school.
The school, located between four Palestinian villages on the outskirts of Bethlehem, was built with caravans on a concrete foundation by local authorities and international NGOs partnered with the European Union, hoping to mitigate the myriad of challenges facing students in the area.
Israeli soldiers quickly cleared the area with crowd control weapons, and within an hour of the soldier’s arrival the caravans had been loaded up and taken away along with the tables, desks, construction equipment and everything else other than the concrete foundation, bathrooms and tiny chairs brought for the seven-to-nine-year-olds that were expected to attend their first day of school the next morning.
The only other school in the area, Hateen Primary and Secondary School for Boys and Girls, located in the middle of Ta’amra village on the outskirts of Bethlehem city, is actually a shoddily refurbished home rented by the Palestinian Authority to serve the children of four local villages.
The landlord lives in a home on the upper floor.
If it was not for the faded cartoon paintings etched along the wall of Hateen School, one might think they were passing a car garage instead of the main educational institution in the area. The front of the school opens to three large garage-like doors. Each door takes up an entire wall of each room, leaving the children’s cramped classrooms exposed to the main street some meters away.
In the first room boys and girls sat nearly shoulder-to-shoulder on their very first day of kindergarten. These children live closest to the school, so they were given priority to attend class there. The rest of the children from the surrounding villages have to travel from up to six miles away.
There are no school buses and many people living in the rural village, not connected to electric grids or water mains, have no means of transportation and little money to afford daily trips to and from the school — leaving most of the children with no other choice but to walk.
The classrooms are not anywhere near large enough to hold the students it serves, which is only a small fraction of the children in the community.
Standing inside one of the classrooms in the basement of the home-turned-school, the principal, Nesreen Duwayb, explained that twenty students were supposed to be taught in the tiny room.
“It’s too hard to study in this kind of room, it makes it so the students aren’t able to focus very well, because look at the conditions,” she said, motioning to the small room around her, whose peeling walls were decorated from floor to ceiling in art and projects made by the children — an attempt to brighten the dreary room.
The new school, which would have served more than 60 children, was built to help relieve the situation for the students, but while the old school is located in Area B under joint Palestinian-Israeli control, the new school was located in Area C, which falls under full-Israeli control.
Any construction in Area C, which comprises more than 60 percent of the West Bank, requires a building permit, 98.5 percent of which are denied.
The European Union and the Palestinian Authority had hoped to get the school approved retroactively, as the two bodies have been pressuring Israeli authorities to approve a “master plan” for the villages, which would also allow them to be hooked up to electricity grids, water mains, garbage facilities and more.
A Palestinian employee with one of the NGOs involved in the project, who asked to remain anonymous, told Mondoweiss that building the school in Area C was a calculated plan.
“We are persuading the planning regime,” the employee explained, referring to the pressure put on Israel to approve the master plan. “We can’t leave Area C, this is the PA and EU’s policy, otherwise it’ll be confiscated later for settlement expansion. Having a school in Area C is a way further to support a master plan and to convince the community not to leave.”
A spokesperson with Israel’s Coordination for Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the body charged with administering the occupied West Bank, said the school was confiscated after stop-work orders were issued days previously, however local activists said stop-work orders were only issued to the concrete bathrooms built next to the caravans. The bathrooms were left, while the caravans were confiscated.
The morning after the confiscation, the children still came. All 64 students who expected to start class at their new school gathered on the barren concrete foundation as part of a symbolic protest.
The children sang the national anthem to politicians, activists, parents and teachers before receiving brand new backpacks to take home with them.
For their second day of school, some of the children will return to the dilapidated school in the village, while most will continue taking the long walk to schools in other areas, where they are treated differently and made fun of, both for being from a rural area and for often showing up late in sweaty, dirty clothes from the long walk.
While very young, the children told Mondoweiss they understood very well what was happening around them.
“We came to school and found the school destroyed,” one young boy said. “It is the first day of school and we are just sad because the soldiers took our school, but we want to build it again and study here, we hope.”
EU, in Response to Israeli Demolition of Schools, Says Every Child Has a Right to Education
JERUSALEM, August 24, 2017 (WAFA)- The European Union (EU) Representative and the EU Heads of Mission in Jerusalem and Ramallah Thursday expressed strong concern over recent Israeli demolition of Palestinian schools stressing that every child has a right to education.
“The EU missions in Jerusalem and Ramallah express strong concern about the recent confiscations of Palestinian school structures undertaken by Israel in Bedouin communities in the occupied West Bank,” the missions said in a statement. “Solar panels in Abu Nuwar and a kindergarten in Jabal el Baba have been confiscated, and an elementary school in the village of Jub al-Deeb close to Bethlehem has been dismantled, just at the start of the new school year.”
They said: “Every child has the right to safe access to education and States have an obligation to protect, respect and fulfil this right, by ensuring that schools are inviolable safe spaces for children.”
The missions called on Israel “to halt demolitions and confiscations of Palestinian houses and property in accordance with its obligations as an occupying power under international humanitarian law, and to cease the policy of settlement construction and expansion, of designating land for exclusive Israeli use and of denying Palestinian development.”
They also called on Israel to return the confiscated equipment and structures.