By EA Rebecca, in Southern West Bank
21 February 2016. The Palestinian village of Abu Nuwar (east of Jerusalem). 12 Midnight.
150 Israeli military, police and civic administration arrive at the village with 3 bulldozers, one truck and 40 construction workers to ‘confiscate’ the community’s newly built school. 2 Palestinian community leaders protest, and are temporarily detained by the Israeli army. The job takes until 2.30am, after which all that remains of the new building is the concrete foundations.
The above was reported to the Jerusalem team of EAs by head of the community Abu Imad Bseisat when we arrived later the same day. We had been present only the day before, as Abu was fearful that the school was going to be demolished – fears that proved founded.
“We had moved the chairs and tables into the new school, so they took those as well,” he added, “now we don’t even have chairs and tables for the old school”.The village of Abu Nuwar is positioned high on a hill, sandwiched between two Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law (as set out in Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits an occupying power from deporting or transferring parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies), with spectacular views across the mountains beyond and valley below. The people who call this village home are Bedouin – ‘desert dwellers’ in Arabic. While historically these are a semi-nomadic people who have survived by herding goats and camels, they have been refugees since leaving southern Israel during the Israeli-Arab war in 1948.
The new building was funded by the French government, and designed to increase the capacity of the existing school and kindergarten (currently big enough for 70 children), allowing for a third school year to be added. Currently the community can only educate children for the first two years of their schooling, after which they have to make lengthy trips to nearby towns. Mohammed, a teenager from the village, told us that he walks for 4km to a local town to get to school, which takes him about an hour.Attalah, a Bedouin community leader from Jabal Al Baba village (located just across from Abu Nuwar), told us that “the children were very happy, the school was built when they went to sleep. They woke up, and it was a nightmare. What can we answer when the children ask ‘who stole our school?’?”
Many Palestinian structures, from animal shelters to homes, are demolished because they lack a building permit. Permit applications are almost universally rejected. Abu Nuwar is in Area C: a zone that covers over 60% of the West Bank, where Israel has full civic and military control. In Area C, there was a 1.5% approval rate for permit applications between 2010 and 2014 . This low approval rate, combined with a great need for new structures, means that many Palestinians choose to build without a permit and risk demolitions.
This demolition was not an isolated incident, but part of the Israeli government’s development plans for the E1 area. The Israeli government has designated this land for a combination of nature reserves, military areas and settlement expansion (including Ma’ale Adumin, the settlement visible from Abu Nuwar), and plans to forcibly relocate Palestinians living in this area. Residents of Abu Nuwar are designated to be re-located to the Al Jabal transfer site – a crowded plot of land next to a rubbish dump where, according to B’tselem, an Israeli peace organisation, 190 families have already been transferred.
If these plans come to fruition, it would create a settlement block across the narrowest part of the West Bank, dividing the north form the south, and cutting off East Jerusalem from the rest of occupied Palestine. This is of grave concern, as it would deal a significant blow to the ever diminishing integrity of Palestinian land in the West Bank – some say it would mean the end of the already precarious possibility of a two-state solution.
The resilience of a handful of small, unrecognised communities including Abu Nuwar are preserving the hope of a two state solution – perhaps little consolation for the children of the village, who are still being denied proper access to education.
Write to your elected representatives to ask them to do everything within their power to ensure Palestinian children have immediate and unhindered access to education. You can use or adapt this letter (why not replace the last sentence of paragraph four with something about Abu Nuwar’s confiscated school?).