Playtime’s over: Demolishing EU-funded playgrounds in the West Bank

By EA Noirin, Northern West Bank.

Our team of Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) recently visited two communities in the north west of occupied Palestine. They are among a number of villages which benefited from EU funding in 2015 for their children’s education and play but have had their projects demolished by the Israeli authorities in 2016.

In Zaatara village, south of Nablus, we met with a community whose playground was demolished in April this year. Families and children watched while their outdoor play facilities were bulldozed by the Israeli military with no prior notice, thus denying them opportunities to play and learn in the shaded playground. The playground was funded by the Belgian Government in the year 2015, costing a total of 54,000 Euro.

Zaatara village has a population of 100 people including 35 children. One of the village leaders, Jad Alla, told us that they were very pleased to have been granted funding for their beautiful playground. He said that the children and their families enjoyed the environment and the play equipment and that it being in the heart of the village was good. He described that the playground was a space for the whole village community to come together and in particular for the children to play, which is important for their development.

Zaatara playground before demolition [Photo:EAPPI/Noirin]

Zaatara playground before demolition [Photo:EAPPI/Jad]

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The playground after the demolition [Photo: EAPPI/Noirin]

According to Jad Alla the demolition left wires protruding from the ground and broken concrete exposed, something that has led to accidents with children receiving cuts and bruises when attempting to play in the demolished site.

EU sign-Zaatara playground [Photo:EAPPI/Noirin]

EU sign-Zaatara playground [Photo:EAPPI/Noirin]

Close to the fertile Jordan valley, subsistence farming families traditionally move from the village of Beit Furik to Khirbet Tana to graze and milk their sheep in the winter and spring months. While in Khirbet Tana, the children attend school, set up on a temporary basis during these months. When we visited the community they described how their homes and school had been demolished a number of times since the Israeli military had declared the area a ‘military firing zone’.  Twice in the past two years the EU funded school has been demolished, most recently in early 2016, which marked a sharp increase in the overall number of demolitions according to the UN.

Khirbet Tana school after demolition [Photo:EAPPI/Noirin]

Khirbet Tana school after demolition [Photo:EAPPI/Noirin]

All this is in clear violation of international law, including the Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention which prohibits an occupying power from destroying or confiscating the private property of the civilian population. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is also clear in enshrining children’s rights to education and play.    

EU sign for Khirbet Tana School [Photo:EAPPI/Noirin]

EU sign for Khirbet Tana School [Photo:EAPPI/Noirin]

So, the question is: How does the EU respond to these actions against EU funded humanitarian aid projects?   In June 2016, The Euro Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor reported that the Israeli Government has increased dramatically its demolitions of EU-funded projects with 120 demolitions being carried out in the first three months of 2016 alone.   

The report calls on EU and UN member states to investigate, report and clarify their position with the Israeli government and to demand compensation from them. It also calls for the implementation of an active EU policy on the occupied Palestinian Territories (oPt).

The EAs who witnessed these demolitions urge the EU member states to take on board the recommendations outlined in the report. As EAs we believe that Palestinian children deserve their rights to education and play as defined in the UNCRC. We hope that they will continue to benefit from EU funding for projects so that they may enjoy a happy healthy childhood in their homeland.