“We cannot guarantee anything to pass on to our children except an education, and even that is not always possible”

By former EA Lucy.

A new school in the South Hebron Hills that was having its final coat of paint and last check done before opening was confiscated by Israeli military contractors.

An image of the newly built school prior to the confiscation. Credit: Machsom Watch

At 05.00hrs December 5th2018 a newly built six-roomed school was sawn apart. Panel by panel, block by block it was de-constructed and loaded onto transporters. Water tanks, windows, roof sections were taken away. Only the metal uprights were left sticking up from the concrete like bones of a body. By 08.45 the school had gone.

Pupils looking at the remains of their new school. EAPPI/EA Lucy

The school was in Area C of the West Bank, where planning regulations and many other aspects of life are under Israeli control.

As Human Rights Watch explains, “Israel justifies its demolition of schools and other Palestinian property [in Area C] not on security grounds, but rather on the grounds that they were built without permits from the military. However, the military refuses the vast majority of Palestinian building requests, and has zoned only 1 percent of Area C for Palestinian building, even as construction proceeds with few constraints in nearby Jewish settlements.”

48 children were enrolled to attend the school. These children will now have a long walk to reach school in a neigbouring town, crossing a dangerous fast section of road.  Two weeks prior to the confiscation of the school, an elderly man was hit by a car on the road and suffered multiple injuries including a fractured pelvis.

On the morning of the confiscation a large crowd of local Palestinians gathered peacefully.  Two women from “Machsom Watch”, an Israeli NGO, were also there.  Once the army and contractors carrying out the demolition had left, Palestinian flags were unfurled and Palestinian TV crews started interviewing people affected by the morning’s confiscation.  There was an air of frustration and powerlessness but mainly sadness.  A group of parents said “We cannot guarantee anything to pass on to our children except an education, and even that is not always possible.”

Under Article 50 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Israel as the occupying power is responsible for facilitating education in the territory it is occupying. Yet UNOCHA reports that incidents disrupting schools in the West Bank are rising and 48 schools in Area C are at risk of demolition.

Classes continue in a large tent. EAPPI/EA Lucy

When we visited the site 24 hours later the school was operating in a large tent, with local people providing a continuous presence to support the teachers, pupils and parents.

Throughout the previous night there had been hourly visits by a military vehicle checking on the site. A few days later, we heard that the large tent had also been taken away by the Israeli military.

A week later we visited and saw that 3 small tents that had been donated, with two classes being held in each tent. Each evening the tents were put away and each morning they were re-assembled.  There was no toilet. Two of the teachers are pregnant. After our visit, we heard from a local contact that a camping toilet had been donated. But a few days later we heard that the three tents and toilet were removed by the Israeli military.

Three tents erected to replace school, though these were confiscated shortly after.

On January 23rd 2019 it is the first day back to school after the holidays. The school has been temporarily moved to a small community building higher up the hill.  Half the building has been subdivided into 3 tiny class-rooms. A portable toilet will be available the following week.  Plans are already being organised for the re-building of the school later in the spring.

As Bill Van Esveld, senior children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, says, “Israeli officials should be on notice that razing dozens of Palestinian schools not only can block children from getting an education, but may be an international crime. As part of their efforts to support Palestinian schools, other countries should demand that those destroying schools should be held to account.”

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