Two new Palestinian schools in the occupied West Bank, which are funded by European governments, are under threat of destruction and seizure. An Israeli court has already ordered students not to attend class in one of them.
The schools in Wadi as Seeq and Al Muntar were built over the last year with European donor funding as humanitarian relief for Palestinian Bedouin communities struggling to access basic services. They serve displaced and refugee communities who have already suffered destruction of their property over many years.
The schools are now the subject of Israeli court proceedings that could lead to their destruction and seizure. The hearings are scheduled for 20 November and 10 December. The Norwegian Refugee Council’s (NRC) Information Counselling and Legal Aid Programme (ICLA) provides humanitarian legal assistance to represent the communities in court.
“Once again, Palestinian children are facing the traumatic prospect of turning up for school and finding that it no longer exists,” said the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Country Director in Palestine, Kate O’Rourke. “Once again we have to ask: Why are children being denied their fundamental right to education? This attack on schools is part of a wider drive to forcibly transfer Palestinian communities in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem to create space for illegal settlement expansion.”
Al Muntar’s school headmaster, Wisam Merei, said: “If the school is demolished, most of the children will drop out.”
A community representative and parent, Abu Hassan, confirmed these concerns: “They do not have any other place to study in our community. This school allows our children to study without having to leave our community and use risky roads close to the nearby settlement.”
Both donor-funded schools of Al Muntar and Wadi as-Seeq serve over 100 pupils. The Al Muntar school is expected to expand its intake in February 2018 and is a crucial basic service for the community as access the nearest primary school is severely impeded due to its proximity to the nearby settlement and lack of appropriate infrastructure.
The Wadi as Seeq school community has received 11 stop-work orders for their structures in the last nine years. Two structures were demolished in 2012 and 2014, and all mobile latrines provided by a local NGO in 2011 were confiscated by the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA). The ICA is now also attempting to seize the school from the community.
“We call on the governments and donors funding Palestinian children’s education to increase diplomatic pressure to prevent the demolition and seizure of school infrastructure, which is in violation of International Humanitarian Law (IHL), and all children’s basic right to education,” Ms. O’Rourke said. “The destruction of educational structures is not just a violation of international law, it also demonstrates contempt towards the international community’s provision of aid to the occupied Palestinian population, to ensure safe places for children to learn.”
Earlier this year, Israeli authorities destroyed and damaged three other schools in the West Bank funded by international assistance; just before children were due to go back to school after the summer break.
More than 60 schools in the West Bank are currently at risk of demolition and children in schools across the West Bank face attacks on their right to education. In the first half of 2017 alone, 93 education-related incidents affecting 13,906 students were documented in the West Bank, including incidents where tear gas canisters and sound bombs were fired at students on their way to or from school, the arrest of children from their classrooms and harassment at checkpoints.