Dozens of Palestinian children were due to begin classes in Jubbet al-Dib, a village near Bethlehem, last week.
But on the evening of 22 August, Israeli occupation forces destroyed their new school.
It consisted of six prefabricated buildings largely funded by the European Union and several of its governments.
During the five-hour assault in Jubbet al-Dib, Israeli forces declared the area a closed military zone and used stun grenades, tear gas and rubber-coated metal bullets to keep residents away as they dismantled and confiscated the buildings.
“It was heartbreaking 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,” Itay Epshtain of the Norwegian Refugee Council said after visiting the village.
“The demolition of a school building the night before the start of the year epitomizes the administrative cruelty and systematic harassment by authorities designed to drive Palestinians from their land,” the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem stated.
An EU spokesperson told The Electronic Intifada on Monday that the value of the buildings and equipment seized by Israeli forces in Jubbet al-Dib and earlier in the Abu Nuwwar community is $37,000 – and that they were paid for jointly by the EU, Belgium, Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Spain and Sweden.
Earlier in August, Israeli forces confiscated solar panels that provided electricity to the kindergarten of the Abu Nuwwar community, located in the so-called E-1 area of the occupied West Bank, where Israel plans to expand its mega-settlement of Maaleh Adumim.
Weak EU response
In a weakly worded statement last week, the European Union expressed its “strong concern” – not even “condemnation” – about this and other demolitions.
The statement neglected even to mention that the buildings were funded by European taxpayers.
The EU did, however, mention Israel’s policy of “designating land for exclusive Israeli use and of denying Palestinian development” – an indirect acknowledgement of what others have more forthrightly and accurately labeled apartheid.
Yet on Monday, the EU confirmed that it is content to let the destruction pass without any tangible action to hold Israel accountable.
Asked what the EU planned to do to seek restitution and accountability from Israel, the spokesperson said: “The EU has raised these matters publicly and also privately in its dialogue with the Israeli authorities.”
That’s diplomatic speak for: we’ve done all we’re going to do, which amounts to nothing.
Spate of attacks
The demolition in Jubbet al-Dib was one of several recent Israeli attacks on Palestinian schools.
On 21 August, occupation forces raided the Palestinian Bedouin community of Jabal al-Baba near the Jerusalem-area village of al-Eizariya and demolished a prefab building that was to serve as a kindergarten for about 25 local children who have no other school.
According to B’Tselem, Israeli forces took the desks, chairs and blackboard – equipment valued at about $2,800, a large sum for a community with so little.
“The latest spate of school demolitions and confiscations in the West Bank forms part of a wider attack on education in Palestine,” the Norwegian Refugee Council noted.
According to the agency, about 55 schools in the West Bank are currently threatened with demolition or so-called “stop work” orders by occupation forces.
Many are located in Area C, the roughly 60 percent of the West Bank under full Israeli military control under the Oslo accords signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in the early 1990s.
Many of these schools are donor-funded, including by European Union governments.
“Israel denies the majority of Palestinian planning permit requests in Area C, thereby leaving Palestinians with no option but to reconstruct and develop without permits, while Israeli settlements – established in violation of international law – continue to expand,” the Norwegian Refugee Council stated.
Israel’s destruction of Palestinian infrastructure funded by international donors is relentless and systematic.
In recent years, Israel has destroyed at least $74 million worth of EU-funded projects, including schools, playgrounds and agricultural initiatives.
Analysts have suggested that EU officials have downplayed the full extent of Israel’s destruction in order to avoid embarrassment.
Last year, the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz reported that there was mounting pressure from European Parliament members on EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini to confront Israel more forcefully over the matter.
But instead, the EU appears to be intensifying its unconditional support for Israel. A high-level official recently pledged EU support for Israel’s efforts to silence criticism of its policies, under the guise of fighting anti-Semitism.
EU officials also continue to smear the nonviolent boycott, divestment and sanctions movement with claims that the EU cannot substantiate that BDS activities have led to a rise in anti-Semitic incidents.
In July, Israel confiscated solar and diesel electricity generating equipment in Jubbet al-Dib donated by the Netherlands and valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The Dutch government sent Israel a letter protesting the move, saying it was “currently assessing what next steps can be taken.”
Haaretz reported that “these softly worded statements cover the anger brewing in the government of the Netherlands, a close friend of Israel’s, at the damage to the humanitarian project.”
And in the wake of the demolition in Jubbet al-Dib this month, the Belgian government let its anger be known.
“These new demolitions and seizures of essential infrastructure are unacceptable,” the country’s foreign minister Didier Reynders and development minister Alexander De Croo said in a joint statement.
“By undermining such humanitarian projects, Israel contravenes its international obligations as an occupying power, in particular the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War,” the Belgian government added.
Strong words indeed, but followed by soothing reassurances to Israel that it need fear no consequences.
“Explanations as well as compensation will be demanded from the Israeli government,” the ministers said. “Belgium is not the only international donor affected by this kind of destruction. It will continue to work together with its partners, as in the past, to ask the Israeli authorities to end these demolitions.”
There is no hint of what Belgium might do if Israel ignores its polite requests, but if the past is a guide, it will – like the EU – do absolutely nothing.
Slap us again
“The destruction of educational structures funded by European money is not just a violation of international law,” said the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Palestine director Hanibal Abiy Worku. “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.”
With their inaction, the EU and its member governments are once again sending Israel a very clear message: please slap us and our taxpaying citizens again, and keep on destroying the schools and lives of Palestinians.