June 26, 2013
San Jose, CA 95124
Secretary John F. Kerry
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Secretary Kerry:
You have offered $4 billion to the Palestinians in investment to boost their economy. I was in Israel early this month, and Palestinians say that while the money might be nice, more important is to ease regulations and restrictions. Here is one example of an issue that needs your understanding and immediate intervention.
In 2009, a school was built of mud and tires in Al Khan Al-Ahmar, a Jahalin Bedouin encampment less than 10 miles from Jerusalem on the way to Jericho. The community received threats of demolition even while the school was being built, and a demolition order issued is still outstanding, while the Israeli military plan to forcibly move the entire encampment against their will. You must insist that there be no demolition or forced displacement at all. Israel has an obligation under international law to protect occupied populations and provide them with services and this is one instance of their not doing so.
Why was the primary school necessary? These Palestinian Bedouins are not Jerusalem residents, but refugees living under occupation. The closest school (for Palestinians – they are surrounded by Israeli settlements with many schools!) was in Jericho, 22 kilometers away. School bus service was non-existent and walking that distance each day is almost impossible, especially for little girls. Residents learned of an inexpensive way to build, out of mud clay and old tires, and received help from local organizations and European NGOs. I visited the encampment: the school buildings are bright and attractive, and Palestinian Authority teachers teach the 95 Bedouin children who attend school there.
Why would a demolition order be issued for a school? A permit had not been issued for the buildings – permits in Area C are virtually impossible for any Palestinian, but particularly for these Bedouin refugees who were displaced from the Negev desert in 1951 and live as UNRWA-registered refugees on Palestinian land not registered in their name – land claimed by the nearby settlers as “state land” but actually owned by Palestinians.
This community, and school, are part of the eastern Jerusalem periphery that has become strategically significant to the Israelis as part of the Greater Jerusalem/E1 Plan which targets this and other communities as “transfer sites” to allow major expansion of the Ma’ale Adumim settlement and its linkage to Jerusalem. This expansion would disrupt the territorial contiguity of the West Bank so that Palestinians on either side would need to travel impossibly long distances to reach each other, Jerusalem would be totally closed off on all sides for West Bank Palestinians, and, by being denied access to Jerusalem, the Palestinian economy would suffer a loss of 35% [NSU]. Thus my simple request to prevent demolition of a school serving 95 students escalates into the forefront of current Israeli policy.
I urge you to consider my request and make it a part of your plans for your next imminent trip to Israel.