A Palestinian primary school built with European donor funding is facing the threat of demolition by Israeli authorities in the coming days, after the Israeli High Court of Justice dismissed a petition to safeguard it, aid agencies Action Against Hunger, Norwegian Refugee Council and Save the Children warned today.
The school is the only one serving the Bedouin community of Al Muntar, on the periphery of East Jerusalem in Area C of the West Bank, which has already suffered displacement and destruction of property in the past. The school risks being demolished from 1st February onwards, when an injunction protecting it from demolition expires. Currently, 33 pupils aged 5-11 attend the primary school but it was meant to be expanded to receive over 70 pupils this year.
This latest demolition threat comes as new figures gathered by aid agencies reveal there are 61 schools in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, that have pending demolition or stop work orders from the Israeli authorities.
If the Al Muntar school is demolished, many of the children may be forced to drop out of education altogether, with the only other schools several kilometers away and only accessible by foot or donkey, past an Israeli settlement. The Israeli High Court of Justice ruled that the school was an attempt "to create facts on the ground", despite its crucial basic service to the community.
"Attacks on West Bank schools are one of many elements making up the coercive environment that pushes Palestinians off their land in order to make way for Israeli settlement expansion," said the Norwegian Refugee Council's Country Director in Palestine, Kate O'Rourke. "The Israeli courts are threatening to demolish this school as they say it creates 'fact on the ground'. In reality, these are being created by illegal settlements, not by Palestinian schools, which are needed to ensure Palestinian children's fundamental right to education."
The Country Director for Action Against Hunger, Gonzalo Codina, said: "The existing Palestinian schools are overstretched, and the Israeli authorities are not issuing the required building permits for Palestinian communities like the one at Al Muntar. Now that a donor-funded school is again at risk of being demolished, we have to ask: Where can these children study safely?"
Across the West Bank, countless threats have been documented for Palestinian children in simply trying to reach school and enjoy their basic right to education. In 2016, there were 256 education-related violations affecting 29,230 students across the Occupied Palestinian Territory. These threats include: threats of violence and harassment from Israeli settlers or soldiers on the journey to school, military activity in or around their schools, military or police arresting and detaining children from their classrooms, lost time due to the closure of a military area or firing zone, delays crossing checkpoints, threats of destruction and demolition of schools and stop work orders.
Save the Children's Country Director Jennifer Moorehead said: "Children's fundamental right to education is under growing threat. The school in Al Muntar, a very remote and vulnerable community, has enabled children and especially girls to attend school for the first time. Now children as young as five face having their future demolished before their eyes. These safe spaces for children must be protected not destroyed. Globally we see more and more governments signing up to the Safe Schools Declaration, yet Palestinian schools are facing ever greater threats. We urgently call on the international community to increase diplomatic pressure on the Israeli government to protect Palestinian children's right to education and to prevent the demolition and seizure of school infrastructure."
The agencies said such demolitions are in violation of International Humanitarian Law3 and children's basic right to education, and directly undermine the international community's provision of aid to the occupied Palestinian population, to ensure safe places for children to learn.