Palestinian school destruction condemned by Israeli rights body

B’Tselem calls on international community to intervene as demolition sparks protests

A Palestinian pupil stands on the rubble after Israel demolished a school near Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank. Reuters
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A leading Israeli human rights body has said that dozens of children are losing their right to an education after Israel demolished an EU-funded school in the West Bank on Sunday.

Speaking to The National, B’Tselem spokeswoman Dror Sadot called on the international community to intervene, saying it was the “only way Israel will stop violating human rights”.

The school, in the village of Jubbet Adh Dhib near Bethlehem, was deemed hazardous by a district court in March.

Its demolition sparked protests on Sunday that saw Palestinians hurl rocks at Israeli forces who fired tear gas in response.

A trailer and classrooms constructed of tin sheeting were emptied before the demolition.

COGAT, the Israeli Defence Ministry body that oversees civilian affairs in the occupied territories, imposed a two-month deadline in March to vacate the premises following an order by a Jerusalem court.

The EU condemned the demolition, with its external affairs spokesman Peter Stano saying Israel's actions would affect 81 children and that “demolitions are illegal under international law” in a tweet on Sunday.

The tweet was shared by representatives from European countries including Germany and the Netherlands in Ramallah.

The Palestinian Education Ministry said the move was a “heinous crime” that fits a wider pattern of damaging the “Palestinian educational sector, targeting students, teachers and educational institutions”.

Regavim, an Israeli organisation that describes itself on Twitter as “a social movement established to promote a Zionist agenda for the State of Israel and to protect its resources”, praised the demolition, saying in a tweet on Sunday that “it’s amazing how so many people fall prey to the Palestinian propaganda machine”.

“It is the [Palestinian Authority] that is cynically using children to advance their political ploy,” it added.

Ms Sadot said the move by Israeli authorities was part of what her organisation views as a wider campaign to “to basically expel dozens of communities from Area C”.

Area C, which covers 60 per cent of the region, falls under the control of Israeli authorities.

“[Israel does] this by a lot of means,” Ms Sadot said. “One is demolitions, whether it’s homes, public buildings or water infrastructure. Even if it’s not a foreign-funded school, we are seeing such actions every day.”

Construction is a long-standing source of contention in the West Bank.

Israel rarely grants construction permits to Palestinians. This has led to a proliferation of illegal buildings, which Israel often demolishes.

The EU and its member states are the largest donors to Palestinians. The website of its diplomatic service said that “last year saw a total of 954 structures demolished or seized by occupation authorities throughout the West Bank, including East Jerusalem — the highest number recorded since 2016".

Israel has occupied the West Bank since the 1967 war. The region is home to almost three million Palestinians. About 475,000 Jewish settlers also live there in state-approved settlements that are considered illegal under international law.

In January, a group of UN experts called for action to stop Israel's “systematic and deliberate” demolition of Palestinian structures.

Updated: May 08, 2023, 11:52 AM