UN condemns rising Israeli interference in Palestinian schools

The global body says Israeli military is impacting children’s safe access to education


A Palestinian man argues with an Israeli soldier during clashes over an Israeli order to shut down a Palestinian school in the town of as-Sawiyah, south of Nablus in the occupied West Bank on October 15, 2018.  / AFP / JAAFAR ASHTIYEH
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United Nations officials on Wednesday condemned Israel for rising interference in the education of Palestinian students in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as the second school term begins in the occupied territories.

Israel has maintained an occupation over both territories since the 1967 Arab-Israeli War and the global body has said its military’s regular violations are threatening the right to education for thousands of Palestinian youths.

“As the second school term resumes in the State of Palestine, we remain deeply concerned by the high number of reported incidents of interference in or near schools in the West Bank since the beginning of the school year," the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Palestine Jamie McGoldrick, Unicef Special Representative Genevieve Boutin and Unesco, the global body’s cultural agency, said in a joint statement.

Around 50 schools that serve Palestinian students remain at threat of demolition in the West Bank and East Jerusalem but it is also the daily interference, such as the firing of live ammunition and tear gas, stopping of teaching staff at checkpoints and the violence of ultranationalist settlers, which is severely hampering the ability of children to study.

These incidents are “impacting children’s safe access to education” and their access to “a safe learning environment and the right to quality education for thousands of Palestinian children”.

The global body documented 111 interferences in the education of Palestinian children in the West Bank in 2018, amounting to an average of two incidents every week. In total, 19,196 Palestinian children were affected.

Most worrying for the Palestinian children, most of the incidents took place in the last four months of 2018, with the uptick coming after a series of moves by US President Donald Trump that have hurt the Palestinians in the West Bank and emboldened the Israeli government, its military and far-right settlers.

“More than half of the verified incidents involved live ammunition, tear gas, and stun grenades fired into or near schools by Israeli Forces, impacting the delivery of education or injuring students,” the officials said.

The global body has limited ability to act against Israeli violations but it called on Israel to respect the education of Palestinian children, as they have as much of a right to learn as any other children.

"Schools should be respected as places of learning, safety and stability. The classroom should be a sanctuary from conflict, where children can learn and develop into active citizens,” the statement said.

“Children should never be the target of violence and must not be exposed to any form of violence.”

The Palestinians seek the West Bank and East Jerusalem as part of any future sovereign state, with the latter serving as its capital. But Israel has continued to expand its settlement enterprise alongside its military occupation of those territories. The majority of the international community recognises the settlements as illegal under international law.

US President Donald Trump and his team of Middle East advisers have not condemned Israeli settlement expansion even though the Palestinians say it threatens any hope of their own nation living side-by-side with Israel. Under Mr Trump, Israel has spiked its settlement construction and approved its first new settlement for two decades.