Israeli demolition of a European-financed school in the occupied West Bank has forced Palestinian children to instead attend classes in a tent.
Palestinian activistsÂ restored some good cheer to primary schoolÂ students inÂ Jub al-Thib as they set aboutÂ rebuilding their school, over the night of September 9-10, using concrete blocks.Â On August 22,Â Israeli authorities hadÂ demolished the only schoolÂ in thisÂ West Bank village, located east of Bethlehem,Â a day beforeÂ the start of the new school year.
The Israeli occupation has banned practically all construction by Palestinians in Area C, whereÂ Jub al-ThibÂ is located, denying them permits to do so and prohibiting the use of concrete.Â It destroyed the school building on the grounds of being constructed without a permit.Â Area CÂ is completelyÂ controlled by Israel,Â as set out inÂ the Oslo Accords signed in 1993.
The demolition left some of theÂ 64 students in grades one throughÂ four in tears. TheÂ childrenÂ had previouslyÂ attended classes inÂ warehousesÂ and had beenÂ looking forward to a newÂ school building.Â The residents of Jub al-Thib worked for months to buildÂ the since-destroyedÂ school,Â the first to be erectedÂ inÂ their village.
TheÂ European Union providedÂ financial supportÂ for the project,Â and construction proceededÂ under the supervision of the Palestinian AuthorityâsÂ ministry of education and higher education.
55 schools threatened with demolition
In anÂ August 23 statement, the Norwegian Refugee Council said: âRight now, some 55 schools in the West Bank areÂ threatened with demolitionÂ and âstop-workâÂ orders by Israeli authorities.âÂ Shadi Othman,Â EU spokespersonÂ in Palestine, said that 20 of theÂ schools are EU-funded, and four,Â including Jub al-Thib, have been destroyed.
âThe EU has taken a firm decision to provide financial support forÂ development projectsÂ in these areas and provide all possible humanitarian services, despite the demolition threat,âÂ Othman told Al-Monitor. âOur decision to work in Area C and implement 20 million euros worth of projects falls within the EUâs priorities. The EU will interveneÂ immediatelyÂ to find alternatives for demolished schools until new school buildings are reconstructed.â
Israelâs prohibition onÂ construction, threats of demolitionÂ and stop-work orders all stand to negatively affect Palestinian studentsâ ability to obtain an education.
Lack of resources
Given the lack of resources available, West Bank municipal councils, anti-settlement committees and otherÂ local organisationsÂ andÂ prominent figures in Area C work inÂ cooperation with foreign donors in efforts to counter such actions andÂ find alternatives and solutions.
InÂ the case ofÂ Jub al-Thib, for instance,Â to get aroundÂ the prohibition on concrete, residents had seized on teaching students in warehousesÂ before the properÂ school building, which had aÂ steelÂ frame, could be erected. After Israel demolished theÂ school, tents wereÂ erected on the site so students could continue to attend classes.
In the Bedouin village ofÂ Khan al-Ahmar, in EastÂ Jerusalem,Â 170 students are studying in a school that wasÂ built out ofÂ tires and mudÂ in 2009Â after Israel banned construction with cement. They were inspired by such buildings inÂ poor and marginalized areasÂ elsewhere in the world, such asÂ in parts of Colombia.
âThis, however, did not stop Israelâs multipleÂ demolition threats,â said Uday Abu Khamis, community spokesperson for the BedouinÂ in East Jerusalem.Â âBefore building this school, the village had no school. The nearest one was 15 kilometres (9 miles) away. Given the poor means of transportation, it was difficult for students to commute and get to their classes, especially girls. The school,Â cobbled together from mud and used tires, gives our children the opportunity of having an education up to the ninth grade.â
Tents are the sole alternative
According toÂ Sadek Khodor, spokesman for the PA Ministry of Education and Higher Education,Â the ban and demolition threatsÂ forceÂ the ministry to operate within the marginsÂ allowed and to expend energy finding quick alternatives toÂ much-needed schoolsÂ in cooperation with parents and the local communitiesÂ threatened with demolition orders.Â He told Al-Monitor that theÂ structures the communities do manage to constructÂ are calledÂ âschools of defiance.â
Khodor added: âThe government does not apply toÂ these schools the same standards that apply to other schools. We give priority to filling all their needs irrespective of the cost. Sometimes we even assign one teacher [when there are only] two or three students, as is the case in the Arab Kaabneh BedouinÂ elementary schoolÂ in Jericho.âÂ The government hopes that by showing flexibility, it willÂ encourage other communitiesÂ to open educational facilities regardless of the number of students and type of facility.
Stressing the importance of finding alternatives for demolished schools, Khodor emphasizedÂ that his ministryÂ is determined to prevent demolition orders from cutting short the educational process.Â He explained that when a school receives a demolition notice or a construction moratorium, legal follow-up is provided through a ministerialÂ defence committee and contacts with international bodies to pressure Israel into withdrawing the order. Typically, the courts might postpone a demolition order, but not cancel it.
Although not ideal, the classroom work-arounds so far developedÂ are better than having no schools at all. For the students and their families, theÂ schools are one more means to fight IsraeliÂ attempts to force them off of their land.
by Aziz Nofal,Â Al Monitor/Days of Palestine