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Israel demolishes kindergarten in Bedouin community near Jerusalem

Aug. 21, 2017 5:07 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 23, 2017 5:11 P.M.)
Children from the Jabal gather to protest the demolition of the only kindergarten there. (Photo: Norwegian Refugee Council)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Israeli forces have reportedly demolished a kindergarten in the Bedouin community of Jabal al-Baba in the outskirts of al-Eizariya in the occupied West Bank district of Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, Israeli media reported Monday that the Israeli Civil Administration is threatening to destroy a number of homes in Jabal al-Baba and the nearby Bir al-Maskub area, despite an order by the Israeli Supreme Court forbidding the demolitions until the court determines whether the communities, which have been living there for decades, can be “legalized” in the eyes of the Israeli state.

Bedouin communities such as Jabal al-Baba have been settled in Jerusalem's outskirts, now within the so-called E1 corridor near the illegal Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim, since they were forcibly displaced from their villages in Beersheba during the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.

According to a report from Jerusalem-based al-Quds News and corroborated by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the kindergarten in Jabal al-Baba was dismantled early Monday morning.

Large numbers of Israeli soldiers and forces from the Israeli Civil Administration raided the community as Israeli bulldozers began to raze the school to the ground.
Israeli soldiers demolishing the only kindergarten in Jabal al-Baba. (Photo: NRC)

According to al-Quds, Israeli forces confiscated property from inside the kindergarten before the demolition and ripped apart European Union flags that were posted in the building -- an indication that the structure had been built with EU funds.

In response to a request for comment, a spokesperson for COGAT, the larger Israeli entity of which the Civil Administration is part, told Ma'an: "Today an illegal tin and wood shed was caught in Eizaria, that was established over the past two weeks without receiving the required permits. The shed was confiscated by virtue of the procedure to confiscate caravans and in accordance to the law. We would like to emphasize that the construction was not in use."

In addition to reports from al-Quds and OCHA, Palestinian Authority-owned Wafa news agency also cited witnesses as saying the structure demolished was a kindergarten. Due to being continuously targeted with demolitions and suffering from high poverty rates, most shelter in Bedouin communities are makeshift, informal structures.

Meanwhile, according to Israeli news daily Haaretz, the Israeli Supreme Court issued interim restraining orders against the demolition of a number of homes in Jabal al-Baba and Bir al-Maskub in February.

Despite this, a subcommittee of the Civil Administration threatened to carry out the demolition immediately if the residents didn’t return certain documents to defend their case within one week. The Bedouins then submitted a request last Thursday to declare the Civil Administration in contempt of court.

Israeli forces have demolished dozens of homes in Jabal al-Baba area, many of them built with assistance from the EU and humanitarian organizations, over the past few years. The hill is populated by some 55 Bedouin families (around 300 people) who have inhabited the area for 65 years, and face constant threat of being expelled from their homes.

Some 90 Palestinian Bedouins, the majority of them children, were left homeless when Israeli forces disassembled EU-donated mobile homes in the Jabal al-Baba in May 2016.

Jabal al-Baba, like other Bedouin communities in the region, is under threat of forcible transfer by Israel for being located in the contentious “E1 corridor” set up by the Israeli government to link annexed East Jerusalem with the mega settlement of Maale Adumim.

Israeli authorities plan to build thousands of homes for Jewish-only settlements in E1, which would effectively divide the West Bank and make the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state -- as envisaged by the two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict -- almost impossible.

Rights groups and Bedouin community members have sharply criticized Israel's relocation plans for the Bedouin residing near the illegal Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim, claiming that the removal would displace indigenous Palestinians for the sake of expanding Israeli settlements across the occupied West Bank in violation of international law.

Two weeks ago, Israeli authorities seized solar panels that powered an elementary and preschool in the Bedouin community of Abu Nuwwar, located in the E1 area, despite a petition against the seizure having been filed to the Israeli Supreme court, which issued a restraining order against the confiscation an hour after the panels were taken.

An elementary school in the Bedouin community of Khan al-Ahmar, which is also within the so-called E1 corridor, has also long been slated for demolition by Israel.

After Israeli authorities also seized an entire school from an isolated Bethlehem-area village on Tuesday evening, the Norwegian Refugee Council released a statement condemning Israel for the confiscation as part of "a wider attack on education in Palestine."

NRC Policy Manager Itay Epshtain, who visited Jubbet al-Dhib this morning, was quoted in the statement as saying, “It was heart breaking to see children and their teachers turning up for their first day of school under the blazing sun, with no classrooms or anywhere to seek shelter in, while in the immediate vicinity the work to expand illegal settlements goes on uninterrupted.”

According to NRC, some 55 schools in the occupied West Bank are threatened with demolition and stop-work orders by Israeli authorities, many of them built with funding from the European Union states and other donors. 

"In the first three months of this year there were 24 cases of direct attacks against schools, including incidents where tear gas canisters and sound bombs were fired at students on their way to or from school. Last year, four communities’ educational facilities were demolished or confiscated and 256 education-related violations were documented in the West Bank, affecting over 29,000 students," NRC's statement said.

“Just when they were due to return to the classroom, Palestinian children are discovering that their schools are being destroyed,” NRC Country Director for Palestine, Hanibal Abiy Worku, said. “What threat do these schools pose to the Israeli authorities? What are they planning to achieve by denying thousands of children their fundamental right to education?”

“We call on the governments and donors funding Palestinian children’s education to exercise all of their influence to prevent this violation in all its forms,” Abiy Worku said. “The destruction of educational structures funded by European money is not just a violation of international law. It is also a slap in the face to the international community providing aid to the occupied Palestinian population in a bid to ensure safe places of learning for children.”

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