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Israel seizes mobile classrooms in Palestinian village the day before school

Aug. 23, 2017 11:30 A.M. (Updated: Aug. 24, 2017 2:19 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Days after residents in an isolated Bethlehem-area village received stop-work orders for mobile homes being set up as a school -- structures for which locals insisted they had obtained the necessary permits -- Israeli forces reportedly raided the village Tuesday and seized the classrooms.

The raid into Jubbet al-Dib came a day before the first day of the school year, leaving some 64 students from the 1st to 4th grade without a school to attend on Wednesday, Palestinian Authority-owned Wafa news agency reported.

Wafa quoted local activist Hasan Breijieh as saying that Israeli forces hauled the mobile classrooms on trucks and took them away under the pretext they were established without Israeli permission.

Locals reportedly attempted to block the confiscation of the classrooms, which Breijieh reiterated were licensed. Israeli soldiers fired tear gas canisters and rubber-coated steel bullets at the residents to disperse them, without causing any injury, according to Wafa.

Sami Marwa, director of the education department in Bethlehem, told the news agency that the school was set up to serve several small communities in the area, and had enrolled 64 students.

He said teachers and staff had been preparing for the first day of school since Sunday. The school consisted of eight mobile homes, Brejiyeh told Ma’an when the stop-work orders were delivered, when Israeli forces also confiscated vehicles donated by an Italian NGO.

After the classrooms were hauled away, the Palestinian Ministry of Education started seeking an alternative school for the children to attend, Wafa said.

The Norwegian Refugee Council released a statement later Wednesday 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.”

Israeli rights group B'Tselem also condemned the demolition in a statement, saying that the move "epitomizes the administrative cruelty and systematic harassment by authorities designed to drive Palestinians from their land."

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Israeli civil administration contested last Thursday that the structures had not received the necessary permits, and that the construction was "illegal."

When a spokesperson was contacted again for comment on Wednesday following the confiscation and repeated claims from locals that the structures were licensed, they said that the building was "a blunt violation of stop work orders" and had not received permits. "Therefore, the confiscation was carried out in accordance to the Civil Administrations authorities."

Palestinians living in Area C -- the more than 60 percent of the West Bank under full Israeli military control -- must apply for construction permits with the Israeli civil administration for any kind of development on their lands. However, oftentimes these requests are denied and the application process can be lengthy and expensive.

Israeli forces confiscated solar panels in Jubbet al-Dhib last month that were installed last year with funding from the Dutch government, under the pretext that they were built without permits.

Rights groups have highlighted that Israel’s permit system in Area C has served to limit Palestinian construction in Israeli-controlled areas of the Palestinian territory, where the land is reoriented for the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements or for other purposes serving the Israeli government or settlers.

Some 150 Palestinians reside in Jubbet al-Dhib, which is neighbored by the illegal Noqedim settlement -- home to Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman -- as well as the illegal El David settlement, in addition a number of Israeli outposts, that, despite being illegal even under Israeli domestic law, are connected to the power grid and other infrastructure.

Meanwhile, approximately 1.25 million schoolchildren started the new school year in the occupied West Bank and besieged Gaza Strip after the summer holiday ended.

The incident in Jubbet al-Dhib came amid a series of obstacles facing Palestinians on the occasion of the first day of school.

Another school, a kindergarten, was demolished in the Bedouin community of Jabal al-Baba on August 21.

Israeli police stationed in the Old City of occupied East Jerusalem prevented 100 textbooks being delivered to schools located inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, the mayor of Hebron was verbally assaulted and threatened by Israeli settlers, as the mayor attempted to visit schools inside the Old City to inaugurate the first day of school. He was eventually evacuated from the area by Israeli soldiers.
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