The European Union (EU) has condemned the Israeli demolition of a school in Bethlehem the day before the new school year was due to begin. The EU Representative and the EU Heads of Mission in Jerusalem and Ramallah yesterday called on Israel to desist from all further demolitions and confiscations of Palestinian property.
"Every child has the right to safe access to education and States have an obligation to protect, respect and fulfil this right, by ensuring that schools are inviolable safe spaces for children," the statement read.
Around 80 children from the village of Jub-Ad-Dhib aged five to 10 were left with no classrooms in which to learn on Wednesday after Israeli occupying forces declared the area a military zone, using stun grenades to keep residents away. Soldiers then informed local Palestinians that the structures were illegally built and took the six mobile classrooms away on trucks. Teachers were forced to hold classes in tents under the hot sun.
Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) Policy Manager Itay Epshtain told MEMO that the schools were part of a broader programme being implemented by NRC to provide Palestinians with basic services denied to them by Israel, as the next closest school was an hour walk away. Epshtain was present at the time of the demolition and said when he arrived at the school in the morning to prepare for the new school year, the area was cordoned off.
"I have been doing this for 17, 18 years now but it is always particularly heart-breaking to see students turn up for their first day of school, teachers eager to teach, but there's nowhere to teach, there are no classrooms."
"In legal terms, Israel has an absolute obligation to provide education to people living under occupation. But also from a human standpoint, why would you go about denying schoolchildren a basic education? It defies logic," he added.
Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Rami Hamdullah also condemned Israel's actions, and told Wafa that dozens of children would face disruption to their studies while alternative schools were found.
"Denying the community's children their right to education, not to mention other fundamental rights, is a deliberate policy of the Israeli authorities to pressure Palestinian communities to leave, in order to confiscate their land and build additional settlements," he stated.
Meanwhile, the EU has demanded that Israel pay for the reconstruction of the buildings and expressed concern over the other aggressions against Palestinian schools this week, namely the destruction of a kindergarten and the confiscation of solar panels used to power a school, both in the Bedouin village of Jabal Al-Baba.
According to the NRC, Israel is threatening some 55 schools in the occupied West Bank with demolitions, many of which are funded by European nations. In the first three months of this year, there were also 24 cases of Israel launching direct attacks against educational centres including firing tear gas or shooting at students with rubber bullets.