In this year of significant anniversaries — the Balfour Declaration; Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip; the Israeli-led siege of Gaza — another is creeping up on us. The fifth anniversary of the day that the Taliban tried to kill schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai is fast approaching. The Pakistani child was shot in the head for promoting the rights of girls to be educated and her plight immediately won the hearts and admirations of millions when news of her horrific injuries emerged.
Today, Nobel Peace Laureate Malala is preparing to go to Oxford University after winning a place at Lady Margaret Hall to study philosophy, politics and economics. The 20-year-old could not have given a better response to those men in Pakistan who do not believe that girls have a right to be educated. She has more than silenced her critics by showing what courage, determination and intelligence can do.
Deliberately trying to stop children from being educated is what backward, primitive regimes do. Why, then, does the self-declared “only democracy in the Middle East” — Israel — do its best to stop Palestinian children from going to school?
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to education. That is why Malala inspired so many by her struggle to be educated. World leaders and politicians queued up to be photographed with her so that they could bask in some reflected glory.
Those powerful people who were so vocal in condemning the Taliban are, however, shamefully silent when it comes to criticising Israel’s position on the education of the Palestinians living under its brutal military occupation. Even more evidence was presented for all to see last week when hundreds of Palestinian children in the occupied West Bank turned up for the new academic year and found their brand new school buildings reduced to rubble.
Israeli soldiers went to the school, which serves children in Jubbet Al-Dhib and district near Bethlehem, and tore down six classrooms; the rubble was also taken away — “confiscated” — by the Israelis, who only left behind some chairs on the bare concrete floors. The primary school was funded by the European Union (EU).
The school at Jubbet Al-Dhib was the third to be demolished or have its teaching resources removed by Israel in August; even the district’s one and only kindergarten for the Jabal Al-Baba Bedouin community was targeted. Soldiers also removed the solar panels which provided the only source of power for the school.
Muted expressions of “concern” have been churned out in press releases from EU offices in Jerusalem and Ramallah, as well as by Israeli human rights groups. This Taliban-like act received almost no wider condemnation of any kind from the international community.
The systematic destruction of Palestinian schools and consequent cruel disruption of classes and education for the Palestinian children should have caused global outrage. Putting a gun to a child’s head to stop her from being educated is an act of pure evil, but let us be in no doubt that destroying an entire school to stop hundreds of other children from being educated is equally repugnant and equally unacceptable.
The Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) is an Israeli military operation implementing the government’s apartheid policies. Officers said that the schools were destroyed because they did not have official, Israel-issued building permits. Palestinians rarely get permits to build anything in the occupied territories, so we should not be fooled by these weasel words. It is high time that Tel Aviv is held to account for its Talibanesque destruction of Palestinian education facilities.
Palestinians from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank have been left homeless and denied electricity, fresh water and basic foodstuff. In Gaza, educational institutions, including schools, were deliberately targeted and bombed by Israel.
Now it seems that education per se is something that Israel wants to deny the youthful Palestinian population. However, like the backward men of the Taliban, the Zealots in Tel Aviv have overlooked one thing: Palestine is filled with thousands of Malalas who know that education is their right and they will not allow it to be taken from them.
The education of Malala Yousafzai was an act of resistance against a belligerent, brutal regime, just as it is for the children of Palestine. The silence that greeted Israel’s demolition of Palestinian schools betrays all that Malala continues to stand for. Those who feted her in the aftermath of the attempted assassination included the United Nations, Barack Obama and former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. They should hang their heads in shame for not condemning Israel, as they did so readily the Taliban. Those who would deny children an education, whether in Pakistan or Palestine, should be isolated until they earn their place amongst the civilised nations of the world. Israel is no exception.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.