HRW: Israeli Army Demolishing of West Bank Schools Could Amount to War Crimes

Palestinian school serving the community of Abu al-Nawar in the West Bank was destroyed by Israeli forces. (Photo: via Social Media)

Human Rights Watch has issued a statement on April 24, 2018, stating that Israel has repeatedly denied Palestinians permits to build schools in the West Bank and demolished schools built without permits, making it more difficult or impossible for thousands of children to get an education.

“On April 25, 2018, Israel’s high court will hold what may be the final hearing on the military’s plans to demolish a school in Khan al-Ahmar Ab al-Hilu, a Palestinian community. It is one of the 44 Palestinian schools at risk of full or partial demolition because Israeli authorities say they were built illegally,” the statement noted.

The Israeli military refuses to permit most new Palestinian construction in the 60 percent of the West Bank where it has exclusive control over planning and building, even as the military facilitates settler construction.

The military has enforced this discriminatory system by razing thousands of Palestinian properties, including schools, creating pressure on Palestinians to leave their communities. When Israeli authorities have demolished schools, they have not taken steps to ensure that children in the area have access to schools of at least the same quality.

“Israeli authorities have been getting away for years with demolishing primary schools and preschools in Palestinian communities,” said Bill Van Esveld, senior children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“The Israeli military’s refusal to issue building permits and then knocking down schools without permits is discriminatory and violates children’s right to education.”

Israeli military authorities have demolished or confiscated Palestinian school buildings or property in the West Bank at least 16 times since 2010, with 12 incidents since 2016, repeatedly targeting some schools, Human Rights Watch found. Over a third of Palestinian communities in Area C, the 60 percent of the West Bank where the Israeli military has exclusive control over building under the 1993 Oslo accords, currently do not have primary schools, and 10,000 children attend school in tents, shacks, or other structures without heating or air-conditioning, according to the UN.

About 1,700 children had to walk five or more kilometers to school due to road closures, lack of passable roads or transportation, or other problems, according to 2015 UN estimates. The long distances and fear of harassment by settlers or the military lead some parents to take their children out of school, with a disproportionate impact on girls.

“The school has become the lifeline for this and the five surrounding communities,” said a community leader in Khan al-Ahmar Ab al-Hilu, known as Abu Khamis, about a school under threat of demolition that was built with humanitarian aid. The school also offers literacy instruction for adults.

He said that children previously had to travel 15 to 22 kilometers to school, but that now, “A child can go to school without risking accidents or dealing with [taxi drivers] and the city. Now all girls go to school.” He said that the international community had helped build the school and added, “Is the international community unable to protect it?”

“Israeli officials should be on notice that razing dozens of Palestinian schools not only can block children from getting an education, but may be an international crime,” Van Esveld said. “As part of their efforts to support Palestinian schools, other countries should demand that those destroying schools should be held to account.”

(HRW, PC, Social Media)

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