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Israel demolishes EU-funded Palestinian school, drawing criticism

The European Union said it was 'appalled' after Israeli forces bulldozed the school in the West Bank, and called for a halt to demolitions and evictions.

A Palestinian boy picks up papers and books from the site of a school that was demolished by the Israeli authorities in the village of Jabbet al-Dhib, east of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank, on May 7, 2023. [Source Credit: Hazem Bader / AFP]

Israeli forces on Sunday, May 7, demolished a Palestinian primary school in the occupied West Bank citing safety issues, drawing sharp criticism from the European Union which had funded the project. The EU said it was "appalled" after Israeli forces arrived at dawn at the school site, which a Palestinian Authority official said served 45 students and consisted of five classrooms.

COGAT, the Israeli defense ministry body overseeing civilian affairs in the occupied territories, imposed in March a two-month deadline to vacate the premises following an order by a Jerusalem court. The body had determined that the school had been "built illegally" and posed a "safety hazard". Palestinians hurled rocks at Israeli forces who fired tear gas at them, as bulldozers moved in on the site at Jabbet al-Dhib village near Bethlehem.

Ahmed Naser, a Palestinian education ministry official, told Agence France-Presse the school had replaced another school demolished by Israel in 2019. Naser noted its remote location, which he said prevents the "displacement and forced eviction" of local Palestinians, charging that Israel "wants to confiscate these lands". Naser said a tent would be erected Monday on the site with basic infrastructure to replace the demolished structures.

COGAT said in a statement to AFP that authorities had attempted dialogue with the school's owners and cited an expert engineer who determined the structure could collapse at any time.

The EU called on Israel to "halt all demolitions and evictions, which will only increase the suffering of the Palestinian population and further escalate an already tense environment". The office of the EU representative to the Palestinian Territories said in a statement, "Demolitions are illegal under international law, and children's right to education must be respected."

In January, a group of United Nations experts had called for action to stop Israel's "systematic and deliberate" demolition of Palestinian structures. "Direct attacks on the Palestinian people's homes, schools, livelihoods and water sources are nothing but Israel's attempts to curtail the Palestinians' right to self-determination and to threaten their very existence," the experts said in a statement.

Mubarak Zawahrah, head of the Beit Tamar local council where the school was located, told AFP Israeli authorities had agreed a stay on the demolition pending a court appeal on Wednesday. "But the Israeli army ignored that and just demolished it," he said, adding that the students would now have to travel to another village for classes.

COGAT and Israeli group Regavim said the demolition was the result of a petition filed by the right-wing organization whose mission, according to its website, includes "the protection of Israel's national lands". Regavim in statement accused Palestinians of using the school's construction "against the law" to manufacture "a humanitarian crisis".


(c) 2023, Le Monde


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