Children learn in tent after Israel demolishes school

August 25, 2017

Brand new primary school in Jubbet adh-Dibh was razed just as the new school year was set to begin.

Jubbet adh-Dibh, occupied West Bank – Early in the morning, dozens of students assembled in columns outside the Jubbet adh-Dibh primary school. Encouraged by their teachers, they launched into a rendition of the Palestinian national anthem, Fidai.

It appeared to be a typical Palestinian scene, a morning ritual repeated outside thousands of school buildings across the occupied West Bank before students begin classes. 

But when the students of Jubbet adh-Dibh finished singing the anthem, they had no classrooms to go to. There was only a single tent filled with wooden chairs and book-ended by two whiteboards.

The brand new school’s six classrooms, built in mid-August to host 80 students, had been dismantled and removed by the Israeli military the night before the first day of the school year. Two days later, all that remained were the concrete bases where the classrooms had stood, along with a row of latrines. 

“We welcomed the new academic semester with a dismantled school,” Ibtissam Shaibat, an Arabic and maths teacher at the Bethlehem directorate of education, told Al Jazeera. “On the first day of school, I arrived at around 7:30. It was a horrible feeling when I saw that the school was not here.”

Regardless, Shaibat and a handful of teachers from the Bethlehem directorate have been coming to lead classes for the children who show up at the site, until another solution is found. The newly installed tent serves as a makeshift classroom, although due to the lack of space, one class takes place outside, under the blazing sun.

“Not all of the students are here today,” Shaibat said. “The rest have gone to their previous schools to continue their education. Their parents believed that this is not the right environment now to attend school here. It’s really hot, so they prefer to deal again with a hard situation of attending a school far away than to stay here without facilities.”

The Palestinian village of Jubbet adh-Dibh lies in a dramatic setting beneath Jabal al-Fureidis, a flat-topped mountain five kilometres southeast of Bethlehem, which is home to the Herodium Palace historical site.

Around 160 people live there, and while the village has a kindergarten, the nearest primary schools are located in the surrounding towns and villages, meaning that children have to either walk long distances or take a bus to get to school.

Fadiya al-Wahsh, head of the women’s foundation in Jubbet adh-Dibh, decided to enrol her son, Abdelrahman, in the third grade at the new school.

“The whole community wanted this school because it was closer to the village,” she said. “It takes around seven minutes to walk here. To get to the school my son attended last year, he had to take a bus or walk for a kilometre and a half. He has asthma and was complaining that it was too far to travel and that the school was really crowded. It was really bad for his health.

“Before this school, a huge number of students crowded into the other schools,” Wahsh added. “Here, there is much more space for students – 10-15 students per class – and this will give them a better opportunity to get an education. In the other school, there are 50 students per class.”

The village is located in Area C of the occupied West Bank, an administrative designation dating back to the Oslo Accords, which affords Israeli authorities full civil and security control. 

While the Palestinian Authority is responsible for providing education and healthcare services to the Palestinian population in Area C, Israel has retained control over land allocation, planning, construction and infrastructure in this area, which comprises around 60 percent of the occupied West Bank. It is also home to all the Israeli settlements, which are considered illegal under international law.

Local and international rights groups have argued that Israeli military authorities have used their control over land planning in Area C to restrict Palestinian construction and development, by denying applications for building permits while allowing Jewish-only settlements to expand.

According to the Norwegian Refugee Council: “Israel denies the majority of planning permit requests in Area C, thereby leaving Palestinians with no option but to reconstruct and develop without permits.”

A spokesperson for the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories, an Israeli military unit that implements Israeli government policy throughout Area C, told Al Jazeera that the school in Jubbet adh-Dibh did not have building permits and was consequently dismantled.

“The building … was built illegally last weekend, a blunt violation of stop work orders and without the required permits. Therefore the confiscation was carried out in accordance with the Civil Administration authorities,” a spokesperson told Al Jazeera in a statement.

The Jubbet adh-Dibh school was the third Palestinian educational facility in the occupied West Bank to be damaged or demolished by Israeli authorities in a two-week period. A kindergarten in Jabal al-Baba was destroyed on August 21, while the solar panels that provided the only power source to a school in Abu Nuwar were confiscated on August 9.

The plan to establish the school in Jubbet adh-Dibh was finalised in the spring, and its construction was financed by some European Union member states. Local EU missions have issued a statement to condemn Israeli authorities.

“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,” it read.

“In line with its long-standing position on this issue, the EU calls upon the Israeli authorities to halt demolitions and confiscations of Palestinian houses and property in accordance with its obligations as an occupying power under international humanitarian law, and to cease the policy of settlement construction and expansion, of designating land for exclusive Israeli use and of denying Palestinian development.”