Israel is waging war on Palestinian education and schoolchildren
Israeli school demolitions in the occupied West Bank are depriving thousands of children of an education, part of a wider set of discriminatory policies designed to coerce Palestinians to leave Area C.
Comprising over 60 percent of the West Bank, Area C is under full Israeli administrative and security control, with Palestinian construction and planning virtually banned.
Between 2010 and 2014, Israel's Civil Administration approved just 1.5 percent of building permit requests for Palestinian communities, forcing residents to build homes, schools and agricultural structures illegally.
Forty-four schools are at risk of full or partial demolition because Israeli authorities say they were built illegally, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch.
Since 2009, Israeli forces have demolished 5,351 Palestinian buildings in the West Bank for lack of building permits, including East Jerusalem, displacing 7,988 people, including more than 4,100 children, the UN says.
Israel has not offered resettlement options or compensation to families whose homes were demolished.
|Since 2009, Israeli forces have demolished 5,351 Palestinian buildings in the West Bank for lack of building permits, including East Jerusalem, displacing 7,988 people|
Nearly all Israeli settlements – considered illegal under international law – are located in Area C, with few constraints on building or planning.
"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."
Since 2010, Israeli military authorities have demolished or confiscated Palestinian school buildings in the occupied West Bank at least 16 times, with 12 incidents since 2016, HRW says.
More than a third of Palestinian communities in Area C do not have access to primary schools, with 10,000 children attending schools in tents, shacks or other structures which lack heating or air-conditioning.
Some 1,700 children are forced to walk five or more kilometres a day to reach their schools due to road closures or a lack of transportation infrastructure.
The long distances and fear of harassment from Israeli settlers and the Israeli army has led many parents to take their children out of school, with girls disproportionately impacted.
Israeli human rights group B'Tselem says Israel's planning and building policy in the occupied West Bank is designed to dispossess Palestinians of their land.
"School demolitions in the West Bank and especially in Area C are part of a systematic and deliberate attempt to create a coercive living environment - essentially unviable living conditions," spokesperson for the group Amit Gilutz told The New Arab.
"It's consistent with long-term Israeli policy since the occupation began to try and control as much land and resources as possible".
Whether applied to schools, homes or agricultural structures, the policy of demolitions is to coerce Palestinians to "choose" to leave Area C, Gilutz added, and move to Areas A and B, under Palestinian Authority control.
One Palestinian community leader in the Jordan Valley, which comprises over a third of the West Bank, told HRW that Israeli restrictions has drastically reduced three communities in area – from 150 families in 1997 to 45 families in 2010.
Jiftlik, the largest Palestinian community in Area C, has seen at least 1,000 residents forcibly displaced in recent years due to Israeli demolitions and a de facto ban on construction.
"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," HRW's 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."