Demolishing Palestinian Schools Is A War Crime, Experts Say

Israel has been systematically destroying Palestinian schools in an effort to drive them away. This is a war crime, Human Rights Watch contends.

Palestinian teen sitting in front of broken bike.

Palestinian children in the West Bank have a hard time getting an education, as Israel keeps demolishing their schools while repeatedly refusing them permits to build new ones.

But according to Human Rights Watch, the Fourth Geneva Convention and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court call the widespread destruction of property a war crime. On top of that, transferring civilians living in occupied territory to a location that isn't picked by them is also seen as a breach of international law.

As Israeli forces bulldoze schools, entire communities are forced to move so children have access to education. As such, Israel might be committing war crimes.

Since 2010 alone, school buildings or other property have been demolished or confiscated 16 times in the West Bank. As a result, more than a third of the Area C territory, or the 60 percent of the West Bank under exclusive control of the Israeli military, is not served by any kind of primary schools. This forces 10,000 children to go to schools held in tents or other structures that do not offer basic comforts, such as heating or air conditioning.

Other Palestinians who live too far away from these structures or who fear being harassed by settlers or Israeli military choose not to enroll their children anywhere. And about 1,700 others are forced to walk over three miles or more to reach schools due to road closures and severe infrastructure problems.

Because of the difficulties and lack of access, girls are disproportionately affected, Human Rights Watch explained. Since Palestinian life is centered around women at home, many girls feel scared and decide to stay behind if going to school means taking unnecessary risks. And because of the unnecessary burdens put on them by the "only liberal democracy" in the Middle East, they have a lot to fear.

But even as schools built without permits are destroyed regularly, the Israeli military continues to refuse most new Palestinian construction, effectively creating an environment that makes life in the West Bank for Palestinians nearly impossible.

“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.”

With most of the existing West Bank schools at risk, the communities where the last structures still stand are terrified of what comes next.

“The school [in our community] has become the lifeline for this and the five surrounding communities,” said Abu Khamis, a community leader in Khan al-Ahmar Ab al-Hilu.

The school, which was built with humanitarian aid, also offers literacy education for adults.

Before the building went up, he said, children had to travel nine to nearly 14 miles to get an education. Now, however, things are better, especially for girls.

“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.

With schools in east Jerusalem at particular risk, authorities are trying to demolish trailers used as schools in the Jabal al-Baba region, a replacement for a building demolished in August 2017.

Settlers in the Khan al-Ahmar Ab al-Hilu region have also been petitioning the courts to have a school that houses 160 children from five different villages demolished.

And in al-Muntar, a petition launched by Palestinians challenging a demolition order has been rejected. Another petition demanding authorities to look into the building plan submitted by village residents is still pending.

Ever since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took office, 5,351 Palestinian buildings in the West Bank have been demolished over permit issues, Human Rights Watch reported. At least 7,988 people were displaced, including 4,100 children.

According to Human Rights Watch, the school demolitions are consistent with other actions seeking to make Palestinian communities in the region incapable of thriving. As such, it's clear that the Israeli government's goal is to force Palestinians out, no matter what.

If President Donald Trump condemns countries like Iran but fails to issue stern warnings against Israel, especially since the country gets billions of dollars in foreign aid from America yearly, it's clear that he stands for war criminals.

Only his base's pressure would force him to reconsider his position. And unfortunately, we know his base is just as in Iove with Israel as he is.


Banner/Thumbnail Credits: Reuters/Ammar Awad

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