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Israeli forces raid newly rebuilt Palestinian school, sparking fears of coming demolition

Sept. 9, 2017 7:35 P.M. (Updated: Sept. 10, 2017 12:31 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Israeli forces stormed the village of Jubbet al-Dhib in the occupied West Bank district of Bethlehem on Saturday evening, surrounded a site where Palestinians have been rebuilding a school that was dismantled last month, and attacked activists with tear gas, stun grenades, and bullets.

Employees from the Bethlehem office of the Palestinian education ministry and activists rebuilt five classrooms with concrete blocks overnight Friday, as Israeli soldiers fired tear gas canisters at them.

Large numbers of military vehicles and forces from the Israeli Civil Administration returned to the construction site early Saturday evening and surrounded the school from three directions, sparking fears that Israeli authorities would destroy the school once again.

Israeli forces attempted to evict Palestinian activists and workers who were completing works at the school, firing tear gas, stun grenades, and gunshots toward the crowd.

In response to a request for comment, a spokesperson for the Israeli Civil Administration later told Ma’an in an email that Israeli forces had “carried out enforcement activities against illegal construction in jibat Adib (sic) in the Bethlehem area.” When asked for clarification, the spokesperson said "only work tools were confiscated today."

Israeli forces seized mobile classrooms in the isolated village last month, the day before the first day of school, triggering widespread international outrage.

The incident came after Israeli authorities also confiscated solar panels that powered a school in the Bedouin village of Abu Nuwar and demolished a kindergarten in the Bedouin community of Jabal al-Baba leading up to the beginning of the new school year.

The school in Jubbet al-Dhib was set up to serve 1st to 4th graders from several small, remote communities located long distances from the nearest school in the village of Beit Tamir.

Israeli authorities delivered stop-work orders to the school mere days before it was confiscated, while residents insisted that the necessary permits were obtained to set up the mobile classrooms.

In response to Saturday night’s raid, the Civil Administration also wrote: “We would like to emphasize that the Civil Administration works in cooperation with international organizations to promote projects for the residents of Judea and Samaria (the occupied West Bank), including soccer fields and schools. The Civil Administration has approved schools in Khirbet Atwani and in the village of Jaba, as well as establishing a school for the Palestinian Authority officials in Area C,” the spokesperson claimed.

“This is a re-construction of a structure against which enforcement has recently been implemented. Unfortunately, the construction continues in blatant disregard of the legal authorities and in violation of the agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, that states that any construction in Area C requires the approval of the Civil Administration,” they concluded.

However, Israel’s targeting of Palestinian construction in Area C, the 60 percent of the West Bank under full Israeli military control, is well documented.

In July, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) stated that Israeli restrictions in Area C had made it “virtually impossible” for Palestinians to obtain building permits there, unlike Israeli settlers, who were often granted building permits.

According to OCHA, as a result of such Israeli policies, more than a third of Palestinian communities in Area C lack primary schools, forcing children to travel long distances to obtain an education.

B’Tselem reported a “record” number of demolitions of Palestinian homes in the West Bank in 2016. “It is an organized policy that aims to change the current political condition, force Palestinians to leave the area and annex parts of Area C to prevent the two-state solution. Therefore, it is no longer a human rights case but a first-degree political case,” they said at the time.

The European Union condemned Israeli forces for dismantling the school last month, saying that “Every child has the right to safe access to education and States have an obligation to protect, respect and fulfill this right, by ensuring that schools are inviolable safe spaces for children.”

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) also released a statement at the time, describing the confiscation as part of Israel’s "wider attack on education in Palestine."

According to NRC, some 55 schools in the occupied West Bank are threatened with demolition and stop-work orders by Israeli authorities, many of them built with funding from the European Union states and other donors.

B'Tselem also condemned the demolition, saying that the move "epitomizes the administrative cruelty and systematic harassment by authorities designed to drive Palestinians from their land."

Earlier Saturday afternoon, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas telephoned Walid Assaf, the chairman of the Palestinian Committee Against the Wall and Settlements, who was at the school's construction site, to express his support for the project to rebuild the school.

"The Palestinian people will remain firm in the face of Israeli occupation," Abbas told Assaf, according to a statement from the committee.

The president encouraged the activists who rebuilt the school and described them as "ambitious strugglers who yearn for freedom." He added that "everything the occupation demolishes will be rebuilt immediately, to help Palestinian citizens remain firm on their lands."
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