Israel's campaign of school demolitions stunts future education of Palestinian children

Israel bulldozes future of Palestinian education
5 min read
15 May, 2023

Jubb Aldheeb elementary school is now a pile of rubble. Another victim of Israel's campaign to bulldoze its way through the West Bank, the school is one of 58 schools slated for demolition after Israel ruled schools can be demolished for not meeting safety requirements.

"They came at 4.30 am," Shireen Abu Taha, headmistress of the school told The New Arab. "We were so shocked. I hurried to the school along with two local education officials but we weren't able to stop them. It's as though a piece of my soul has left me."

"In the weeks leading up to the school's demolition, a number of EU officials and international diplomats promised to prevent Israel from bulldozing the school. Unfortunately, their promises were hollow"

Unwilling to accept defeat, a few hours later, community members reached the site and started to build makeshift schools for the children. "Despite this tragedy, we're determined to ensure our children's education continues, even if it's in tents. Of course, it is more dangerous, but I and my staff will protect the children," the teacher noted. 

Safa Msallam is the school's maths teacher and one of five permanent staff at the school. "When we received the demolition order, we became concerned for the wellbeing of our students. But we have remained steadfast for the benefit of our pupils and their education."

Celeen Alwahsh is one of Safa's students. She told The New Arab that she and her classmates have no other choice other than to remain at the school. "Other schools are so far away. It's very difficult for us to leave the village. We'll have to stay here and continue our studies in the makeshift tents. 

But others in the community are more worried. Ne'ma Alwahsh, a mother of two at the school, expressed concern about her children learning inside tents. "It's not good for the children. I'm calling on the local municipality to rebuild the school, just like they did in 2017. The current situation is not safe."

Palestinian children are forced to continue their education under the stifling heat of makeshift tents
The Palestinian children of Jubb Aldheeb are now forced to continue their education under the stifling heat of makeshift tents [photo credit: Rami Almeghari]

Known as Tahadi 5 - Challenge 5 in Arabic - the school was previously made up of four classrooms roofed by metal and wooden sheets. It schooled 40 students, 15 boys and 25 girls. The school's administrators have labelled the demolition as unfair and illegal. "The Israeli authorities never bother Israelis. They allege the school is not safely built. The building was quite healthy. They could have granted us a license if they wanted us to upgrade the school's infrastructure. They didn't. It's obvious they don't want Palestinians on Palestinian-owned land," Shireen lamented. 

Tahadi 5 is a quarter acre in size and part of a two-acre plot of land donated by a Palestinian family in Bethlehem. Palestinian-American Mousa Salah, who inherited the land from his ancestors, expressed his outrage over the demolition. "It's very disturbing. American taxpayers pay billions of dollars to Israel each year. They have no idea the harm they cause. As an American citizen, I want to appeal to my fellow Americans to take a stand against Israel." 

The school is one of 50 that face demolition in Area C of the Occupied West Bank, an area in which Israel has exclusive administrative control. Area C constitutes 60% of the West Bank. Eight other schools in Occupied East Jerusalem also face closure. Collectively, these schools serve around 6,500 Palestinian students, many of which live in the most deprived areas of the West Bank. The schools employ over 700 women, half of which are women. 

Hassan Brjiiya, head of the local Bethlehem committee against Israeli settlement and apartheid, told The New Arab he rejects Israel's demolition orders and says they are illegal. "In the case of Tahadi 5, we applied for a building permit through Israel's civil administration. We've been here since 2017 and nothing has changed. Israel is disrupting the lives of local Palestinians by preventing the building or even renovating of land."

"In the weeks leading up to the school's demolition, a number of EU officials and international diplomats promised to prevent Israel from bulldozing the school. Unfortunately, their promises were hollow."

A number of Palestinian human rights groups have begun appeals against Israeli demolition. "We continually appeal to Israel's high court," Mohammad Abu Hashem, a legal expert at the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, told The New Arab. "These appeals fall on deaf ears as the court always supports the Israeli government."

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The new far-right government in Israel has made the situation worse. "This new iteration of Israeli occupation is determined to undermine the two-state solution. They openly seek to annex the West Bank and take over by any means necessary to establish a purely Jewish state," Tamara Hadda, a Ramallah-based political analyst and researcher, said to The New Arab

According to the United Nations Office of Humanitarian Affairs, Israeli demolition orders in 2022 affected at least six schools in Area C, leaving 206 students without education. In the same year, Israeli authorities demolished two schools in the area, affecting 85 students.

Israel's continued campaign to demolish Palestinian futures is a stark reminder that the Nakba is ongoing. 

Rami Almeghari is a Palestinian freelance journalist living and working in Gaza. 

Follow him on Twitter: @writeralmeghari