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Bethlehem schoolchildren back in class one day after school demolition

Jerusalem24 Noelle Mafarjeh and Shaden Hazeem – Barely 24 hours after the Israeli military demolished their school for the second time since 2017, the schoolchildren of the Tahadi 5 elementary school in Jubbet Al-Dhib near Bethlehem were back in the classroom – with canvas as a roof.

The tent was established at the site of the demolished school after the rubble was cleared away, and will serve as a temporary classroom until the four-classroom building is rebuilt.

“We will continue to educate our children because education is one of the most basic human rights,” a teacher told Quds News Network. Another added: “School for us means the future, dreams and existence – and we are concerned with preserving our future, dreams and existence.”

“We woke up in the morning, put our clothes on and went to school, but we didn’t find our school, we found it demolished to the ground,” a pupil told Quds News Network on Sunday. “We want to learn today, we want to learn. And we want school today. Even if they want to keep taking it down, we will rebuild it, always.”

Al-Tahaddi 5 schoolchildren pursue their lessons inside their temporary classroom, 8 May 2023. [Credit: Quds News Network]
The residents of Jubbet Al-Dhib were aware of the impending demolition, and had placed rocks on the road leading to the school in an effort to disrupt the planned demolition.

At dawn on Sunday, the Israeli military deployed large forces in the area, dispersed the residents and prevented journalists from covering the demolition. Confrontations between residents and the army broke out next to the school, and two residents were injured with rubber-coated metal bullets while dozens suffered from tear gas inhalation.

The residents of Jubbet Al-Dhib placed rocks on the road leading to the school in an effort to thwart the military. [Credit: Yuval Abraham]

An act of solidarity

Early Sunday morning, a few hours after the demolition and before the rubble had even been cleared from the site, a group of residents hoisted a new Palestinian flag at the site while others began erecting the tent.

While the residents haven’t yet started rebuilding the school, supporters of the community have already brought construction materials including rebar to the site. Head of the local council Mubarak Zawahra tells Jerusalem24 this was done as a sign of solidarity with the students, and to reassure them that their new school would soon be underway.

“We promised them that we will build a new model school worthy of them and of the sacrifices they have made,” Zawahra says.

On Tuesday, two days after the demolition, the Palestinian Circus School hosted an event on site to entertain and cheer up the children.

Residents have already brought new construction materials including rebar to the site. [Credit: Quds News Network]

Demolish, rebuild, repeat

The village of Jubbet Al-Dhib sits on land surrounded by four illegal Israeli settlements, in Area C of the occupied West Bank where Israel doesn’t authorize any construction without an Israeli-issued permit. These permits are refused to Palestinians over 98% of the time.

Until residents built the school in early 2017, the children had to walk between 1km and 4km to reach schools in neighboring communities. The school now serves 45 students aged 6 to 10.

It was demolished previously in 2017 for lacking the Israeli-issued building permit, and immediately rebuilt.

Despite being built on private Palestinian land donated by a local family for the benefit of the children, Israeli authorities once again slated it for demolition. The school received a new notice ordering it be demolished within 60 days on 8 March this year. That order was implemented by the Israeli military on Sunday.

“We will not be able to rebuild the school in the same place because the demolition order by the Israeli court still stands,” explains Zawahra. “We will rebuild it again, but in a different area.”

Regavim: The settler organization working to evict Palestinian schoolchildren

The infamous settler organization Regavim, which specializes in petitioning Israeli courts for the eviction of Palestinians from their homes and lands in occupied territory, was behind the latest petition calling for the school’s immediate demolition.

Regavim lawyer Boaz Arazi, who himself lives in an illegal house with an Israeli demolition order issued against it in the settlement of Ma’ale Michamesh, celebrated the impending demolition

The petition quoted an engineer’s opinion that the building was “unsafe” and “could collapse in an earthquake”. When this argument was accepted by Israeli courts in favor of immediate demolition, the residents “expressed astonishment at this concern for the safety of their children”, since the homes in which they live in the village are all built quickly and cheaply (and to subpar standards) due to being under constant threat of demolition.

The petition described the residents and school parents as “unscrupulous criminals” who rebuilt the structure “in the dead of night”.

Zawahra disagrees that the children were unsafe in their school, and says constant Israeli military intervention is what threatens them instead. “It is not an appropriate learning environment for them, but the Israeli occupation forces them into this environment.”

The Tahaddi 5 school in Jubbet Al-Dhib before it was demolished. [Credit: Palestine Ministry of Education/Twitter]

“No choice”

+972 Magazine journalist Yuval Abraham asked the Civil Administration (the Israeli body which oversees civil matters including construction in the occupied West Bank) why the masterplans the village submitted to it in 2012 and which would have allowed for the construction of the school, among other structures, were never approved.

According to Abraham, the plans “passed in front of all the committees, and then got stuck. For no reason. When I asked the manager why, they wrote to me: “General considerations in the area”. That’s it.”

Abraham says the proximity of the four illegal Israeli settlements to Jubbet Al-Dhib is no stranger to the village’s predicament. “There is a direct link between the construction of a house in a settlement and the destruction of a school in a nearby village,” he says.

St. Yves Association lawyer Emil Masherki, who represented the residents, told Abraham: “No matter how hard they try to follow all the requirements to submit applications for building permits, their request will be denied. The residents have no choice.”

The Civil Administration was previously under the purview of the military, but is now under the authority of extremist settler and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich (who also co-founded Regavim).

There are has been a 46% increase in demolitions of Palestinian structures in the occupied West Bank including East Jerusalem since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition (of which Smotrich is one of the leading figures) came to power on 29 December 2022, compared to the same period the previous year.

Two out of three demolished structures were located in Area C.

Tahaddi 5: One of many

Jubbet Al-Dhib’s school didn’t become Tahaddi “5” by accident. In fact, there are 32 such schools peppered across the West Bank.

The Tahaddi (“challenge”) schools are so-named because of the difficulties of providing a continuous education to the children of Area C, due to the constant threat of displacement and demolitions.

All 32 Tahaddi schools are currently under threat of demolition, with the total number of threatened schools reaching 58. All are located in Area C.

Israel has demolished 11 schools since 2016, the latest in November.

Tahaddi 5 was a donor-funded school, and its second demolition has provoked international condemnation. A delegation of foreign representatives had visited the school just two short weeks ago.

According to OCHA, 46 donor-funded structures have been demolished by the current Israeli administration.

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