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“Illegal”: EU condemns Israel’s demolition of Palestinian school in Hebron

The European Union has condemned Israel’s demolition of the donor-funded Asafat school in Masafer Yatta in the southern occupied West Bank city of Hebron, calling the demolition “illegal under international law.”

In a statement issued on Friday, the EU Spokesperson Peter Stano said, “The EU recalls that demolitions are illegal under international law, and children’s right to education must be respected.”

Stano added, “This unacceptable development comes while 1.200 Palestinians in Masafer Yatta remain at risk of forced transfer following the Israeli Supreme Court’s decision in May, and against the backdrop of an increasingly coercive and intimidating environment for the Palestinian residents of Masafer Yatta, including the movement restrictions imposed on them, teachers and humanitarian responders.”

The EU also called on Israeli occupation authorities to “halt all demolitions and evictions, which will only increase the suffering of the Palestinian population and further escalate an already tense environment.”

The boys’ and girls’ school of Asafat was demolished on Wednesday in Asafat al-Fawqa, one of the villages that make up the area of Masafer Yatta, whose Palestinian residents have long been threatened with forced displacement and demolition orders by Israeli occupation authorities.

The school was demolished by the Israeli forces while it was in session and students were inside, local sources said, adding the forces used sound bombs to scare the children and get them out of the school.

 

Video footage taken by Israeli activist Itai Feitelson before the demolition shows teachers helping the students to get out of a classroom window while Israeli forces standing outside.

 

Dozens of Israeli occupation soldiers then cordoned off the area around the school, which stood on a hill, while a bulldozer razed it.

 

Local sources noted that the Israeli forces confiscated the school’s stationery, tables and chairs before flattening the building.

The Asafat school was built about a month ago and had been operating for less than two weeks. It serves the Palestinian residents of the communities of Asafat al-Fawqa, Asafat al-Tahta, Maghayer al-Ubaid and Tuba. It had 23 pupils and three teachers. The nearest other school to the villages is about four kilometers away.

An Israeli court rejected on Wednesday a petition by Palestinian residents against the demolition after the Israeli military argued that the location posed a “danger to the students”.

Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said the demolition “is part of a state effort to drive Palestinians out of the area by making their lives unbearable. Expelling residents is a war crime.”

 

The Palestinian Ministry of Education condemned the demolition in a statement on Wednesday morning and described it as a “heinous crime”.

“It is an addition to the series of ongoing crimes by the occupation against the educational sector, and its targeting of children, students, educational cadres, and institutions [is] without regard for international charters and laws,” the statement continued, adding that such practices are “a flagrant violation of students’ right to safe and free education”.

The European Union delegation to the Palestinians tweeted that it was “appalled” by the school demolition and affirmed that Palestinian educational rights must be respected.

“Greatly alarmed by Israeli measures targeting humanitarian structures. Continued coercive measures threaten the existence of the Palestinian communities” in Masafer Yatta, the delegation wrote.

 

Masafer Yatta is a rural area in the south of the occupied West Bank, home to over 1000 Palestinians including 500 children. In May, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that the ancient Palestinian villages of Masafer Yatta be ethnically cleansed of their Palestinian inhabitants, in one of the largest forced expulsions of Palestinians since the Naksa of 1967.

The ruling concluded a more than two-decade legal battle waged by the residents against their displacement. The Israeli occupation now has the green light to demolish their homes and force them out at any moment under the pretext that they live in an Israeli army “firing zone”.

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