LONDON (AFP): Israeli forces on Sunday demolished a Palestinian primary school in the occupied West Bank citing safety issues, drawing sharp criticism from the European Union which had funded the project.
Palestinians hurled rocks at Israeli forces who fired tear gas at them, as bulldozers moved in on the site at Jabbet al-Dhib village near Bethlehem.
The EU said it was “appalled” after Israeli forces arrived at dawn at the school site, which a Palestinian Authority official said served 45 students and consisted of five classrooms.
A caravan and classrooms constructed of tin sheeting were cleared out of their contents before the demolition, an AFP correspondent said.
COGAT, the Israeli defence ministry body overseeing civilian affairs in the occupied territories, imposed in March a two-month deadline to vacate the premises following an order by a Jerusalem court.
The body had determined that the school had been “built illegally” and posed a “safety hazard”.
Ahmed Naser, a Palestinian education ministry official, told AFP the school had replaced another school demolished by Israel in 2019.
Naser noted its remote location, which he said prevents the “displacement and forced eviction” of local Palestinians, charging that Israel “wants to confiscate these lands”.
The EU called on Israel to “halt all demolitions and evictions, which will only increase the suffering of the Palestinian population and further escalate an already tense environment”.
“Demolitions are illegal under international law, and children’s right to education must be respected,” the office of the EU representative to the Palestinian Territories said in a statement.
COGAT said in a statement to AFP that authorities had attempted dialogue with the school’s owners and cited an expert engineer who determined the structure could collapse at any time.
In January, a group of United Nations experts had called for action to stop Israel’s “systematic and deliberate” demolition of Palestinian structures.
“Direct attacks on the Palestinian people’s homes, schools, livelihoods and water sources are nothing but Israel’s attempts to curtail the Palestinians’ right to self-determination and to threaten their very existence,” the experts said in a statement.
Mubarak Zawahrah, head of the Beit Tamar local council where the school was located, told AFP Israeli authorities had agreed a stay on the demolition pending a court appeal on Wednesday.
“But the Israeli army ignored that and just demolished it,” he said, adding that the students would now have to travel to another village for classes.
COGAT and Israeli group Regavim said the demolition was the result of a petition filed by the right-wing organisation whose mission, according to its website, includes “the protection of Israel’s national lands”.
Regavim in statement accused Palestinians of using the school’s construction “against the law” to manufacture “a humanitarian crisis”.