A new kindergarten was set to open next month in the Palestinian-Bedouin village of Jabal al-Baba, located 2.5 miles east of Jerusalem in the E1 corridor of the occupied West Bank. The structure was built in order to serve as a classroom and childcare facility for some two-dozen Palestinian families. Roughly twenty-five children (ages four to six) were set to attend the school in the fall.
Israeli occupation forces, however, demolished the structure on Monday, August 21, 2017, claiming that it was built without the required permits. Of course, this was only a pretext. The Jahalin Bedouin communities of the E1 corridor have been targeted for years by Israel, which has long sought to clear the area in order to expand the illegal Ma‘ale Adumim settlement and link the mega-colony to Jerusalem. According to Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, as a result of Monday’s demolition, local children no longer have immediate access to educational institutions.
The demolition occurred only three days after a damning press statement was issued by international NGO, Save the Children-Palestine, to mark World Humanitarian Day. The brief is entitled “Worsening Child Protection Crisis Plaguing the Occupied Palestinian Territory” and is written by Jennifer Moorehead, Country Director of Save the Children-Palestine.
According to Moorehead, millions of children in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) “face increasing violations of their rights” at the hands of Israeli occupation forces, including arbitrary arrest, harassment, and forcible transfer/displacement. Moorehead concludes that incidents documented by the organization in 2016 and 2017 (thus far) point to a deterioration of an already critical situation in the oPt with respect to children’s health, security, and access to institutions.
The press brief focuses specifically on the education sector. According to Moorehead, between January and March 2017 alone, there were twenty-four documented cases of schools attacked by Israeli occupation forces in the West Bank. Fifty West Bank schools are currently threatened with demolition or stop-work orders. In the Gaza Strip, the situation is even worse, thanks to enforced isolation and high poverty levels, as well as indiscriminate Israeli bombing.
The targeting of Palestinian children and children’s facilities is part of a broader pattern of children’s rights violations committed by Israeli occupation forces. In 2016 alone, Save the Children-Palestine, along with UNICEF, recorded 256 education-related violations that affected the education of almost 30,000 Palestinian students in the oPt.
Save the Children’s findings are corroborated by reports from other rights groups, notably Defense for Children International-Palestine. Last year, Defense for Children reported that 62% of children surveyed in the oPt “endured some form of physical violence” at the hands of Israeli authorities in 2016, while the number of children detained in the Israeli prison system reached the highest known total (444) since 2008. According to the Palestinian Commission for Detainees and Ex-Detainees, that number has remained stable going into August 2017, with approximately 400 minors currently in custody (Israeli prison services puts this number at roughly 341). In addition, Defense for Children reported that thirty-two Palestinian children were killed by Israeli forces/private security guards in 2016, while eighty-two were wounded by live ammunition and/or crowd control weaponry. This is the result, at least in part, of a shoot-to-kill policy adopted by Israeli forces to more effectively disperse protests and deter isolated attacks launched by individual Palestinians since 2015.
For Palestinian children, the ongoing surge in Israeli school demolitions and closures has severely impacted their access to education. The rate of detention amongst Palestinian minors also does not appear to be slowing down significantly. Perhaps it is time for the United Nations to finally place Israel on its watchlist of children’s rights abusers. Indeed, so long as Israel is permitted to act with impunity, the rights of Palestinian children are sure to continue eroding.