Children flee as Israeli forces demolish West Bank elementary school

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  November 23, 2022

Students rush out of classroom window before Israeli forces flatten Masafer Yatta school.

Israeli forces demolished a Palestinian elementary school near the city of Hebron in the southern occupied West Bank on Wednesday.

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

Footage taken by Israeli activist Itai Feitelson before the demolition shows teachers helping young Palestinian students out of a classroom window, with Israeli forces standing outside.

Dozens of Israeli soldiers then cordoned off the area around the school, which stood on a hill, while a bulldozer flattened it. A photo published afterwards by Israeli rights group B’Tselem showed a pile of debris where the school once stood.

The Asafat school serves the Palestinian residents of the communities of Asafat al-Fawqa, Asafat al-Tahta, Maghayer al-Ubaid and Tuba. 

Fouad al-Amour, an activist from Masafer Yatta, told Middle East Eye that an Israeli court rejected a petition by Palestinian residents against the demolition after the Israeli military argued that the location posed a “danger to the students”.

He added that students could miss out on school as the closest schools are 2km and 4km away and movement of Palestinians in the area is highly restricted by the Israeli army. 

“The timing was chosen strategically, as we’re entering the winter season and it would be difficult to rebuild. This is going to be a bigger catastrophe for the students,” Amour said. 

“We will try what we can to rebuild, but we know the Israeli authorities play the thieves and the judges at the same time.”

The Palestinian Ministry of Education said the demolition was “a heinous crime”.

“These practices have become a flagrant violation of students’ right to safe and free education,” the ministry said, according to WAFA news agency.

The ministry said that dozens of Palestinian students in Masafer Yatta now had no school to attend.

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.

WAFA reported that Israeli forces confiscated the school’s stationery, tables and chairs before flattening the building.

Israel’s demolition of the Asafat school comes after a visit on Tuesday to Masafer Yatta by Palestinian officials and representatives of international and human rights groups, in solidarity with its Palestinian residents.

In August, Israel’s Supreme Court rejected an appeal from Palestinian residents of the area against the demolition of clinics, two schools and other buildings in the area.

Israel declared the 30-square-kilometre territory a restricted military area in the early 1980s, claiming it was uninhabited.

Masafer Yatta residents say many of the Palestinian families have been permanently residing in the area since before Israel illegally occupied the West Bank in the 1967 war.

Additional reporting by Lubna Masarwa in Jerusalem