The European Union has strongly condemned the Israeli demolition of a recently-built Palestinian primary school in the Masafer Yatta region of the southern occupied West Bank, saying the move violates children’s right to education.
“The EU recalls that demolitions are illegal under international law, and children’s right to education must be respected,” Peter Stano, a spokesman for the bloc, said in a statement.
He added that the “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 Palestinian locals, including movement restrictions imposed on them, teachers and humanitarian responders.”
Stano also called on Israeli authorities to halt all demolitions and evictions, “which will only increase the suffering of the Palestinian population and further escalate an already tense environment.”
On Wednesday, Israeli forces raided the Masafer Yatta area and demolished Asafat, a boys’ and girls’ school, in the village of Asafat al-Fawqa.
Footage taken by Israeli activist Itai Feitelson before the demolition shows teachers helping young Palestinian students out of a classroom window, while Israeli forces are standing outside.
Dozens of Israeli soldiers then cordoned off the area around the school, and a bulldozer flattened it shortly afterward.
The official Palestinian news agency Wafa reported that Israeli forces confiscated the school’s stationery, tables and chairs before flattening the building.
Meanwhile, 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,” it said.
The ministry also said that dozens of Palestinian students in Masafer Yatta now have no school to attend.
According to the Norwegian Refugee Council, the so-called Israeli High Court of Justice revoked on Wednesday an interim injunction freezing a demolition order against the school.
COGAT, the Israeli military body responsible for administrative affairs in the occupied West Bank, alleged that the school had been built illegally in an area designated as a closed firing zone.
Israeli officials claim that the Masafer Yatta villagers have no rights to the land, designated as Firing Zone 918, since it is to be used for military exercises, in which the presence of civilians is prohibited.
According to the Geneva conventions pertaining to humanitarian treatment in war, it is, however, illegal to expropriate occupied land for purposes that do not benefit the people living there, or to forcibly transfer the local population.
Masafer Yatta residents and Israeli rights groups say that many of the Palestinian families have been permanently residing in the 3,000 hectares (7,400 acres) area since before Israel captured the West Bank, in the 1967 Middle East War, and that their eviction would constitute a breach of international law.