When Israeli occupation forces shot three secondary school students, critically injuring two of them, last week, it was hardly an isolated incident.
The students were injured after soldiers raided Tuqu village near the West Bank city of Bethlehem, surrounding a high school. The military fired tear gas and live ammunition after being confronted by youths.
The frequency of such violence in or near Palestinian schools in the West Bank has increased during the current academic year.
“Incidents of interference in schools by Israeli forces” include “threats of demolition, clashes on the way to school between students and security forces, teachers stopped at checkpoints, and the violent actions of Israeli forces and settlers on some occasions,” according to a statement by United Nations officials.
The bulk of the 111 “interferences to education” in the West Bank documented by the UN in 2018 took place in the last four months of the year.
“More than half of the verified incidents involved live ammunition, tear gas and stun grenades fired into or near schools by Israeli forces, impacting the delivery of education or injuring students,” according to the UN officials.
Israeli forces demolished or seized five Palestinian schools in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, last year, and 50 more are under threat of demolition.
“Orief secondary school for boys near Nablus has also been forced closed twice due to settler violence, and children from this school have been hospitalized with multiple injuries, including from gunshots,” the UN officials add.
Regular violence in Hebron
In the H2 area of Hebron, where Palestinians live in close proximity to hostile Israeli settlers, “tear gas is regularly used around schools, and new measures are being applied at checkpoints that expose students and teachers to violence – at one particularly affected H2 school, more than 20 such incidents were documented in 2018.”
Video published by the human rights group B’Tselem shows heavily armed Israeli Border Police forces apprehending students in Hebron’s city center as they were leaving school in December:
Two of the students detained by the Israeli officers were under the age of 12.
One of the boys, 13 years old, was taken to a police station, where he was “interrogated with no parent or other adult acting on his behalf present.”
He was held overnight without being given food or drink until the morning. He was released that afternoon after his father posted bail at a military court, deposited by the soldiers far away from his home.
Soldiers drove the boy to the entrance to al-Arroub refugee camp and removed his handcuffs. One of the soldiers punched the child on the head, causing him to fall to the ground, before they drove off.
Demolitions on permit pretext
Human Rights Watch also emphasizes Israel’s violations of Palestinian children’s right to education in its shadow report to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights review of Israel.
Israeli forces have demolished or confiscated Palestinian school buildings or property in the West Bank at least 16 times since the beginning of this decade, according to the rights group.
“Israeli authorities have justified the destruction or damage to schools on the basis that they lacked building permits from the Israeli military, but the military almost never grants Palestinians building permits in Area C, the 60 percent of the West Bank where it exercises exclusive control,” Human Rights Watch states.
More than a third of Palestinian communities in Area C do not have primary schools and some 1,700 children are forced to walk five or more kilometers to school due to road closures and lack of infrastructure.
“The long distances and fear of harassment by settlers or the military lead some parents to take their children out of school,” Human Rights Watch adds.
Gaza schools attacked
The Israeli military also disrupts Palestinian children’s education in Gaza.
Schools in both Gaza and southern Israel were closed for at least one day during a three-day military escalation in the coastal enclave last November and some incurred severe damage.
More than half of Gaza’s schools were damaged during Israel’s 51-day assault on the territory in summer 2014.
“Israeli restrictions on the delivery of construction materials to Gaza and a lack of funding have impeded reconstruction of damaged or destroyed facilities,” Human Rights Watch notes.
During that military offensive, Israel hit three schools administered by UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees, being used as shelters, killing 45, including 17 children.
“The Israeli military alleged that Palestinian fighters were operating near the school, or had fired mortars ‘from the vicinity’ of it, but it has offered no information or evidence to support that claim,” Human Rights Watch adds.
One rocket fired from Gaza during that offensive hit a building used as a daycare in southern Israel, but caused no casualties.