Wes Streeting MP: The international community must support Palestinians whose homes face demolition
Palestinian children should not have to fear that the bulldozers might demolish their homes any more than Israeli children should not have to cower under their classroom desks because the sirens are signalling a rocket attack, says Wes Streeting MP.
This week, two educational facilities in the West Bank of Palestine are under threat of being demolished: a kindergarten in the Bedouin community of Jabal al Baba and the Rubber Tyre School in Khan al-ahmar, which, along with the entire community of Khan Al Ahmar, is at risk of being forcibly displaced from their land.
I visited the community of Jabal al-baba – or Pope Mountain as it is known in English, in April 2016 as part of a parliamentary delegation with CAABU and Medical Aid for Palestinians. The community had arrived in what is now known as Area C as refugees, having fled their homes in the Negev during 1948. “We fled our homes once, we will not leave again”, said Atallah Jahaleen, the representative of the local community. Atallah’s story is not unique: there are currently 63 such communities at risk of forcible transfer in Area C, in direct violation of international law. Sixty three communities where families, men, women and children live in constant fear and uncertainty of not knowing when the Israeli bulldozers will arrive and raze their homes or schools to the ground.
At the time of writing there are 44 educational facilities at risk of demolition across the West Bank. I’m sure many parents will relate to the fear and anxiety of sending their children to school, but in the occupied Palestinian territory this anxiety has additional layers of fear and trepidation. According to Save the Children, there were 169 incidents of education related violations in 2017, affecting over 30,000 children; these violations include attacks against schools, such as weapons fire (tear gas sounds bombs, rubber bullets and live ammunition), harassment of students by Israeli settler or soldier on their way to school or as they cross through checkpoints, the arrest and detention of children Last year there were a staggering 31 cases of the Israeli military firing tear gas canisters, sound grenades and live ammunition in or around school premises.
Just last week, Britain joined 72 other countries in signing up to the Safe Schools Declaration and our commitment to education across the world is evident through significant investment through the Department for International Development. It is not enough to invest in education if we cannot protect education.
This year marks 25 years since the signing of the Oslo accords, a moment that was meant usher in a new era of peace and coexistence and the beginning of a two state solution. But since the signing of the Oslo Accords, what have Palestinian and Israeli children of the Oslo Generation seen? A seemingly endless cycle of violence and injustice – including in recent weeks the incitement of knife and grenade attacks against innocent Israelis and the shooting of innocent Palestinian protestors by the Israeli Defence Force. Palestinian children should not have to fear that the bulldozers might demolish their homes any more than Israeli children should not have to cower under their classroom desks because the sirens are signalling a rocket attack.
Settlements and demolitions are not the only barriers to peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Both sides must shoulder their fair share of the blame for where they are now.
But this week, there are people at risk of losing their homes. Many good people - including on the Israeli left and in Israeli human rights organisations – are speaking up against these demolitions. The international community has a responsibility to support them.
Wes Streeting is Labour MP for Ilford North.