A kindergarten. Who was it used by? Palestinian refugee children. This was not some military training center or weapons factory but a ramshackle education establishment for toddlers serving the small community of Jabal Al Baba, 4km to the east of Jerusalem. It warranted an early morning visit of Israeli forces that wiped the site clean, taking all the school equipment as well. Nothing was left at all.
If you visit this small community of 56 families you see the residue of previous demolitions, even of the “threatening” animal pens. All in all, their community head tells me, 48 structures have been demolished in the past three years. Originally there were forced out of the Negev desert in Israel in 1950.
Intriguingly this small plot of land is part owned by the Vatican, hence the name Jabal Al Baba or Pope’s mountain. It was in fact a gift from King Hussein of Jordan to the then Pope Paul VI during his 1964 visit.
The week before this round of demolitions, Israeli soldiers had been removing “threatening” solar panels that supplied the kindergarten and elementary school of the neighboring community of Abu Nuwar. The existing classroom is now too hot even to be used and they make use of the local barbershop for elementary school classes. In February 2016, trailers donated by the French government for use as a school were demolished.
Back in 2014, I had visited another Bedouin community close by that had had its newly installed swings confiscated because they constituted an illegal construction.
An incredible 56 Palestinian schools in Area C communities in the West Bank have Israeli demolition orders outstanding against them.
The Israeli excuse is that these buildings do not have permits and are illegal. Who issues, or rather does not issue permits? The Israeli military authorities. Who in the West Bank build illegally, often without permits, without threat of demolition and typically with official assistance? Israeli settlers.
Added to this, Jabal Al Baba is being enclosed on three sides by the barrier that will separate it even from the local town of Ezzariyeh. Israel controls the only access point to the village, which it occasionally closes. Since 1967 the Bedouin have lost access to their grazing lands to the extent that many of them are forced to abandon herding and even are compelled to work in Israeli settlements.
The demolition of a small kindergarten on prime real estate east of Jerusalem is part of a larger settlement project that will make any Palestinian state unviable.
Conditions are grim enough already. Water and electricity are only acquired by hooking up independently to a local Palestinian towns resources. It is not on any sewage network. People live in cinderblock shacks and tents.
All of this amounts to establishing a coercive environment for the eventual forcible transfer of thousands of Palestinian Bedouin.
The Israeli plan is to shift these Bedouin away from prime real estate east of Jerusalem, an area that it has earmarked for the Jewish-only settlement building of Maaale Adummim. The Jabal Al Baba Bedouin may be transferred to nearby Abu Dis but other Bedouin communities will be forcefully transferred to what Israel even officially refers to as “townships” just outside Jericho. Lest you forget, this is the 21st century. In such townships, Bedouin, or more accurately perhaps herding communities, will not be able to practice their traditional way of life.
It is part of the E1 settlement plan that even the US has consistently opposed, knowing that it will be one of the “doomsday” settlement plans to terminate any chance of a viable Palestinian state. In effect, it would carve the West Bank into separate northern and southern areas, one of several settlement plans that could achieve this goal.
Israel has escalated its illegal aggression against the Palestinian Bedouin this year not least as settler-supporting ministers calculate that the Trump administration may provide the optimum political moment to implement E1 and kick the Bedouin out. Settlers have taken the lead in this, which is why the UN reports a rise in settler violence in the first six months of 2017 following a three-year decline.
The trauma and the fear engendered among the children is not hard to imagine. One of the Bedouin says that “our kids ask every morning, what will they demolish today?” Schools, let alone kindergartens, should not become targets in a conflict, as they all too often are in Palestine but also in Syria, Yemen, Ukraine and elsewhere.
Israeli spokesmen and supporters complain incessantly and often falsely about how Palestinian children are taught to hate. Once again it is the Israeli military who appear to be the most effective teachers.
• Chris Doyle is director of the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU). He has worked with the council since 1993 after graduating with a first class honors degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Exeter University. He has organized and accompanied numerous British parliamentary delegations to Arab countries. Twitter: @Doylech