Palestinian pupils scrap school holidays to save village

The ministry says it's trying to pre-empt any Israeli move by starting school early for 170 elementary students in Khan al-Ahmar and four nearby Bedouin communities. (Nasser Nasser/AP)
Updated 17 July 2018
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Palestinian pupils scrap school holidays to save village

  • Israel says the Bedouin village was constructed illegally
  • The residents of the village point out that it is nearly impossible for Palestinians to obtain building permits from Israeli authorities

KHAN AL-AHMAR, Palestinian Territories: Under the sun’s harsh glare, dozens of students sing the Palestinian national anthem — beginning a new school year early as part of efforts to keep their village from being demolished.
The students of Khan Al-Ahmar went back to their village school in the occupied West Bank on Monday, while Israeli authorities seek to evict them.
“We are starting the school year earlier because the Israelis want to destroy the school,” said Amani Ali, 11.
“So when they come to demolish it, we will be here.”
Israel says the Bedouin village, located in a strategic spot east of Jerusalem near Israeli settlements and on the road to the Dead Sea, was constructed illegally and is seeking to move its 191 residents elsewhere.
The residents of the village point out that it is nearly impossible for Palestinians to obtain building permits from Israeli authorities in around 60 percent of the West Bank where they maintain full control.
On May 24, Israel’s supreme court allowed authorities to go ahead with demolition of the small hillside village that sits between a highway, the desert and two Israeli settlements.
Since then, two new court challenges have been filed on behalf of the village, temporarily suspending demolition plans, and the court plans to hold another hearing by August 15 at the latest, activists say.
European countries have rallied to support the villagers, calling for demolition plans to be canceled.
“The fact that the students are at the school can prevent the decision from being carried out because they are going to see that there are classes, life, people,” said Ghadir Darsya, who has taught in Khan Al-Ahmar for three years.
“No one knows what’s going to happen,” she added, while sorting books with her colleagues amid the sound of children’s voices from an adjacent playground.
The school was constructed in 2009 with the support of NGOs and the European Union. Largely built with tires, sand and mud, it serves 170 students from various Bedouin villages, according to the principal.
“There are about 50 families with many children. Where are they going to go?” said Darsya.
The rest of the village is made up of homes of metal sheets, cardboard and wood, as is common in such Bedouin communities.
“We are always afraid. I cannot sleep at night,” said Raya Jahalin, as her grandchildren played on a large carpet behind her that serves as a living room devoid of furniture.
“It is our land. I have lived here for 50 years. I was born here. My children were married here.”
The villagers say Khan Al-Ahmar has been located there since 1952.
It was established after Bedouins from the Jahalin tribe were, according to rights activists, expelled from the Negev desert in the south after the creation of Israel in 1948.
Israeli authorities now want to relocate them to an area near Abu Dis in the West Bank, but the villagers are refusing, saying that the site is near a dump and in an urban environment where their animals cannot graze.
For Eid Abu Khamis, a village spokesman, forced eviction of Bedouins throughout the area would put in peril the possibility of a future Palestinian state.
If they are replaced with Israeli settlers, Khamis and rights groups say the West Bank could be cut in two, dividing the half north of Jerusalem from the southern one.
Israeli rights group B’Tselem says around 180 communities are threatened with eviction in the West Bank.
B’Tselem spokesman Amit Gilutz says Israel has for decades pursued a policy of trying to evict Palestinians from the part of the West Bank where it exerts full control.
It has sought to avoid forced transfers, he said, but applies enough pressure on the villagers in hopes that they finally decide to leave on their own.


Palestine, Egypt offer air support as Israel battles wildfires

A firefighting aircraft flies over a forest near Kibbutz Harel, which was damaged by wildfires during a record heatwave, in Israel May 24, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 25 May 2019
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Palestine, Egypt offer air support as Israel battles wildfires

  • Thousands of people were evacuated from their homes on Thursday as fires raged
  • The fires were fueled by high temperatures and dry condition

JERUSALEM: Egypt and four European countries sent aircraft to help Israel battle wildfires that have forced the evacuation of some small towns, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Friday, as a record heatwave looked set to worsen conditions.
At an emergency briefing, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel had appealed for international help to combat the fires, and that firefighting planes were coming in from Greece, Croatia, Italy and Cyprus.
Egypt, on the orders of President Abdel-Fatah El-Sisi, had also sent two helicopters to assist Israel, Netanyahu told reporters.
The Palestinian Authority and Russia had also offered help, Netanyahu said.
Israel braced for wildfires on Friday amid a major heat wave that shows no signs of abating.
Israel “really appreciates” the help, Netanyahu said, singling out El-Sisi for sending aid.
“I am deeply thankful for the readiness of neighbors to help us in a time of crisis, just as we help them,” Netanyahu said.
Israel’s Fire and Rescue Service said blazes in a key corridor between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv were mostly under control but difficult weather remained a conflagration risk.
“As of this moment, this (containment) is being done in the best possible way, but the challenge is yet ahead of us given the weather conditions, the winds and the extreme heat,” Netanyahu said.
Some 3,500 residents of small towns in the path of the fires were evacuated on Thursday, officials said. Dozens of homes have burned down.

Evacuations
Thousands of people were evacuated from towns and dozens of homes were burned on Thursday as fires raged, fueled by high temperatures and dry conditions. Over 500 acres of woodland have burned, said Nitai Zecharya, an Israeli official from the Jewish National Fund, known for planting forests in the country.
Zecharya said that while firefighters had brought most of the blaze under control, officials remained “very stressed” about strong winds fanning flames and “spreading fires to other fronts.”
The cause of the fires remains unclear, but they erupted following the Jewish festival of Lag Ba’Omer, which observers mark with bonfires.
A sweltering heat wave is pushing temperatures in parts of the country up to 110 degrees Fahrenheit, or 43 Celsius.