Moussa Tabib greeted us at a makeshift tent next to a children’s play area opposite
the primary school in Izbut at Tabib. The school is in a substantial two storey
building and shares its premises with the village community centre. There is also a monthly clinic which takes place in one of its rooms. It is a key building in the village.
Moussa took us to the school to meet the children. We met Huzzn, one of his three daughters who attend the school. She is six years old and has a hearing loss. Moussa was fortunate to be able to send her to get a cochlear implant and for five years it worked well. Now it has stopped working and she needs a replacement so that she can hear properly and take full part in school lessons. However, this is the least of the challenges to Huzzn’s education. Huzzn’s school has a demolition order.
Izbut at Tabib is an unrecognised village. That is to say that it was one of 127 villages across the West Bank which was omitted from the Israeli map used at the signing of the Oslo Agreement. Though the villagers have refugee status it is not a refugee camp. The land here belonged to Tabsoud at-Tabib and it was the home of his second wife. During the war in 1948, he fled here with the rest of his family from what became Israel. The land was legally his. The majority of the people living here now are his descendants or part of his family. However, under the Oslo Agreement in 1994, this land was designated Area C, in other words under Israeli administration and control. This was intended to be an interim agreement and that all of the land would be handed over to Palestinian control in five years. 1999 has come and gone. Area C constitutes over 60% of Palestinian West Bank.
In addition to the school/community centre, the bus shelter and the village sign, 33 out of 45 houses in Izbut at Tabib, including the Moussa’s home, have all had demolition orders for a number of years. Only the houses which were already here in 1967 are allowed to stay. Planning permission is rarely sought by people living in Area C. The process is expensive, lengthy and almost no applications from Palestinians in Area C are successful. Before 1967, when the West Bank was ruled by Jordan, Jordanian law designated this land as agricultural land, which meant that nothing could be built in the village. Israel cites this as the reason for not giving building permission and for demolishing buildings already in existence. However, in one of the occupation’s most obvious examples of double standards, the Alfe Menashe settlement just two kilometres away is allowed to build and is expanding all the time.
On 27 August, a final demolition order was placed on the door of the school giving three day’s notice. Lawyers for the school managed to get a stay of execution and were given 21 days to submit papers to the court in Tel Aviv. Nothing has happened because of the Jewish holidays in Israel and the villagers are still waiting. We were told that three months ago the army came with bulldozers and destroyed an animal shelter; last year, in a nearby village, someone’s home was demolished and the family were not given time to get their belongings out. This means that villagers with demolition orders on their homes are constantly on edge not knowing who might be next or when it might happen. They told us that they fear the school may be a test case. If the authorities are able to destroy this building without too much opposition then their homes will become even more insecure.
The Israeli authorities have made no provision for where the children might go. They are only concerned with demolishing the building; they have never provided education in Izbat at Tabib. A counsellor has been working with the children to prepare them for the possible loss of their school. The younger children are most concerned about the physical building. ‘We will sit on top of the ruins and have our classes there.’ The 12 year-olds talk about their right to education. With the encouragement of Yousef Odeh, the Palestinian Director of Education for Qalqiliya District, teachers plan to teach the children in the tents across the road though this will hardly be feasible for long. They fear that if the children are separated and have to travel some distance, girl children in particular will drop out of school. It is expensive to travel to another village and there is no school bus. Most of the children will walk and some parents are anxious about their daughters travelling long distances on their own.
In the meantime, Huzzn will have to wait for her operation. Moussa says that it is expensive and that he cannot borrow money at this time particularly since his house is under threat. We take tea with him and others in the tent. Like everyone we meet, he asks us to tell their story to people in our home countries.
I work for Quaker Peace and Social Witness (QPSW) as an ecumenical accompanier serving on the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained in this email are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer (QPSW) or the World Council of Churches. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting it on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact the QPSW Programme Manager for I-oPt firstname.lastname@example.org for permission. Thank you.