Israeli denial of Palestinians’ right to education in Masafer Yatta is a central element of its efforts to ethnically cleanse Palestinian communities from their land. For years and despite Israeli restrictions on Palestinian construction in the area, Palestinians have been determined to defend their right to education by building schools in various communities in Masafer Yatta. Currently, six schools in the area face an imminent Israeli demolition, while al-Sfai school has already been demolished. This puts the right of Palestinian students to education and the existence of Palestinian communities in Masafer Yatta at critical stake. Below, we provide a showcase of the threatened schools, as well as the importance of defending these schools from demolition by supporting the #DefendOurSchools campaign.
The School of Al-Majaz
Built in September 2014, in Al-Majaz village in Masafer Yatta, Al-Majaz school is now host to 40 students between the first grade and ninth grade. Before establishing this school, the people of Masafer Yatta had to leave their land and go to Yatta to secure their children’s education. Now they are back in their home village while their children are receiving the education they deserve.
The school of Al-Majaz is located inside the firing zone “918”. Israel created this ‘firing zone’ as a legal cover for their intent to expel the people of Masafer Yatta. Hence, every establishment is under threat of demolition. In 2015, the school received a ‘stop working order’ from the Israeli authorities, and the establishment is under close surveillance by the occupation, putting it in imminent danger of demolition.
Jad Nawajaa is the principal of this school. He explains the great importance the school has and how it correlates with Israeli attacks on its students. “Before this school, children used to help their families in farming and grazing the land, now they are exceptional students living a normal childhood in their homes,” he says. “Israel reacted to the children’s education with a series of settler attacks. They target the students on their way to school, especially at the beginning of the school year,” he adds.
“The school keeps the people from moving out of their villages, as having the children walk to a farther school puts them in danger of being subjected to settler attacks. If the school is demolished, the people here will most likely have to move out” Jad Nawajaa says.
The school of Al-Fakheet
Around 100 students from Al-Fakheet and nearby communities attend Al-Fakheet school. Al-Fakheet is among the villages in Firing Zone 918, where its residents face the threat of imminent Israeli ethnic cleansing. The school of Al-Fakheet started receiving Israeli demolition orders in 2012. In 2014, Israeli bulldozers invaded Al-Fakheet to demolish the school. However, thanks to the resistance of the students and the residents, the Israeli army and its bulldozers were unable to demolish the school.
The looming demolition of the school is not the only manifestation of how apartheid Israel systematically denies the students in Al-Fakheet and in Masafer Yatta at large their right to education. The students of Al-Fakheet school are also subjected to regular settler and army harassment on their way to and back from school. For instance, in September 2022, the Israeli army forced both teachers and students to wait for hours at military checkpoints.
Haitham Abu Sabha, Principal of Masafer Yatta Secondary School in Al-Fakheet, warns against the constant abuse of students stating that “even though families send their children to schools, they fear losing their children’s lives. Students are also in a continuous state of fear, anxiety, and tension. However, we count on the steadfastness of our people along with the local and international support and solidarity.”
In 2022, between May 11 and June 1, the Israeli authorities demolished the home of the Abu Sabha family from Al-Fakheet twice. This has forced the family of eight people to find refuge in the school clinic, which became their home. For the Abu Sabha family, the school of Al-Fakheet is their last refuge after they lost their home, as well as the place where the six children of the Abu Sabha family dream about a better future through getting adequate education at the school.
The school of Khalet Al-Dabe’
The school of Khalet Al-Dabe’ currently serves education to 7 students between the first and fifth grades. This school is in the small village of Khalet Al-Dabe’ in Masafer Yatta. Built as a group of caravans in 2017, Israel ‘confiscated’ the school the same year. Afterward, the students continued their education despite the loss of their school in the open air for two days, until one of the villagers offered their home as a temporary school.
In 2018, the school was re-established as a two-room building, hosting every two classes in one room. Shortly after, Israel issued a “stop working order”, and two weeks later issued a demolition order. Today, the school could be demolished at any time.
Haytham Abu Sabha, the principal of the neighboring school of Al-Fakheet is a first-hand witness to the changes this school has made in this community. “If this school was not built, those children would not have been able to go to the other nearest school. It is too far away. I personally, I know children who quit their education because the nearest school was too hard to reach.” He stresses that “this school offers a place for all of Masafer’s people to grow and evolve, it supports the mental and social growth of the students, and it is also a space for many workshops and events for the village’s people,” he adds.
Five out of the seven students in this school are siblings whose families moved back to the village because of the school. If the demolition order turns into reality, all the people of the village would suffer the consequences and would be displaced again from their village.
The school of Kashm Al-Karim
The school of Kashm Al-Karim was built in 2022. Shortly after, it received a demolition warning for 96 hours. The warning turned into an injunction order, and then a demolition order in late December 2022. Due to popular efforts, petitions and appeals, this order hasn’t been put into force yet.
The school serves education to 49 children aged between 5 and 10 years old. Its principal, Mohammed Abu Malsh, tells us about the school’s effects on the community. “Before this school, many of the children didn’t receive education, though they are very passionate about learning. Some of our first graders are nine years old because they haven’t had the chance to receive an education. Without a school. Now, they are learning faster and better than others in more privileged areas,” he explains.
The nearest school to Khashm Al-Karim village was 5 to 6 kilometers far from the homes of these children. They had to walk a dangerous road between settlements, valleys, and mountains to reach the nearest school. This daily journey to and from their school would have to be taken on sunny and rainy days, during daylight or in the dark. In these conditions, many children were deprived of their right to education until the school in the village was established.
Mohammed Abu Malsh stressed the effects of school demolitions in the area. “The mental health of the children deteriorated after the demolition Al-Sfai school [another school in the area, which has already been demolished]. They started to fear an attack in their own school”
The school of Kashm Al-Karim is a 9 room small building, where children are learning not only the official curriculum, but teachers are offering also extracurricular initiatives to allow the children to open their minds to the world, and to flourish in all aspects of their development. If the latest demolition order is acted upon by the occupation forces, 46 children will lose their safe haven.
The school of Khirbet Em-Qussa
Started out as a group of tents built through popular efforts and donations in 2020, the school of Khirbet Em-Qussa is now an 8-room small building made out of Zinc. It hosts 60 students, between the first and fourth grade. It received its first demolition order in 2021, which said that the school would be demolished in 96 hours, and due to solidarity and grassroots movements’ pressure the warning was Paused.
However, months later, the school received a stop working order, even though the building process was complete. Israel issued another stop-working order two months later, and continued to this day close surveillance by measuring and taking pictures of the building.
“Before the building of this school, children of this village had to walk 8 kilometers in the wilderness to Al-Zwaideen village. This was too hard on many children so they didn’t receive any education before this school was built” the school’s principal Abu Islam says. “Because the school of Khirbet Em-Qussa is near, the education rates are much higher now, and it is safer for the children to reach their school,” he adds.
Further, as education is a high priority for the villagers, the existence of a school keeps the people steadfast in their village. If the school is bulldozed, students will lose their education, home, and safety.
The school of Khirbet Jinba
Built-in 2013, 35 students receive their education at the school of Khirbet Jinba. However, the number of students in this school should rise to over 60 students, but because of Israel’s constant attacks on the school, it still doesn’t host as many students as it intends to.
Israel targets the school in many ways other than the threat of demolition. In 2022, Israel installed a checkpoint at the entrance of the village and blocked the teachers from reaching the school, creating an obstacle for both, the students and the teachers, to continue the learning process. Further, Israel confiscated the teachers’ cars, keeping them away from the school.
“If a school is in danger, the whole community is in danger,” says the principal of the school of Khirbet Jinba. Israel issued a demolition order against the school 9 years ago, shortly after its establishment. The standing demolition order endangers the school for a long period of time, and if acted upon students will have to face checkpoints and long hikes to receive their education.
The school of Khirbet Al-Sfai
On November 23, 2022, Israeli bulldozers demolished the donor-funded school of Khirbet Al-Sfai in Masafer Yatta. The school of al-Sfai was built in al-Sfai al-Fauqa village to serve 22 school children from three surrounding communities, al- Sfai al-Fauqa, al-Sfai al-Tihta, and Tuba. These students have long faced serious difficulties to reach a school.
Find more information about the school here.