Children demonstrating against the Israeli military's attempt to close schools and orphanages in Hebron, Palestine (photo by Ahmad Jaradat, AIC, 2008).
April 7, 2008
Fourteen Hebron-area schools and orphanages, which serve approximately 7000 Palestinian children and orphans, today face the threat of closure by the Israeli army, Eight of these schools and orphanages belong to the Islamic Charitable Society, while the remaining six belong to the Muslim Youth Society.
On 25 February 2008, the Israeli military commander of the West Bank, General Gadi Shamni, issued a military order confiscating all properties located in Hebron that belong to these Islamic societies, including schools, stores, centres and residential houses. According to Palestinian security sources, in the past month the Israeli army conducted an intensive military operation in the city of Hebron, ransacking several offices, schools and properties of these societies. On 26 February the army invaded several buildings while damaging gates and furniture and stealing food, notebooks, books, clothes and computers. On 6 May the Israeli army attacked a store on Hebron’s El-Hawooz Street, where the Islamic Charitable Society collected clothes and personal items for the orphans.
According to Abdul-Kareem Farrah, the information advisor to the Islamic Charitable Society, these Israeli thefts and damages cost approximately NIS 1 million.
The original military order indicated that the schools and orphanages would be closed as of 1 April 2008. However, after the governor of Hebron, Hussain al-A’raj, expressing his astonishment at the order and requested the Israeli authorities to revoke it, and after the lawyer Osama Hallabi petitioned the Israeli High Court in this matter, the order was postponed for one week. On the morning of 2 April, school officials received word that the Israeli High Court had given the Israeli army four days to provide full justification for the closure and evacuation of the schools and orphanages. On 3 April the attorney for the Islamic Charitable Society was informed that the Israeli High Court will rule in this matter on Monday 7 April. Today.
According to Attorney Hallabi, the military order does not specify a real and concrete reason for the closures, and falls under the category of a "security reason order". Hallabi reports that most of the charitable societies’ buildings are located in Area A, which falls under jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority, while others are located in Area B, which falls under PA administrative jurisdiction and Israeli security jurisdiction. This means the charitable associations should be allowed to petition the Palestinian governor of the Hebron District or at least to the Civil Affairs Ministry of the PA. Israeli authorities have no right to confiscate public or private properties not belonging to their jurisdiction. Moreover, the closure order violates the Fourth Geneva Convention, as the Convention explicitly states that an occupation authority cannot confiscate properties within occupied territories.
The Islamic Charitable Society and the Muslim Youth Society provided numerous proofs of their legality. All of their financial dealings and accounting are completely transparent. They have contacts and relations with official organizations and banks. The Islamic Charitable Society was founded in 1957 and the Muslim Youth Society in 1961, both well before the establishment of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas). Both societies always had legal permission for their buildings and their work, first during the Jordanian control and after under the Israeli occupation.
Several protest marches took place in recent days in Hebron and the surrounding area against the confiscation order, augmented by support from various international organisations. At this very moment (3pm local time on 7 April), a press conference for foreign consulate representatives, human rights organizations and journalists is being conducted in one of the schools under threat. There is a tremendous grassroots effort to save these properties with support of the local and international media and non-government organisations.
If the military confiscation and closure will be implemented, 7000 Palestinian students, aged 5 to 16, will have no school. 4500 orphans will become homeless for the second time. 5000 weakened families will go without assistance. 600 workers will lose their livelihood.
This situation is alarming. Who can provide this assistance and shelter? The occupying forces of the Israeli military or government? The Palestinian Authority, which lacks money to build a state with all the necessary infrastructures? Why leave these children without homes, education and hope for their future? What is their crime?
It appears that Israel is planning to target all Palestinian infrastructures which can be related in some way to Islamic organizations and movements. Negatively affecting the life of thousands of people and children, this policy is once again a collective punishment against the entire Palestinian people and international law as a whole.
By targeting Islamic group and associations, Israel is attempting to steer the Israeli-Palestinian conflict towards a religious dimension. In doing so, Israel is both exploiting and bolstering the American-led international equation of Islam with terrorism, and Muslim with terrorist, in order to further dispossess the Palestinian people and to destroy possibilities for peace in the area. To date this international understanding has had horrific implications for the Palestinians, particularly in making it possible to dehumanize the 1.5 million Palestinian women, men and children of the Gaza Strip and declare them and the area as a "hostile entity." To kill and cut off the basic necessities of life, and to do so with complete impunity. Israel is now acting to dehumanise Palestinian children and orphans in the Hebron area, whose sole 'crime’ is to attend schools and reside in orphanages run by Islamic charity groups.
Israel had the possibility to negotiate with Islamic parties and organizations, but they failed to do so. Numerous Palestinians do not possess any possibility other than the social efforts of some Islamic groups which truly care for the social needs of the people. Often time people do not have any hope other than their religion. Why steal from them even their individual hopes and dreams?