By Catherine Weibel
KHAN AL AHMAR, Occupied Palestinian Territory, 21 October 2011 – Every morning, students walk to the primary school in Khan Al Ahmar fearing it might be gone. “Day after day, I worry it might have been knocked down overnight,” said Iman (name changed), a nine-year-old Bedouin student.
Khan Al Ahmar village is located in a mineral desert east of Jerusalem, within ‘Area C’ – an Israeli-controlled zone covering over 60 per cent of the West Bank. Because a range of restrictions virtually eliminates Palestinian’s ability to obtain building permits in Area C, communities are forced to risk demolition of their schools to educate their children.
Slated for demolition
Khan Al Ahmar residents face a life harsher than most. They are Bedouins, among the most marginalized communities within the Palestinian territory, living in a sprawl of ramshackle metal houses without access to running water, safe sanitation or electricity.
Until two years ago, many children in the village walked or hitchhiked to a school in Jericho, 14 km away. But after four children were killed while commuting along a highway, villagers decided to build their own school.
With support from an Italian NGO, the primary school was cobbled together from old car tires and dried mud. It was immediately slated for demolition by the Israeli Civil Administration.
And because two nearby settlements are planning to expand into the village, demolition orders were issued for homes in the area as well.
A ticking clock
“We have lived in Khan Al Ahmar all our lives. Now our children live in fear of not being able to go to school,” said Abu Khamis, a community leader. “They’re also afraid for the dwellings they’ve been living in since they were born.”
Israeli attorney Shlomo Lecker, who represents the community, says that Khan Al Ahmar is not the only school at risk of being knocked down. “If this school is demolished, it will set the clock ticking for many others in Area C as well,” he said.
In July 2011, residents from the nearby Kfar Adumim settlement petitioned the Israeli High Court to prevent the school from opening for the new school term and to have the demolition order carried out. The Court declined to close the school, but it did request a follow-up from Israeli authorities about its demolition plans.
At risk of displacement
Twenty other Bedouin communities in Area C face the same threat of demolition and displacement; over two-thirds of the residents in these areas are children.
Like Khan Al Ahmar, these communities are not connected to the electric grid and only half have access to water services. Yet demolition poses an even worse fate for these villagers: If their communities are scattered, children may lose not only their homes and schools, but also their culture.
“I do not want my school to be destroyed because it’s beautiful, and I need it,” said Iman. “All I ask is to be able to study and live here in Khan Al Ahmar because this is my only home.”