According to UNICEF, the withdrawal earlier this year of an international observer force, the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH), from the Israeli-controlled H2 area of Hebron, has put some 7,000 Palestinian residents, including schoolchildren, at “heightened risk of further serious human rights violations”. This alarming conclusion brings to light the deeply disturbing issue of Palestinian schoolchildren in occupied Hebron being subjected to threats and violence simply by exercising their basic human right to education. This blog elaborates upon this serious child rights issue.
Background to TIPH
TIPH’s presence in Hebron began in 1994 pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 904. Paragraph 3 of Resolution 904 called for “for measures to be taken to guarantee the safety and protection of Palestinian civilians throughout the occupied territory, including, inter alia, a temporary international or foreign presence”. The recommendation was made following the massacre of 29 Palestinians in the Al Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, by an Israeli settler, on 25 February 1994.
TIPH offered children in Hebron some degree of protection from attacks and intimidation by Israeli settlers through, for example, escorting Palestinian children to school. Palestinian children attending schools near Israeli settler communities in Hebron have experienced threats and violence from settlers for years. According to statistics collated by the UN, 156 Palestinian children have been injured in incidents involving settlers since the start of 2016. TIPH was the only organisation authorised to access any part of the Israeli-controlled H2 area of Hebron on foot and with a vehicle, at any time, to document incidents and provide a protective presence. The international observer force was, according to Save the Children, “very important in reducing confrontations and ensuring children’s safety and access to education in Hebron.”
In late January 2019, the Israeli government declined to renew the TIPH’s mandate to operate in H2. Its removal has left children living and attending school in the area at greater risk of interference with their right to education, which is protected by Articles 28 and 29 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Oxfam and Save the Children expressed fears for the safety of Palestinian children following TIPH’s withdrawal. Oxfam Country Director, Chris Eijkemans, stated that the removal of TIPH “will exacerbate an already volatile situation, increase impunity for human rights abuses and put civilians in more danger”, adding, “[I]t is a dangerous green light for more violence and abuse of international law.” Save the Children Regional Director, Jeremy Stoner, noted that “Just last week, we visited one of the schools in Hebron, and the headmistress told Save the Children that staff and students felt exposed and vulnerable without international observers accompanying the children.”
The potential substantial impact of TIPH’s departure is illuminated by the recent reinforcement of the Israeli military checkpoint to the Qurtoba school in Hebron with a guard tower and an electronic gate, which has completely severed the school area from the Palestinian neighbourhood of Beit Hadassa. According to Save the Children, Oxfam and the Norwegian Refugee Council, Palestinian parents are not allowed to enter the school premises, and consequently the Palestinian children and teachers accessing the school with be directly exposed to any potential violence from settlers who live in the area without international observers. The precariousness of accessing education for Palestinian school-children in Hebron is also evident by a deeply troubling incident on 19 March 2019, when Israeli forces entered Ziad Jaber boys school in H2 and forcibly removed and arrested a 10-year-old Palestinian boy.
The wider context: violations against the right to education
The removal of TIPH from Israeli-controlled H2 area of Hebron occurred in the context of other concerning interferences with Palestinian children’s right to education. On 30 January 2019, a joint statement issued by the UN Humanitarian Coordinator, Jamie McGoldrick, UNICEF Special Representative, Genevieve Boutin, and UNESCO warned that some 50 schools in the West Bank, including in East Jerusalem, are under threat of demolition. The UN statement also notes that in 2018, five schools in the West Bank were demolished or seized by Israeli authorities.
In addition to demolitions, the joint statement states that in H2, tear gas is regularly used around schools, and new measures are being applied at checkpoints that expose students and teachers to violence. The statement identified “clashes on the way to school between students and security forces, teachers stopped at checkpoints, and the violent actions of Israeli forces and settlers on some occasions” as interfering with Palestinian children’s access to education. From January to December 2018, the UN documented 111 interferences to education in the West Bank affecting 19,196 children, an average of more than two violations every week. More than half of the verified incidents involved live ammunition, tear gas, and stun grenades fired into or near schools by Israeli forces, impacting the delivery of education or injuring students.
An alarming lack of respect to the right of education also appears to be reflected in actions taken by the Israeli government to dismantle EU donated education facilities. It was recently reported that Israel’s defence ministry plans to hold an auction to sell two prefabricated classrooms that were donated by the EU to Palestinian schoolchildren in the West Bank, and subsequently confiscated in October 2018.
Article 28(1) of the UN Convention on the Rights of Child (UNCRC) stipulates that education shall be accessible to all children on the basis of equal opportunity, obliging Israel to ensure that children in the occupied Palestinian territory have unrestricted access to education. The demolition of schools, forcible removal of children from school and repeated attacks on children on their way to school strongly suggest that Israeli authorities are in recurrent serious violation of this obligation. Additionally, Article 3(1) of the UNCRC provides that the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration in all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by administrative authorities or a number of other bodies. The decision to remove the necessary and important protective presence provided by TIPH for Palestinian schoolchildren in H2 does clearly appear to breach the obligation to give primary consideration to the best interests of the child.
Further concerns regarding accountability
Of some potential concern is the fact that the Israeli government’s decision to end TIPH’s mandate to maintain a protective presence in Hebron came shortly after details of a confidential report by TIPH, based on over 40,000 recorded incidents, was leaked to the media. According to the media, the report found that Israel regularly breaches international law in Hebron. It is unclear precisely what reasons lay behind the decision to remove TIPH, but what is clear is that an integral layer of independent observation and accountability is being stripped away by the decision to end the mandate, which could be incredibly problematic in terms of future consequences for safe access to education for Palestinian schoolchildren.
Edita Maric, Emma Fullerton
For regular monitoring and analysis on a wide range of child rights issues, including interference against the right to education, please see LPHR’s Child Rights Bulletin published every month.