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Sunday, February 28, 2021

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LONDON: Over 840 structures in the West Bank have been demolished by Israeli authorities since the start of 2020, displacing more than 500 Palestinian children — a four-year high — according to Save the Children.

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“The demolitions have disrupted every aspect of children’s lives,” said the charity. “Their homes have been razed to the ground; vital infrastructure such as water and sanitation facilities have been destroyed; and schools are under a constant threat of demolition.”

In April, Israeli officials told journalists that demolitions in Area C of the West Bank would halt due to the coronavirus pandemic. But despite this promise, demolitions continued.

A similar announcement was made on Oct. 1, when Israeli officials claimed that they would pause the tearing down of buildings in East Jerusalem. But in November, they demolished a home belonging to a family of five.

Beyond agricultural infrastructure and housing, the Israeli Civil Administration has also put schools in its sights.

The Umm Qussa school in Hebron was recently given 97 hours to appeal against destruction. Its future remains uncertain.

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“The ongoing demolitions are making children and their families homeless, and they’re leaving vital infrastructure in the West Bank in shambles,” Jason Lee, Save the Children’s country director in the occupied Palestinian territories, told Arab News.

“Children are paying the highest price. Tearing down a house, a school or other vital infrastructure, especially during a pandemic, destroys their right to an education, to have a home. It targets their future, their health, their safety and wellbeing,” he said, adding that 2020 “is the worst year since 2016 in terms of children displaced. Our programs continue to support economic resilience and provide educational access, but it has been incredibly difficult with the socioeconomic pressure of COVID-19. There’s only so much we can do with the demolitions and virus both being so widespread.”

Lee said there are key steps that governments could take to resist the destruction of key infrastructure in the West Bank.

“Firstly, donor governments must continue funding the response,” he added. “Secondly, donor governments should challenge Israel through bilateral communications and global forums to stop this policy, which is illegal under international humanitarian law and immoral under the circumstances of COVID-19.”

Save the Children “wants donor governments to challenge the demolitions through the courts,” he said.

“They’re destroying vital community infrastructure. In many cases, donor governments have built this infrastructure and it’s being destroyed. Israel should pay for the damages for what they’ve destroyed.”

Britain “plays a critical role in the Palestine portfolio,” Lee added. “The UK should be spearheading efforts … to call for Israel to be accountable for its actions, and enforcing its obligations under human rights and international humanitarian law as an occupying power to ensure the protection of the rights of all Palestinian people, particularly children.”

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by WCT staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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