A decision by Israeli authorities to auction off prefabricated classrooms that were confiscated from a Palestinian village last year is causing controversy among local and international leaders.
A report from the Guardian last Friday said that the Israeli Defense Ministry was planning on holding an auction this coming week to sell the two prefab classrooms, citing an advertisement for the “seized property” in the Israeli Maariv newspaper.
The classrooms, along with two tents and three metal sheds, were confiscated by Israeli forces last October from the rural Palestinian village of Ibziq, in the northern occupied West Bank.
The classrooms had been donated to the community by the European Union, which has donated hundreds of similar structures to primarily Bedouin communities across the occupied territories.
They were confiscated under the pretext that they were built “illegally” in Israeli-controlled Area C of the West Bank, where Palestinian are required to obtain Israeli construction permits in order to build anything — a nearly impossible task.
“A list of auction items, seen by the Guardian, showed dates, item numbers, locations and descriptions that matched the confiscated classroom structures,” the Guardian said, adding that the auction was being held by Israel’s Civil Administration — the agency responsible for enforcing the Israeli government’s policies in the occupied territories.
“What the Israelis have done, to confiscate these classrooms, is illegal,” Palestinian human rights lawyer and activist Farid al-Atrash told Mondoweiss. “But to then go on and sell it, is reprehensible. It goes against all international human rights laws and norms.”
“The fact that the Israelis can go and confiscate EU-funded schools, and then go off and sell them, is testament to the fact that the Israelis fear no one in the international community, and feel they can get away with whatever they want,” al-Atrash said.
The Palestine News Network (PNN) reported the Maariv ad as saying “in the case where the owners of these seized assets have not proceeded to request the return of their property within 30 days of the publication of this notice, the assets will be sold.”
However, PNN spoke to Shadi Othman, the EU spokesman in Jerusalem, who said that the EU did in fact make an official request to have the confiscated structures returned, but received no response from Israeli authorities.
The “EU missions in Jerusalem and Ramallah had called on Israeli authorities to return the confiscated items to their intended beneficiaries without precondition as soon as possible,” Othman told PNN.
He added that the EU requested that if the structures could not be returned, that the EU be compensated for the value of the classrooms, amounting to around $17,100.
At the time of the confiscation, the EU released the following statement:
“Every child has the right to access education and states have an obligation to protect, respect and fulfill this right, by ensuring that schools are inviolable safe spaces for children.”
The Electronic Intifada reported last year that from 2001 to 2016, Israel “caused an estimated $74 million in destruction to EU-funded projects. That includes $26 million of destruction to EU projects during Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza,” citing a report from Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq.
“Instead of holding Israel accountable, European donors have expressed reluctance in funding aid projects without guarantees from Israel,” the report said.
“The Europeans and the international community can no longer just be an audience to the injustices committed by the occupation,” al-Atrash told Mondoweiss.
“They need to take concrete actions against the occupation for their violation of Palestinian rights, and hold them accountable in international courts.”