Israel’s Civil Administration demolished a Palestinian Authority school on Sunday morning that had been built illegally in Herodian National Park, an ancient Jewish fortress and town located about 7.5 miles south of Jerusalem.
“We thank the Civil Administration for demonstrating their enforcement this morning near Herodian,” said Chairman of the Yesha Council Shlomo Ne’eman. “Establishing dilapidated schools are in reality P.A. land-grab tactics of state land, which actually put students at risk.
“We have reached an absurd situation where the court, through petitions by civil society organizations such as Regavim, must order the state to do the obvious. This is definitely another step in the persistent struggle for our state land. There is still a lot of work to be done,” he added.
For more than five years, Regavim, an Israel NGO involved in land issues, has been fighting a legal battle against the Civil Administration, the governing body tasked with carrying out bureaucratic functions in Judea and Samaria, to enforce a demolition order against the illegally built school.
The Civil Administration itself issued a stop work order on the structure in 2017 before Regavim became involved.
“The Civil Administration issues a demolition order, or a stop work order, on all illegal buildings. It doesn’t matter who built it. It’s the law, for a Jew, for an Arab, the law’s the same for everyone, or at least it’s supposed to be,” Tamar Sikurel, spokesperson for Regavim, told JNS.
Herod the Great
She said the building wasn’t just put up in a random place in Area C, a zone in Judea and Samaria that falls under full Israeli jurisdiction, but in a park of historic and archaeological significance to Jews. “It’s right at the foot of the mountain,” she said, referring to the artificial hill on which sit the ruins of a palace of Herod the Great, built between 23 BCE and 15 BCE in the Judean desert.
“The problem started when the Civil Administration didn’t really destroy the building,” Sikurel said. “The Palestinians continued to build despite the order and used the building as a school. That’s when Regavim entered the picture and said, ‘What’s going on?’”
In 2018, Regavim petitioned the Supreme Court, sitting as the High Court of Justice, against the Civil Administration for allowing the school to be built without permits.
However, the court gave the P.A. the opportunity to file for retroactive recognition of the structure. “It was a time-killing tactic because it was obvious it wouldn’t be possible to get permission in that location,” Sikurel said.
Regavim filed a second petition a year ago in Jerusalem District Court. Two months ago, the court ruled that the building was too dangerous for use, and needed to be sealed immediately and demolished within 60 days.
“Last Thursday, the 60-day deadline passed. We were debating our next move when we learned it was demolished this morning,” Sikurel said.
“The school is a very small story that offers a peek into the window of a very, very big story concerning the method the Palestinian Authority uses to seize control of the territory of the State of Israel. They’ve built hundreds of schools in the area, knowing it’s not ‘humanitarian,’ that it doesn’t look good to destroy a school,” she said. “In many cases, within a kilometer and a half, there are three real, functioning schools. So people who really do worry about a solution for the kids can relax. There’s a solution [for legitimate educational needs].”
“This is a system. They build a school in a few hours, put up a flag, bring in kids, many times with the help of foreign organizations,” Sikurel said. “Then, ‘of course,’ if there’s a building, they need infrastructure, water, electricity, and roads, and the moment they bring in water [pipes], they build other surrounding structures.
“This is a story that repeats itself again and again. And the State of Israel has no idea how to contend with it,” she said.