The destruction of a Palestinian school built using Irish Aid funds in the Israeli-occupied West Bank is “intolerable”, a senior European official has said.
Israeli media reported 10 homes in the village of Khirbet Zanuta and the EU-funded school were demolished, with video footage taken by activists who document settler violence showing the walls of the school apparently crushed by a bulldozer. Stars of David were reportedly spray painted on the remains of the school.
Residents of Khirbet Zanuta fled their homes in recent weeks amid a surge of violence and intimidation by extremist Israeli settlers in the occupied territory in the wake of the October 7th attacks by Palestinian militant group Hamas.
“The school was built by EU funds – because every child, everywhere has a right to education,” EU crisis management commissioner Janez Lenarčič, who is in charge of humanitarian aid, wrote on social media.
“This destruction is intolerable and a violation of international humanitarian law.”
Mr Lenarčič described the situation in the West Bank as “dramatic” and said the escalation in violence had had a “catastrophic” effect on critical services such as health and education, compounded by the dire economic situation. “Settler violence needs to stop!” he wrote.
Photographs of the destroyed school showed a smashed wall decorated with children’s handprints in colourful paint.
Amid the rubble was a sign prominently showing the logo of the Government’s international aid programme Irish Aid, along with the aid programmes of France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.
The school was funded under an EU aid programme that jointly delivers funds in “humanitarian support to Palestinians at risk of forcible transfer in the West Bank”, according to the sign.
The incident echoes the previous destruction of structures funded by Irish Aid in the West Bank.
Roughly three million Palestinians live in the territory, which has been occupied by the Israeli military since 1967, alongside roughly half a million Jewish settlers.
Backed by the Israeli government, Israeli settlers have built communities in the occupied territory that are widely considered internationally to be illegal, increasingly encroaching on land intended to make up an independent Palestinian state.
The issue has repeatedly inflamed tensions between Israelis and Palestinians and exasperated Israel’s international allies.
Last week, the EU’s chief diplomat, Josep Borrell, said he was “appalled to learn” that the Israeli government planned to commit new funds for settlements, calling them a breach of international humanitarian law and “Israel’s greatest security liability”.
Ireland, various European countries and the United States have called on the Israeli government to act to curb the violence by extremist Jewish settlers against Palestinians in recent weeks. In a sign of fraying patience, Washington earlier this week began imposing visa bans on people involved in violence in the territory.
On Wednesday, Belgian prime minister Alexander De Croo announced extremist settlers would be banned from entering the country.
“Since the atrocious attacks, the Belgian government has defended Israel’s right to defend its own population, the core task of every government. But since, we have also asked for restraint, for the release of all hostages, and then for the respect of international humanitarian law, and for unhindered humanitarian access,” he said in an address to a Belgian university.
Mr De Croo said it was essential to speak up when innocent civilians are killed in Kyiv or in Gaza “if we want our voices to be credible”.
“It’s not just words that count. Extremist settlers in the West Bank will be banned from entering Belgium,” Mr De Croo said. “Violence against civilians will have consequences.”
He announced that he would work with the United States on co-ordinating the measures, and would push the EU as a whole to follow suit.