Belgium halts PA education funding because West Bank school named for terrorist
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Belgium halts PA education funding because West Bank school named for terrorist

Brussels says it was ‘unaware’ Hebron-area school was renamed for Dalal Mughrabi, notorious for her role in 1978 Coastal Road Massacre in which 38 were killed

Dov Lieber is The Times of Israel's Arab affairs correspondent.

Logo of the Beit Awwa elementary school shows an iconic image of Dalal Maghrabi superimposed on a picture of the state of Israel and the Palestinian territories. (Facebook)
Logo of the Beit Awwa elementary school shows an iconic image of Dalal Maghrabi superimposed on a picture of the state of Israel and the Palestinian territories. (Facebook)

The Belgian government decided to freeze funding to the Palestinian Authority education system after an elementary school built with support from Brussels took the name of a notorious Palestinian terrorist, a spokesperson for the European country told The Times of Israel on Monday.

The Beit Awaa Elementary Girls School, located in southern West Bank’s Hebron region, was built with funds from Belgium in 2012-2013. It is one of several schools built with money from Brussels, which donates millions of euros a year to the education system.

The school was later renamed the Dalal Mughrabi Elementary School. Dalal Mughrabi took part in the 1978 Coastal Road Massacre, in which she and several other Fatah terrorists landed on a beach near Tel Aviv, hijacked a bus on Israel’s Coastal Road and killed 38 civilians, 13 of them children, and wounded over 70.

Didier Vanderhasselt, a spokesperson for Belgian’s Foreign Ministry, told The Times of Israel in a statement that in response to the renaming of the school after Mughrabi, “Belgium will put on hold any projects related to the construction or equipment of Palestinian schools.”

Palestinians hold posters showing Dalal Mughrabi, A Palestinian terrorist involved in a 1978 attack in which 38 Israelis were killed, file (Issam Rimawi / Flash 90)

“The Belgian government unequivocally condemns the glorification of terrorist attacks. Belgium will not allow itself to be associated with the names of terrorists in any way,” the statement added.

The Belgian spokesperson said Brussels had supported the construction of the school in Beit Awwa, but was “unaware of the name change” after it was handed over to the local community.

The renaming of the Beit Awwa elementary school was first highlighted in a report published on September 27 by the Israeli NGO Palestinian Media Watch (PMW).

The freezing of Belgian funding to PA schools was reported on Saturday by the US-based Jewish news site Algemeiner.

Vanderhasselt added that Brussels is awaiting a formal response from the Palestinian Authority after raising the issue with Ramallah.

“Belgium is since long an important partner of the Palestinian Authority’s strategic plan for education. Belgium endeavors to promote a culture of respect for human rights, human dignity and tolerance. This should be reflected in curricula taught at schools funded abroad by Belgian taxpayer’s contributions as well as in the names and logos of such schools,” the statement read.

Belgium is a major contributor to PA school funding. Since 2001, the Belgian Development Agency has built 23 new schools in the West Bank including one climate-adapted pilot school, with plans to build another 12 schools, according to its website.

Brussels has budgeted 16.5 million euros (NIS 68 million) for funding PA schools between July 2013 and July 2020, the website says.

In May, Norway demanded funds for a Palestinian Women’s center in the West Bank be returned after the institution renamed itself after Dalal Mughrabi.

Palestinians inaugurate a square to commemorate Dalal Mughrabi, a Palestinian terrorist who killed dozens of Israeli civilians in a 1978 bus hijacking in Israel, seen in portrait, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on March 13, 2011. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

The PMW report listed five PA schools that are currently named after Mughrabi, including the school in Beit Awwa.

In addition to the women’s center, the PA has named a number of events and facilities in honor of Mughrabi and the other terrorists who died during the massacre in a firefight with Israeli security forces, with Fatah repeatedly hailing them as “martyrs.”

In March, PMW reported that the PA named a youth camp in Jericho after Mughrabi.

Last year on the anniversary of the attack, the Ramallah-area Al-Awael school for girls held the “Dalal Mughrabi Cup” in honor of the killer. The girls’ basketball tournament was also co-organized by the Al-Razi Cultural and Social Association, a Palestinian NGO that works with the Anna Lindh Foundation to promote “intercultural dialogue” and “build trust and improve mutual understanding.”

‘Dalal will remain etched in our hearts’

The faculty and parents of the school in Beit Awwa are now deliberating changing the name.

On Friday, the mayor of Beit Awwa, the school’s faculty and parents held a meeting during which one of the items discussed was changing the institution’s name, statements and images posted on the school’s official Facebook account show.

In the background of this screenshot from the Facebook page of the Beit Awwa elementary school named after Palestinian terrorist Dalal Mughrabi appears a plaque commemorating Belgium’s help in building the institution. (Facebook)

However, as of the writing of this article, the school had yet to change its name or the image on its logo, which shows an iconic image of Mughrabi superimposed on a picture of the state of Israel and the Palestinian territories.

A Facebook post on October 4 showed the school’s management was reluctant to change the name.

“Good Morning from the Dalal Al Mughrabi School, from the name beaming with love for all the children of Palestine, its elderly, its youth and all the martyrs of the homeland. The name of Dalal will remain etched in our hearts and engraved in our minds,” the post said.

Later in the day, the school posted on its Facebook a poem entitled “We are all Dalal,” which it said expressed the “sadness” of the faculty and students over the fact that the “Palestinian people had been robbed of their right to name its institutions.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report. 

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