ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 141

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Homes and EU-funded school in West Bank village wrecked after threats by settlers

Leveling of structures in Khirbet Zanuta comes after extremists allegedly harassed residents, causing them to leave

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

A demolished school in the abandoned Palestinian village of Zanuta. The school was funded in part by the EU, as well as other foreign governments. The demolition of the school comes following threats by local extremists settlers against former residents of the village not to return, December 4, 2023. (Courtesy Southern Mount Hebron Activists group)
A demolished school in the abandoned Palestinian village of Zanuta. The school was funded in part by the EU, as well as other foreign governments. The demolition of the school comes following threats by local extremists settlers against former residents of the village not to return, December 4, 2023. (Courtesy Southern Mount Hebron Activists group)

A European Union-funded school and some 10 homes in a village of the South Hebron Hills region of the West Bank have been demolished by unknown parties, apparently during the last four days, it was discovered on Monday.

Video footage taken in the Palestinian hamlet of Khirbet Zanuta on Monday by activists documenting settler violence showed that the front walls of the school had been smashed down, seemingly by a bulldozer, while rudimentary homes there had been flattened.

Stars of David were spray painted on the remains of the school.

Khirbet Zanuta, formerly a village of as many as 250 people, was abandoned at the end of October due to what residents said was persistent settler violence and harassment following the October 7 atrocities perpetrated by Hamas.

The village lies inside Area C of the West Bank, where Israel has full civilian and security control. Due to its recent abandonment, it is not yet clear who demolished the buildings.

But villagers who visited Khirbet Zanuta on Wednesday last week to evaluate whether to return to live there said they had been threatened by settlers who warned them at the time not to come back to the village.

A demolished village council building in the abandoned Palestinian village of Khirbet Zanuta, funded in part by the EU, as well as other foreign governments. The demolition of the structure comes following threats by local extremists settlers against former residents of the village not to return, December 4, 2023. (Courtesy Southern Mount Hebron Activists group)

According to Attorney Quamar Mishirqi-Assad, who represents the villagers in legal proceedings, the settlers who made the threats came to Zanuta in a white pickup truck from the illegal Meitarim Farm outpost, which activists have long described as a source of violence and harassment against local Palestinians.

Mishirqi-Assad had written to the commander of the Hebron police district and the legal department of the IDF on Thursday demanding that they take action to protect the property at Khirbet Zanuta, and investigate the threatening behavior of the settlers.

She said she had included the license plate number of the pickup truck in the letter and a link to a video taken on Wednesday showing the settlers making their threats, with their faces clearly visible — but received no reply.

A classroom in an abandoned school in the depopulated Palestinian village of Zanutah, built by the European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid department, November 9, 2023. (Jeremy Sharon)

The school and the rest of the village’s buildings were intact on Wednesday, the day the settlers threatened the villagers, but when activists returned on Monday, they were in ruins.

A plaque at the now-wrecked school stated that it had been funded by the European Commission’s Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid department. The European Commission is the executive arm of the European Union. Other contributors to the project included Belgium, Britain, France Ireland, Luxembourg, Spain, and Sweden.

A police spokesperson for the Judea District in the southern West Bank said that a Palestinian individual had informed them of the incident, and that he had been told to file a complaint in the local police station

Most structures in Khirbet Zanuta have been slated for demolition since 2007 since they were built without permits owing to the fact that a building master plan was never approved for the village by the Civil Administration, which is in charge of planning and construction in Area C of the West Bank.

In 2018, the Civil Administration demolished a school in Khirbet Zanuta, which had also been built with EU assistance.

The Civil Administration, which carries out lawful demolitions against illegal structures in the West Bank, said on Monday that it had not carried out demolition enforcement activity in the region since last Tuesday.

Mishirqi-Assad said the demolition of the village’s homes and the school reflected the failure of Israeli authorities to properly protect Palestinians in Area C from settler violence.

Stars of David are spray painted on a demolished school in the abandoned Palestinian village of Khirbet Zanuta. The school was funded in part by the EU, as well as other foreign governments. The demolition of the school comes following threats by local extremists settlers against former residents of the village not to return, December 4, 2023. (Screenshot from video footage taken by Southern Mount Hebron Activists group)

“After the residents of Zanuta received threats last week [by settlers] from the area that they would carry out a ‘celebration’ for the villagers if they returned to the village, the settlers carried out their threat,” said Mishirqi-Assad.

“This [reflects] the ongoing abandonment of the security and property of Palestinian residents in the territories,” she added.

Incidents of violence and harassment by extremist settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank have spiked significantly since the October 7 massacres and the outbreak of war, and some 1,000 Palestinians from 15 herding communities have been displaced.

A spokesperson for the European Commission did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

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