"Don't Demolish My Future" is the cry today from a small Bedouin community near Jerusalem, called Khan al-Ahmar, all of its members U.N.-registered refugees displaced first in 1948 and now under imminent threat of displacement once more. "Don't Demolish My Future" is also the name of an online campaign launched by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, to save the school in that community from demolition by the Israeli authorities. The school, which serves some 80 children from the 200-strong community, faces demolition soon, though under the Israeli-imposed system, we don't know exactly when demolition might come. It could happen at almost any time. Without the school, the Khan al-Ahmar kids will have to walk 15 kilometers to Jericho and back every day to receive an education. They did this before the school was built, and five of their number were run over and killed. The road is the main (and very busy) highway from Jerusalem to Jericho, and the authorities don't allow buses to stop and pick them up, hence the deaths.
The school has become an iconic symbol of what is happening to herding and Bedouin communities in Area C, which comprises 62 percent of the West Bank, which, under the Olso Accords, should have been handed over to the Palestinians. Today it remains under the control of the Israeli authorities, who impose a strict "zoning," or development, policy, under which Palestinians are allowed to build in just 1 percent of Area C. Many are forced by this restrictive policy to build illegally, and thus they open themselves up to demolitions. This is why we call on Israel to halt all demolitions until the Palestinians have access to a fair building policy.
Here's how the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, with its long experience of this issues, sees the overall purpose behind the threatened demolition:
The land the community lives on has been slated for the expansion of settlements in the Ma'ale Adumim municipal area, in the Jerusalem periphery, despite the community's decades' long presence. Israeli authorities see Khan al Ahmar and the other Palestinian-Bedouin communities in the area, more than 2,300 people in all, as a hindrance to the planned expansion of Ma'ale Adumim, Kfar Adumim and other surrounding illegal settlements, and to the construction of the West Bank Barrier, which would de-facto annex this strategically significant area to Israel, rendering a Palestinian state unviable.
Moreover, the demolitions are actually illegal under international law, according to which the occupying power has an obligation to provide services to the occupied population. Far from providing them, the Khan al-Ahmar school is an iconic reminder of the fact that the occupying power is destroying them -- and it will again at Khan al-Ahmar unless we all act soon to save the school.
I say it's an icon. It is also a sad symbol. The school is green. It was built from discarded tires from a rubbish dump, which formed the structure, and which was then filled in with mud. Having been there many times, I can attest to the fact that in the blistering summer heat its thick, insulated walls keep the classrooms cool. Likewise in winter, its natural insulation provides warmth. It makes perfect green sense. But talk to any informed environmentalist about the situation in Area C and they will attest to the symbolism of the Khan al-Ahmar school. Environmental ideals and standards, like the school itself, are severely threatened.
The symbolism has further levels of meaning. A school is a place of learning, where the next generation -- especially in situations of poverty and deprivation -- are offered a different vision of life, an escape from the poverty trap toward a future of dignity, prosperity, peace and stability. These are things that this troubled region from which I write desperately need. But nothing short of this is being demolished at Khan al-Ahmar. So I conclude with an appeal: if the ideas, the ideals, the iconography and symbolism of the Khan al-Ahmar school touch something within you, please go to our campaign. You can send messages of support or, together with a local educational institution, "twin" with the Khan al-Ahmar School as a signal of solidarity and support. Go to www.facebook.com/unrwa, and if you have ideas such as where the campaign might go next, you can always reply here on The Huffington Post. I look forward to hearing from you.
Chris Gunness is spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.