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“Please Return My Smile”

The NGO Campaign to Save the Schools and Orphanages of Hebron

Wednesday 14 May 2008, by Ahmad Jaradat

Representatives from the Alternative Information Center (AIC), Christian Peacemakers Team (CPT), UNICEF, OCHA, Save the Children UK, Defence of Children International (DCI), YMCA, Relief International, the Ecumenical Accompanying Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), Terre des Homme-Switzerland, the Michigan Peace Team and other international human rights organizations met in Hebron on 8 May to help Hebron’s orphanages and schools from the Islamic Charitable Society to survive their Israeli military ordered closure.

The meeting was held in order to update people on the current situation of the orphanages and schools, and to establish a steering committee of Palestinian and international NGOs, which can take action and determine measures to help 240 orphans, 5000 needy families and 5,700 students directly impacted by the closure. The schools provide libraries, computer laboratories, English and Hebrew classes, and several workshops to teach the children practical skills.

Since issuing confiscation orders against all the properties belonging to the Islamic Charitable Society on 26 February, properties which, in addition to the schools, include bakeries, a transportation service, a supermarket, a clinic and residential buildings for poor families, the Israeli military raided the central warehouse, damaging furniture and gates and seizing equipment, food, stationary, clothing, and other supplies which were to be given to the students and their families. The estimated value of the seized goods is US$300,000 and damages to the gate amount to US$2,000,000. The military also ransacked two bakeries of the society that provided bread to the orphanages, removing all their equipment. On 10 April, according to witnesses, soldiers entered the girl’s school and took photographs of a sewing workshop and questioned the staff, ordering the removal of the exhibition and the workshop by Monday, 28 April. Two days later, on 30 April, after breaking down the main gates and doors, Israeli soldiers looted the workshop of all its sewing and processing machines, office equipment, cloths and supplies. The workshop, established in 1985, employed 15 female orphans and produced Islamic outfits for the orphans.

Members of the CPT, who were living with the children at the time in order to protect them from the military attacks, documented the raid with photos and videos. In total, the confiscated material in the last month is estimated at approximately US$400,000.

Some of this material was found a few days later in Yatta dump. This destructive vandalism perpetrated by the Israeli military can not be reasonably defended as a legitimate issue of state security. As the case is still in the Israeli High Court, the military had no right to pre-empt the verdict by confiscating, damaging and destroying material belonging to the Islamic Charitable Society.

It is an unacceptable behaviour for which Israel should be held accountable in a court of law.

Following the accusation raised by the Israeli military, that the Islamic Charitable Society is connected to Hamas, the Society provided proof of their political independence. No political party controls the society. The books are audited by the Palestinian Authority, the curriculum taught is identical to that of Palestinian Authority schools, and the schools are fully supervised by the Palestinian Ministry of Education and always open for inspections by any authority.

The Society provided the Israeli High Court with all requested legal certifications relating to its donors, its currently financial situation, official registration as an NGO and certificates of evaluation issued by the Palestinian Ministry of Interior and the Jordanian Ministry of Social Affairs.

However, all efforts appear to be in vain. Under what Israel dubs an “emergency regulation”, the Israeli military has full freedom of action, and no political agreement can hinder their activities in the occupied cities.

The wider question that needs to be asked is: Why did the Israeli military target a charitable organization that takes care of poor children, orphans and needy families?

The Israeli military actions, which are illegal according to international law, are obviously intended to humiliate the Islamic Charitable Society’s efforts to work on the level of civil society. Of course, the case is a political one, being that all the properties targeted are located in Area A, under full PA jurisdiction. Because of the enormous amount of people affected, it cannot be denied that, if fully implemented, this act will be a collective punishment and a crime against humanity.

All of the material confiscated and damaged were donations from several organizations, included international ones. Once more, the efforts of the international community to help Palestinian people through donations to charitable organizations are obstructed by Israel’s occupation policies. These donors should make Israel responsible for its actions, otherwise their help will be wholly wasted, and merely a substitute for Israel’s obligations towards the people living in the territories it occupies. It’s time for the international community to take a strong position regarding Israel crimes against Palestinian civilians and force it to fully apply international law and thus its responsibilities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

The steering committee formed by the different official and international organizations will work hard to support, through legal and social ways, the future of the schools and orphanages held by the Islamic Charitable Society. They will provide activities for the children, in addition to psychological and other support.

The NGO campaign to save the children and the orphans of Hebron will continue. Stand with the orphans. “Please return my smile back” said a poster held by a child girl of the orphanage.

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