President and EU officials condemn destruction of Irish-backed school in West Bank

School in Khirbet Zanuta crushed by bulldozer and surrounding village abandoned following violence by Israeli settlers

President Michael D Higgins has joined senior EU officials in condemning the destruction of a Palestinian school built using Irish Aid funds in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Israeli media reported that 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 wreckage.

Mr Higgins said the destruction of the school and the forced abandonment of the village following settler violence and harassment “is further evidence of the appalling impact” which an increase in such violence of late is having on the lives of children.

He echoed criticism from Janez Lenarčič, European Commissioner for Crisis Management, who said the destruction of a school is “intolerable and a violation of international humanitarian law”.


The President said children must be shielded from violence and abuse and must receive “special protection at times of conflict”.

Mr Higgins called for support for the UN and its secretary general Antonio Guterres, who this week invoked Article 99 of the UN Charter which will force the UN Security Council to debate the ongoing Israeli assault on Gaza. The bombardment, in response to the October 7th attacks by Hamas militants that killed some 1,200 Israelis, has claimed the lives of thousands of civilians.

The EU’s chief diplomat, Josep Borrell, described the destruction of the school as a violation of international law.

“The Zanuta school in the West Bank was built by the EU to give the community’s children access to education,” he said. “It was demolished by Israeli settlers in violation of international law. Settler violence against Palestinian communities must stop.”

A spokesman for the European Commission said violence by extremist settlers was a matter of “increasing concern” and that it was being raised with Israel and that it “carries the risk of deteriorating an already bad situation”.

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.

“The school was built by EU funds – because every child, everywhere has a right to education,” said Mr Lenarčič, who is in charge of EU humanitarian aid. “This destruction is intolerable and a violation of international humanitarian law.”

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 those of France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Spain, Sweden, and the UK.

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 500,000 Jewish settlers.

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Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times