Judea and Samaria children describe poor living, learning conditions

A lack of basic amounts of electricity and hot water and poor internet service is leading to health, safety and education issues for 12,000 children in Judea and Samaria.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The Knesset’s Committee on the Rights of the Child convened Tuesday to hear of the extremely poor conditions that up to 12,000 children in the so-called young settlements suffer due to the state’s negligence in providing basic services.

Teenagers invited to speak told of the practical consequences of not having enough electricity or hot water.

“I prefer to stay at school and take a shower there and only afterward go home,” high schooler Reut Baidglin said. “In order for there to be a hot shower in the house, you have to boil water and sometimes you don’t shower that night because it’s simply impossible.”

“Children have become accustomed to getting into the car in the winter to keep warm,” said 13-year-old Noa Namir of Gilad Farms. “We got used to turning on only one appliance [at a time]. If you turn on a toaster then there is no air conditioning.”

In a glaring example of a different problem, Namir’s testimony, given over Zoom, was interrupted soon after she began due to the inferior internet infrastructure that also plagues many of the nascent villages in Judea and Samaria. This became a critical educational issue when schools were shut down last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and is still a problem when children exposed to the virus are meant to stay in isolation rather than attend class.

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Lt. Col. Adam Avidan, who heads the Infrastructure Department in the office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, responded that government guidelines state that it is prohibited to invest public resources in “illegal outposts.”

“The question here is not planning, infrastructure or bureaucracy but political and legal, concerning the regulation of the status” of these places, he said.

Benjamin Council head Yisrael Gantz disagreed.

“In the Benjamin region there are children who are connected to respirators,” he said, “and when there is a power outage they can simply die. You do not need committees to provide electricity and water. There are things that should be done for humanitarian reasons. The children deserve to live.”

MK Orit Strook (Religious Zionist Party) pointed out that the previous government had worked on a proposal to regulate the young settlements which, she said, in some cases are “no longer so young,” being in existence for 20 years or more. It had been shelved “due to election considerations,” she said, but could be implemented by the current coalition.

Strook has submitted a bill to regulate these settlements, and the Land of Israel lobby she co-heads wrote a letter Sunday to the right-wing parties in the coalition, New Hope and Yamina, to remind their leaders, including Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, of their own public promises to do so.

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Another possibility she suggested was that the relevant ministries make temporary connections to the infrastructure of those localities, with the stipulation that if they are surveyed and found to exist on private Palestinian land, the services will be cut off.

Committee chairwoman MK Michal Shir, who belongs to the New Hope party that is a coalition member, summed up the session by slamming her own government.

“The committee rules that the non-regulation of living conditions and infrastructure in the settlements constitutes the abandonment of the residents and the 12,000 children living in the settlements,” she said. “A child is a child, no matter what region he lives in… The committee calls upon the relevant ministries to act in a humanitarian manner and urgently arrange water, electricity and transportation infrastructure in the settlements, for the health and safety of the children.”

Shir accepted Strook’s proposal of establishing temporary infrastructure connections until the legal status of these villages was finally ascertained. She also promised to have follow-up discussions on the subject, “because a child’s life is not something to be abandoned.”

“The children are not to blame,” she ended, “and the State of Israel must give the same rights to the child in [central] Ramat Hasharon, [northern] Metulla, in the Negev and in Judea and Samaria. As long as a child is a resident of Israel, he should receive all his rights.”

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