Fri, May 02, 2008 - Page 6 News List

Israeli military to close charity schools in Hebron

AP , HEBRON, WEST BANK

Palestinian schoolchildren protest the planned closing of charities Israel says are funded by Hamas at a demonstration organized by Hamas in Hebron, the West Bank, on March 31.

PHOTO: AP

To Palestinian widow Nayfa Shatat, a mother of 11, this city?? biggest Islamic charity is a lifeline. It gives her daughters a first-class education and sustains her family with food coupons.

To Israel, the Islamic Charitable Association is a front for the militant Hamas, promoting the movement?? violent ideology in its private schools and funding militant activity against Israel.

Now the Israeli military says it will close down the association?? operations, which include a boarding school for 600 disadvantaged children, several day schools, a bakery and a women?? sewing cooperative.

Early on Wednesday, Israeli army troops raided the sewing workshop, seizing sewing machines and bolts of cloth, witnesses said. The army said the workshop was used to raise money for militants.

It?? part of an intensified crackdown on Hamas by Israel and the West Bank government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Hamas violently seized control of Gaza from Abbas??forces last June and neither Israel nor Abbas want to see a repeat in the West Bank.

In recent months, Israeli troops and Abbas??forces have gone after West Bank charities, moneychangers, women?? cooperatives and media outlets with suspected ties to the militants. But closing the Hebron association is delicate because it serves thousands of children.

The closure would deny services to the poor at a time when Abbas??government is not always able to fund an alternative.

Hamas has built up a large network of schools, clinics and welfare offices in the past two decades, deepening its roots in Palestinian society as a key provider of social services.

The closure might hamper Hamas??ability to deliver services, but will also taint Abbas, political scientist Salah Abdel Jawad said.

??srael is weakening Palestinian society,??he said. ??srael isn?? strengthening Mahmoud Abbas this way.??br />

The association?? attorney, Abdel Karim Farah, has appealed the closure orders, but the Israeli Supreme Court hasn?? set a hearing date. Officials in the Abbas government said they were also trying to reverse the closure order.

Shatat said she?? be lost without the charity.

?? can?? provide for my children the way the association does,??said Shatat, who lost her husband to cancer two years ago.

Shatat said that without the boarding school, her daughters would be married off once they hit their late teens because she cannot afford to educate them.

At the boarding school, students get a free education, meals, food coupons for their families and transportation home every weekend.

Israel accuses the association of teaching Islamic extremism and of financing violent acts.

Association staff say they aren?? a Hamas front.

They say the association was founded in 1962, five years before Israel captured the West Bank, and that it registered first with Israel?? military government and later with the Palestinian Authority.

The charity has assets valued at about US$10 million, including a cattle farm, rental apartments, bakeries and commercial real estate, Farah said. It also receives millions of dollars from donors in wealthy Gulf states to help cover monthly costs of US$635,000.

The boarding school has received outside help.

Volunteers from Christian Peacemaker Teams, a group of US and Canadian pacifists, sleep in the dorm in shifts in hope of deterring the army from shutting down the facility.

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