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Press conference to protest against the Israeli closure of orphanges and schools in Hebron

March 7th, at approximately 1 pm, around 30 people gathered for a press conference in the main hall of the Islamic Charitable Society’s girls orphanage to protest against the Israeli orders for these institutions to be closed. Members of local organizations, human rights workers, journalists, students and concerned members of the community attended the press conference that announced the rejection of the Society’s appeal to the Israeli High Court.

The Islamic Charitable Society of Hebron is accused of acting as a front for the militant Islamist organization Hamas. The Israeli Occupation Force’s press release states: “The Islamic Charity (Society) has, among other things, delivered money to Hamas terrorist operatives and their families, trained youths based on jihad principles, supported the families of suicide bombers and incarcerated terrorists, and spread Hamas principles amongst the Palestinian population.” The society, whose existence predates Hamas by 26 years, was founded in 1962. Today, the society provides shelter and care to 300 orphans in the orphanages, educates more than 1700 students and aids an additional 4000 students and 5000 needy families. 20% of its funding comes from local sources, the rest is provided by donors abroad, these donations are received through bank accounts that are filtered and monitored by the Palestinian and Israeli financial authorities.

April 2nd, the school officials received word that the Israeli High Court had allotted the Israeli military four days to give the High Court full justification for the closure and evacuation. On April 3rd, the attorney for the Islamic Charitable Society clarified to the Hebron affiliate of the organization that the Israeli High Court will rule on the findings on Monday 7 April 2008. At the time of the press conference, the Israeli military had yet to bring any evidence or justification to the court. A short time before 12 am deadline on the 7th of April, the Israeli army asked for more time to collect and present evidence.

Abdel Karim Farah, the charity’s lawyer, was the first speaker at the press conference. He reiterated the legality of the charity’s operation as a registered NGO, the full transparency of its financial records and its conformity to the Palestinian Authority’s rules. He challenged the IOF “ to produce a single piece of information to support their allegations against us”.

Mohammed Jamal Sahad, a representative of the charity, spoke afterwards. He explained that the classes, the curriculum and the teachers were supervised, observed and monitored by the Palestinian authority. He added that the academic performance and mental stability of the students has been seriously undermined by what he calls “draconian measures” and that the charity plans on hiring a psychologist to address the problem.

A representative of the organization Rabbis for Human Rights, who spoke via telephone, denounced the use of measures that pertained to collective punishment and asked that evidence be brought forward to support the IOFs claims.

One human rights worker spoke of the role of internationals in this situation. An orphan, who lives in the Al-Shar’iya Girls’ Orphanage, spoke last asking the people present to do everything in their power to stop the closings.

On February 26th, the Israeli occupation force raided buildings of the Islamic Charitable Society in Hebron. At that time, the military handed over six military orders of closure and confiscations for two bakeries, administrative buildings, Al-Huda mall, Al-Quasimi building to which the institution served as a landlord, three schools and two orphanages and their warehouse.

On march 6th the Israeli military forces raided the central warehouse at Al-Harayeq in Hebron and confiscated clothing, food, stationery, buses and other supplies intended for the orphanages, for a total worth of 300 000 US$.