Jerusalem Police Shut Kindergarten Suspected of Being Hamas Hothouse

Sixty-four kindergarten children in the Abu Tor neighborhood of Jerusalem are sitting at home though their classes were due to begin Sunday. The police commissioner sealed their building for security reasons.

The building had previously been rented by the Jerusalem municipality for the Ahmed Samech school, which was moved elsewhere, and the Najat kindergarten classes, which had operated elsewhere, were slated to open in the building instead.

But at the end of last week, the hinges on the building's door were welded shut, and a closure order posted.

"After I became convinced that the building in Abu Tor was destined to be used for Hamas activities, I am ordering it shut until October 4, 2011," read the order, signed by Insp. Gen. Yohanan Danino.

The Najat association that runs the kindergarten is registered with the Interior Ministry as a nonprofit organization. Two of the its founders have a terrorist past; one spent time in prison for belonging to Hamas. Police suspect that the two were planning to conduct terrorist activities in the building.

Meanwhile, the ones suffering from the decision are the children, some of whom were to be starting school for the first time.

"This is my daughter's first year in kindergarten and now she has no place to go," said Ahlam Edris, whose 4-year-old daughter, Samia, is one of the children locked out. "She's upset seeing all her friends starting the school year when she's sitting at home."

Najat's attorney, Mahmoud Rabbah, called the move baseless and unreasonable.

"This company has been operating for six years and helps little children," Rabbah said. "Abu Tor has 20,000 residents, and many children are lacking a framework even without this order.

"We will appeal to the courts against the order, because it was issued illegally," he said.

The order gives the residents the right to appeal within 15 days. Parents said they would first sign a petition to be handed to Danino, and if that doesn't help, they would turn to the courts.

Until then, the building will stay closed, leaving children like 5-year-old Jihad Shwekey at home.

"He was in the prekindergarten last year and is supposed to go to compulsory kindergarten this year," said his father, Hazem. "He was very happy there last year and is sad that he won't be starting in the same place this year. He refuses to let me register him anywhere else, especially as the other kindergartens are very far."

The Jerusalem Police, citing classified intelligence, said that "the site was meant to serve as a place of terror activity. The Najat movement is headed by known Hamas operatives, and the police commissioner ordered the location closed."

The municipality said that the Najat kindergarten was a private operation not run by the city.