Thursday, 28 October. 2021
Your Key to Palestine
The Palestinian Initiatives for The Promotoion of Global Dialogue and Democracy

Ramallah – 7/4/2021 – MIFTAH held a special session last week in which it highlighted facts and figures on Israel’s policies vis-à-vis the Israelization of the education sector in Jerusalem and violations against education in Hebron’s old city. The information was collected by youth defenders in Jerusalem and Hebron as part of MIFTAH’s “Palestinian Youth as Human Rights Defenders” project, which it implements with EU support in Jerusalem, Hebron and the Gaza Strip.

MIFTAH Executive Director, Tahreer Araj opened the session by stressing on the importance of the project within the Palestinian context, maintaining it was a crucial tool for monitoring and documenting Israeli violations, which could help contribute to promoting the efforts of civil society and rights organizations in exposing Israeli violations and crimes against the Palestinian people in international arenas. “For MIFTAH, this project is important in that it contributes to creating a community of Palestinian youth that is aware of its needs and has the ability to convey the Palestinian narrative to the world.”

One: Education in the old city of Hebron

The first presentation was given by Isra’ Saadah and Manar Shaheen from the Hebron human rights defenders group, which showcased the difficulties and challenges facing the education sector in the old city, in Area C and H2. They spoke about students being harassed, searched and detained at checkpoints; teargas and stun grenades fired into schoolyards; how students are chased down and arrested, injured and sometimes even struck with army or settler cars; and how materials and equipment are denied entry into these areas to renovate schools.

Most of the presentation focused on data pertaining to the number of schools and students in these areas, where 44 schools serve a community of over 7,800 students. Ministry of Health data confirmed 218 violations against students and workers in these schools in which students were subjected to 5,960 instances of bodily harm and 18,391 instances of psychological harm. In 2020, the number of violations fell to 53, during which students were subjected to 263 instances of bodily harm and 3,623 instances of psychological harm. It should be noted that this drop in violations was largely due to schools being closed for several months because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The policy paper on education in and around the old city proposed alternatives and options to relevant Palestinian and international parties, including: the formation of an international protection committee for school students as a deterrent to Israeli measures; providing mental healthcare and entertainment programs for students, especially in old city schools; providing courses for teachers on how to deal with students who have been subjected to Israeli violations, in coordination between the Ministry of Education and international and civil society institutions.

Two: The right to education in Jerusalem: the Israelization of Palestinian curriculum

Human rights defender from Jerusalem, Hadeel Radayda then presented on Israeli violations impeding the education process for Jerusalemite students, including: house arrests, checkpoints and the separation wall in addition to the Israelization of the Palestinian curriculum. The policy paper discussed the parties that oversee education in Jerusalem and the private schools affiliated with associations (churches, mosques, charitable societies), which also offer the Palestinian curriculum. Some, however, are under pressure by Israel because they receive monthly allocations from the Israeli Ministry of Education. There also Israeli municipality-run schools and Israeli government-contracted schools where the Israeli curriculum and altered Palestinian schoolbooks are offered. Finally, there are the UNRWA-run schools, which use the Palestinian curriculum as well.

The paper pointed out that the percentage of public, Israeli municipality-run schools that teach either altered Palestinian curriculum or the Israeli curriculum (Bagrut) totaled 50% of all schools, with over 40,000 enrolled students. Israeli authorities also restructured 12 schools so they would fully teach the Bagrut system from a total of 50 schools where this system is either fully or partially taught.

The paper also showcased Israeli methods of “Israelizing” the Palestinian curriculum including deleting anything related to Palestinian nationalism and replacing this with material that corresponds with Israeli plans such as changing the names of Palestinian cities, criminalizing the Arabic language and national heritage and removing verses from poems and from the Quran that speak about jihad and martyrs.

The second method used by Israeli authorities is by allocating over ILS20 million to the development of educational facilities and infrastructure in East Jerusalem, on condition that these schools teach the Israeli curriculum. It should be noted that in 2018, the Israeli government allocated ILS2 billion to the Israelization of East Jerusalem, including ILS445 million to the education sector for the next five years, as part of a plan aimed at increasing the teaching of the Israeli curriculum to 90% in Jerusalemite classrooms in the same time period. It also included offering incentives to Jerusalemite students and facilitating their acceptance into Israeli universities. This coincided with Israeli authorities closing the Palestinian education directorate in Jerusalem and limiting infrastructure work in Palestinian schools in the city, while at the same time, opening new, municipality-run schools. The condition, however, remained that for any new school to obtain a permit it had to adopt the Israeli Bagrut curriculum. They also blackmailed private schools with budgets as a means of pressure.

The paper proposed a number of solutions and recommendations to push back against Israel’s continuous targeting of education by supporting vocational education and allocating a budget for its development and expansion. Recommendations included: offering full university scholarships to Tawjihi students in Jerusalem; using Palestinian schools as community centers to support Palestinian youth and educate them through extracurricular activities; and allocating budgets to support private Palestinian schools in Jerusalem to be able to withstand Israeli policies and not bow to their financial extortion; initiating a dialogue at the national level and considering Hebrew-language studies as part of the Palestinian curriculum in Jerusalem in order to close the loophole Israel’s municipality uses to peddle the Bagrut system under the pretext that it opens up more job opportunities to students than the Palestinian “Tawjihi” system.

Interventions and recommendations

The presentations included interventions and recommendations by the participants as well, who noted that since 1967, Israeli occupation authorities have tried to impose the Israeli education system on Jerusalem schools but failed in the face of Jerusalemites’ collective refusal and solidarity against this. Today, however, they are taking gradual but accelerated steps within a calculated and long-term policy to Israelize all sectors of Jerusalem, first and foremost the education sector. The battle over education is also a battle of sovereignty and identity and is the most important pillar for preserving national identity in Jerusalem.

In their interventions, the participants confirmed that the topic of education in Jerusalem was an existential issue, which requires special attention from the state and the Ministry of Education. They said special budgets must be allocated and programs and projects set up that support the steadfastness of schools in Jerusalem so that allocations for private schools come from the PA and not the Israeli municipality. Other points made by participants included: the importance of raising Palestinian teachers’ salaries in Jerusalem to be more compatible with the standard of living and therefore allow for the preservation and development of this sector; calling for popular action to push back against the Israeli curriculum and the Bagrut exam being imposed on schools; urging PLC candidates to hold protests in front of schools that adopted the Israeli curriculum to press them to renege on their decision; combatting the raids and searches of schools and the summoning of their principals for questioning, which has become a common practice for Israeli authorities in the city.

In order to combat the policy of Judaizing education, the presenters: proposed reviving the role of the Palestinian media in Jerusalem in a way that appeals to the collective Palestinian sense of national affiliation; called for creating new schools within private institutions licensed to teach the Palestinian curriculum; called on Palestinian universities to facilitate enrollment for Jerusalemite students; urged national figures in Jerusalem to urge private schools tempted to adopt the Israeli curriculum to backtrack on this decision.

The presentations also confirmed the important role of parents’ committees in Jerusalem schools within the context of an executive plan that focuses on developing the educational sector from all aspects. In addition, they called for: reviving student councils in these schools and unifying efforts of civil society institutions that work against Israelization and Judiazation; pooling together local financial resources within a national plan to support education; securing a legal body that defends the rights of Jerusalemites to education and health.

They also pointed to the important role of awareness, lobbying and advocacy campaigns at the local and international level; to partnership between official, civil and international parties to preserve the Palestinian national curriculum in Jerusalem; and to shed light on these issues in international forums, particularly the UN Human Rights Council.

The participants commended the pushback by the majority of Palestinian schools in Jerusalem against Israel’s policy of intimidation and threats, pointing out that many private schools smuggled in Palestinian schoolbooks for their students so they could have access to the original content without Israeli distortions, also calling for the creation of popular action committees to guarantee the continuation of Palestinian education in Jerusalem. They cited past experiences in the Palestinian struggle when any school that submits to Israeli policies is ostracized at the official and popular level.

Regarding the educational sector in and around the old city of Hebron, the interventions proposed the prioritization of a tabulation and classification process of students in old city schools and documentation of Israeli army and settler violations against students and teachers. They also recommended interventions with staff to address daily problems and formulate creative solutions to the challenges facing the education sector; the provision of psychological support for families in these areas; and direct communication between the Hebron governorate and education directorate and the various institutions and parties in order to coordinate efforts between them.

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