Multiple institutions with little coordination provide education in occupied Jerusalem. After decades of institutional instability and occupation, serious disparities in education exist in the city, to the detriment of Palestinian students. Since the occupation of the eastern part of Jerusalem in 1967, the Israeli government has taken control over large parts of the Palestinian educational system. Through the introduction of Israeli curriculum in public schools and the systematic discrimination in the allocation of state funding and other educational resources, Israeli education policies in Jerusalem have been designed to rewrite Palestinian history and undermine Palestinians’ identity.1
Students in occupied Jerusalem face many obstacles in their pursuit of an education, and the severe shortage of classrooms is one of them. Approximately 2,200 more classrooms need to be built to adequately accommodate the needs of Palestinian students, and 400 more kindergartens are required to ensure Palestinian children have access to pre-school education.2 The dropout rate among Palestinian high school seniors is 40%, illustrating the negative effects of overcrowding and other discriminatory policies.3 In addition, the statistical data regarding education in occupied Jerusalem also marginalizes Palestinian communities. Some statistics do not count Palestinian students who live in communities outside of the Annexation Wall, although those communities are part of the city. Cutting these students out of the statistics erases them from the official record. One can see it as a metaphorical Annexation Wall, cutting these communities off from Jerusalem using statistical methods, not just concrete.
Before Israel occupied the eastern part of the city in 1967, the responsibility for administering the school system in Jerusalem fell to the Jordanian authorities. After the occupation in 1967, the Jerusalem municipality was extended over 70 sq. km into the West Bank and the municipality took over the administration of schools in the eastern part of Jerusalem. The Jerusalem municipality imposed Israeli curriculum and examination systems in the communities of these newly incorporated areas. As a protest, many Palestinian families removed their children from the schools. The al-Waqf al-Islami schools were established in order to teach the Jordanian curriculum again.4
The fragmented structure of the education system in Jerusalem is the result of decades of change, instability and occupation. Education is compulsory for ten years, followed by two non-compulsory years of secondary education. Primary and secondary education in occupied Jerusalem is characterized by multiple providers with limited coordination and large differences in quality between them. In 2012, there were 91,322 children receiving compulsory education, of which 5,304 attended kindergartens and 86,018 attended primary and secondary schools. Less than half of the students (almost 42,500) attended the Jerusalem Municipality's official learning institutions, 28,280 children attended recognized but unofficial schools and 20,568 students attended private schools (12,550 attended Waqf schools; 2,442 attended UNRWA schools; 5,576 attended other private schools).5 In addition, many families send their children to schools administered by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.
Most public and private Palestinian schools in Jerusalem employ Jordan’s “Tawjihi” system while Israeli schools employ the “Bagrut” system.
Significantly fewer resources are allocated towards the education of Palestinian students. The fragmented structure of the school system has enabled the uneven allocation of financial resources toward the needs of Palestinian students. On average 12,000 NIS is budgeted per student by the Israeli Ministry of Education in Palestinian neighbourhoods. That number is in contrast with the 25,000 NIS budgeted per student in public Jewish seminaries and 24,500 NIS for secular Israeli schools. (2012).6 The severe neglect and intentional underdevelopment of Palestinian education has caused serious discrepancies within the educational system.
Palestinian students in Jerusalem suffer of a severe shortage of classrooms and preschool classes. Approximately 2,200 more classrooms in the Official School System and 400 preschool classes are needed to accommodate Palestinian students.7 The lack of kindergartens is a violation of the legal right to free education for children between the ages of 3 and 4 as laid out in the Israeli Free Education Law.8 Often students are forced to crowd into housing apartments that have been haphazardly converted into schools. The lack of public schools for Palestinians in Jerusalem has lead to a situation whereby approximately 40,000 students who are entitled to free public education are forced to pay for private tuition at the cost of thousands of dollars per child each year.9
The increasing imposition of an Israeli curriculum on public schools has serious political, legal, and social, ramifications. This policy is one among many that attempt to erase Palestinian memory. The implementation of Israeli curricula requires the use of textbooks which undermine Palestinian identity: Palestinian students have to study maps calling villages and cities only by their Hebrew names, and learn a one-sided version of their own history that conforms with Israeli legislation requirements.
The Annexation Wall blocks free access to schools on both sides and separates a number of communities physically from the city of Jerusalem, including the neighbourhoods of Kufr ‘Aqab, Samiramis, Ras Khamis, Ras Shehadeh and Dahiyat al-Salam, and the Shu’fat Refugee Camp. Although they are aware of the shortage of schools in the neighbourhoods beyond the Annexation Wall, the municipality has not built new schools beyond the Wall, so thousands of students - including primary school students - have to pass through checkpoints daily on their way to schools throughout the city. The Qalandia and Shu'fat checkpoints in Jerusalem suffer heavy traffic which makes passing through them extraordinarily difficult. Children on their way to school are confronted daily by armed Israeli soldiers. Harassment at military checkpoint and military curfews are features of the daily lives of these students, and often prevent children from arriving at school on time, or at all. In addition, many students do not have access to transportation from their homes to the schools they attend outside of their neighbourhoods.
Those students who are able to overcome the obstacles described above and finish secondary school might aim for an academic degree. Students in occupied Jerusalem have several options for higher education, and each option has it own problems, drawbacks, and difficulties.
al-Quds University is a Palestinian University in Jerusalem with about 14,000 studen of which about one third have residency status.10 Due to the Annexation Wall, the university’s different campuses have been separated from one another. The university’s main campus in Abu Dis is within Jerusalem but outside of the municipal boundaries, and, therefore, is inaccessible to students living within the Wall. Although the campuses are only seven km apart, it now takes at least 45 minutes to travel from one to the other through a series of military checkpoints.
Besides its geographic isolation, al-Quds and the degrees it confers on its students are not officially recognized by Israel. As a consequence, students with degrees from al-Quds cannot use their university credentials on the Israeli job market. This is especially problematic in fields where academic degrees are a prerequisite for job applications. Moreover, al-Quds students face continuous and recurring attacks by the Israeli military. From 2012 to 2014, there were 31 military attacks on al-Quds University main campus carried out by the Israeli Army, in which 2,473 people were injured and 275 people were summoned by Israeli intelligence for investigation. Even when not actively under attack, students regularly get evacuated from campus and lectures are often cancelled.11
Students at universities in the West Bank, such as Bethlehem University or Beirzit University, have to cross Israeli checkpoints everyday on their way to university. Curfews, travel restrictions, military checkpoint harassment, and other aspects of the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank are significant obstacles faced by Palestinian students in their everyday life. Insufficient funding has a negative effect on the quality of higher education at universities in the West Bank. Degrees granted by West Bank universities, like those granted by al-Quds, are also not officially recognized by Israel. The Israeli military has regularly imposed military orders requiring the “temporary” closure of Bethlehem University - the University has already had to close twelve times, once for as long as three years in 1987.12
Palestinian students who study at an Israeli Institution of higher education, such as Hebrew University in Jerusalem, usually have to pay full tuition without any financial assistance because Jewish students are privileged over non-Jewish students when it comes to receiving Israeli government financial aid. Israeli institutions of higher education cost much more than Palestinian ones and most of the families in Jerusalem cannot afford to pay their tuition and fees. There is a lack of freedom of speech for Palestinian students who are often denied the right to freely express their political opinions on campus. Furthermore, the courses and books are in Hebrew which illustrates the exclusion Palestinians face.13
Students who travel abroad to earn a degree at a foreign university risk losing their residency rights if they stay away too long or are unable to prove that Jerusalem continues to be their “centre of life.” These restrictions on the maintenance of residency rights do not apply to Jewish residents of Jerusalem by Israeli law. Since 1967, occupation authorities have revoked the residency rights of more than 14,000 Palestinians.14
Local community initiatives are active in trying to prevent the israelisation of the educational system in occupied Jerusalem in order to preserve Palestinian identity, heritage and history. One of these initiatives, detailed below, took place on March 16th 2014. The Shabab al-Balad initiative organized a cultural event in which Palestinians gathered in the longest reading human chain to read simultaneously. Thousands of people surrounded the Jerusalem Old City from the al-Khalil gate (Jaffa Gate) to al-Asbat gate (Lions’ Gate) in a defiant action marking a reading day celebration in order to empower the steadfastness of Jerusalem residents in uniting Palestinian culture.15