“I expect that the beginning of the new school year will not be a normal one,” Samir Jibril, director of the East Jerusalem Education Bureau said. “There will be lots of problems. There will be lots of demands, strikes. All [Palestinian] institutions are going to stand hand-in-hand against this implementation.”
In March of this year, the Jerusalem municipality sent a letter to private schools in East Jerusalem that receive financial allocations from the Israeli authorities. The letter stated that at the start of the 2011-12 academic year, the schools would be obliged to purchase and only use textbooks prepared by the Jerusalem Education Administration (JEA), a joint body of the municipality and the Israeli Ministry of Education.
Imposing an identity
These textbooks are already in use in East Jerusalem schools managed by the JEA. According to Jibril, however, Palestinians in East Jerusalem have at all levels rejected the plan to use them in private schools since it is viewed as being politically motivated.
“The real reason behind all this story of the curriculum is actually political,” Jibril said. “We’re talking about a radical [Israeli] government that is trying to impose its own identity on the Palestinians in East Jerusalem. Knowing that Israel doesn’t recognize Palestinian identity, it is a political reflection rather than [for] any kind of educational or pedagogical [reason].”
The move to introduce the Israeli curriculum came after an Israeli parliament (Knesset) member Alex Miller from the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu party, who heads the Knesset’s education committee, stated during a meeting about unauthorized curricula in the education system that, in East Jerusalem, “the whole curriculum should and must be Israeli.”
After Israel illegally annexed East Jerusalem in 1967, Palestinians in the city followed the Jordanian educational system. Then, shortly after the signing of the Oslo II agreement, schools in East Jerusalem began using a curriculum set by the Palestinian Authority.
Today, four different authorities govern the education system in East Jerusalem: the JEA, the Islamic Waqf, the private sector and the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA).
According to 2010-11 statistics provided by the East Jerusalem Education Directorate, the JEA runs 50 schools in East Jerusalem, which are attended by 38,785 students, or 48 percent of the total number of Palestinian students in the city. An additional 22,500 Palestinian students attend 68 different private schools in East Jerusalem.
Political censorship in the classroom
“They are actually pushing towards implementing the Israeli curriculum because this will politically mean that East Jerusalem is not an occupied territory,” Jibril said.
“If Israel succeeds in this step, there will be other successive steps and they will target all the remaining schools,” he added. Israeli authorities have tried to exert added influence in East Jerusalem schools under their control, he said, by deliberately omitting certain passages in textbooks and removing the Palestinian logo on book covers, among other measures.
In February of this year, the Israeli high court gave the education ministry and Jerusalem municipality five years to improve the level of state education in East Jerusalem, since recent studies have shown that, among other unresolved problems, approximately 1,000 classrooms are missing and more than 4,000 Palestinian children are not enrolled in school at all.
This is despite the fact that East Jerusalem — considered occupied territory under international law — is protected by the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states that “the occupying power shall, with the cooperation of the national and local authorities, facilitate the proper working of all institutions devoted to the care and education of children.”
Article 13 of the International Convention on Economic and Social Rights also specifies that states must “undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents … to choose for their children schools … [and] ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.”
On 6 June, the Israeli organization Ir Amim sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denouncing his government’s plan for Palestinian private schools.
“The right of the children of East Jerusalem to an education by their culture and national identity is also consistent with the basic right to education recognized in Israeli law and their right to equality in education, freedom and defense of their identity,” the letter stated. “Israel is obligated not only to avoid violating those rights but also has the positive obligation to support their realization.”
Ultimately, Jibril said, Israel’s attempt to introduce its own curriculum against the will of Palestinian residents in East Jerusalem reflected a larger goal of using education to control Palestinian Jerusalemites and harm Palestinian culture and identity.
“Israel keeps on attacking the Palestinians and trying to impose a new kind of education which will serve Israeli ideas, culture and points of view concerning the question of identity and cultural and educational background,” Jibril said. “There are many indicators that show that Israel is interfering in a very negative [way] and has a very bad impact on education [in order] to keep the Palestinian Jerusalemites down, without education. But we believe that it is our right to have our own curriculum that serves our national philosophy and national identity and that will preserve our culture. We are going to defend it until the end.”