Education in Eastern Jerusalem Maintains Palestinian Identity

Ramallah – Since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority 24 years ago, Israel has been trying through all the possible means to control the academic curriculum in Eastern Jerusalem, which includes around 150 schools. These schools have taught the Palestinian curriculum for more than 110,000 students. Even though Israeli authorities have, since 1967, surrendered to the Jerusalem resistance to incorporating the Israeli curricula into the city’s school, they have not ceased attempts to “Israelize” the academic system.

The “carrot and stick” approach

Over the past few years, Israel has used the “carrot and stick” approach with the Palestinian schools in the city. It has provided greater support for schools that have relented to their approach, and threatened to take harsher measures against ones that have not. Israelis omitted materials from the Palestinian school books, added certain articles to the curriculum, and imposed the Jewish academic calendar.

Ziad Shemali, head of the parents committee in Jerusalem schools, told Asharq Al-Awsat: “They are waging a violent war that is taking various forms, but their main target is the Palestinian curriculum. They refuse the idea of adopting this curriculum in schools that are in regions that are under their control, especially in the private schools they fund.”

Israeli authorities use their control over the city and exploit the schools’ need for financial support, renovation, aid, recruitment of new teachers in order to impose compromises that suit them. Shemali said that 70 percent of Palestinian schools are controlled by Israel, 45 percent which follow the Israeli approach, and 25 percent are being funded by the Israeli education ministry.

Omission of materials of ‘incitement’
Five years ago, Israel eliminated the Palestinian Authority’s slogan from books, and then it omitted some Quranic texts and poetic verses after being considered materials of “incitement” by the Jerusalem Municipality. It then set the adoption of the Israeli curriculum instead of the Palestinian one as a precondition to renovating Arab schools.

Last year, the Israeli Ministry of Education and the Jerusalem Municipality issued an official circular, calling on directors of Palestinian schools to stop using a specific third grade civic education book and to use an older edited version instead. It turned out that the Israeli decision was taken because the new book included a chapter called “I like my motherland Palestine” that teaches students the Palestinian national anthem, information on Jerusalem as Palestine’s capital, and other details on the declaration of independence.

Some schools were obligated to accept the Israeli instructions, while others refused, under the directives of the Palestinian Authority.

The Palestinian Education Minister Sabri Saidam said that the Israeli approach aims to combat the Arabic Palestinian identity in Jerusalem’s schools, seeks to Judaize these schools, and usurps Palestinians’ right to maintain their identity and freedom in choosing their culture.

Samir Jebril, director education in Jerusalem, said that the Palestinian Ministry of Education will never accept this interference in the education system.

The Israeli attempts persisted however and their authorities ordered Arabic high schools in Eastern Jerusalem to adopt the schedule of Israeli holidays, which led these schools to stage a strike on Tuesday.

Lack of dialogue

Directors of the Arabic schools in Jerusalem received a memo from the Israeli Education Ministry ordering them to work in accordance with the Israeli holiday schedule. This step provoked parents of Palestinian students, who refused to apply this schedule without consulting them, especially since the schedule will harm their children’s preparation for exams.

Adel Ghazawi from the parents committee said: “If Israel succeeds in implementing this order at schools it controls, then it will soon seek to force it on all schools, which will consequently facilitate imposing Israeli agendas.”

In response to Israeli actions, the Palestinian Authority urged students and their parents to reject the schedule and announced a strike.

Minister of Jerusalem Affairs Adnan al-Husseini said the strike will serve as a warning to Israeli authorities against meddling in the Palestinian curriculum.

Last month, the Israeli authorities permanently closed the Nikhba School for allegedly teaching a curriculum that contains material of incitement.