It was reported on Aug. 30 that five Israeli-administered Palestinian schools operating in east Jerusalem have added the Israeli curriculum to their programs, causing a political firestorm. Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat condemned the move, noting that it is part of a campaign dating back to 1967 to rewrite Palestinian history and undermine Palestinians' identity. He also asserted that the imposition of the curriculum was a violation of international law and indicated that Israel had no intention of ending its occupation.
Within weeks of the occupation of the West Bank in 1967, Israel extended its law and administration to east Jerusalem. Law and Ordinance Order no. 11, passed by the Knesset on June 27, 1967, declared the Palestinians of Jerusalem permanent residents, giving them and their institutions the same legal status as that of Israeli institutions in Tel Aviv. The Palestinians, however, were not granted automatic citizenship, but were eligible to apply for passports.
Imposing Israeli law and administration on east Jerusalem Palestinians caused consternation in the education sector, with early attempts by Israel to instate its curriculum backfiring badly. When schools opened in fall 1967, all government-run schools adopting the Israeli curriculum found themselves without students, because the childrens' parents had decided to send them to schools outside Jerusalem, where the Jordanian curriculum continued to be used. After the Oslo Accords of 1993, these schools adopted a Palestinian curriculum. In all cases, 12th-grade students sat for the tawijhi secondary exam, which was authorized by Jordan and therefore recognized in all Arab and other countries in the region.
East Jerusalemites have a variety of schooling options for their children. There are Israeli government–operated schools that teach the Israeli curriculum, municipality-run schools that teach the Palestinian curriculum and a host of private schools of varying standards that basically use the Palestinian curriculum but also adhere to American or British curricula and exams. A number of schools in the Jerusalem area are operated by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). Four UNRWA-run schools operate in the Shufat refugee camp in east Jerusalem.
Many of the private schools are sponsored by Christian or Muslim religious organizations and orders. Catholic and Protestant schools, as well as Islamic waqf schools, have proliferated in Jerusalem. Most private schools are administered on a tuition basis, which covers operating costs but requires fundraising for development. Jordan’s Islamic Waqf Ministry funds the schools that it oversees. These waqf schools recently received additional budgetary support from Queen Rania’s Madrasati program for construction as well as for teacher training and extracurricular activities.
As East Jerusalem's population has increased, resulting greater demands on education have not been met in terms of classrooms. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) petitioned Israeli courts in 2012, outlining discriminatory policies in budgets between east Jerusalem and west Jerusalem schools. In a 2012 study on the topic, ACRI found that “the shortage of classrooms in east Jerusalem is a result of a discriminatory policy that Israel has been consistently implementing in east Jerusalem since its annexation in 1967.”
The recent decision of the five schools to switch to the Israeli curriculum has exposed a problem that has been festering for quite some time. In addition to revealing discriminatory school budgets and discrepancies in infrastructure, statistics show a large number of student dropouts among Palestinians. The ACRI report noted a 40% dropout rate among Palestinian high school seniors.
The problem of students dropping out has resulted in part from the availability of work opportunities for young east Jerusalemites (excluding Palestinians from the rest of the West Bank) as well as issues in the education system. The monthly minimum wage in Israel is NIS 4,300 ($1,200), which is more than what college graduates make in other parts of the West Bank, thus prompting many east Jerusalem youth to seek jobs as soon as they reach the age of employment.
The crisis of education in east Jerusalem is a reflection of decades of ignoring the status of Palestinians in Jerusalem, who have been abandoned by all parties to the conflict or have been made inaccessible. Israel pays little attention to the city’s Arab population, while the Palestinian government is prevented from taking responsibility for their welfare.
Daoud Kuttab is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor's Palestine Pulse. A Palestinian journalist and media activist, he is a former Ferris Professor of journalism at Princeton University and is currently the director-general of Community Media Network, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing independent media in the Arab region. On Twitter: @daoudkuttab