East Jerusalem’s Education Crisis

East Jerusalem’s Education Crisis

Posted by Mike Brodie

Educators in Palestine have long recognized the role of school textbooks in shaping inter-group relations. After 

the establishment of Israel in 1948, Arab schools in the West Bank began using Jordanian textbooks. Critics argued that these textbooks contained biased histories and perpetuated anti-Israeli sentiment. Nearly four decades later, Palestinian leaders concluded that they must correct the prejudiced material in their textbooks.

This correction began with the formation of the Palestinian Curriculum Development Center (PCDC) in 1994. The PCDC developed new textbooks for Arab schools under the Palestinian Ministry of Education. The new curriculum contains corrected histories that include viewpoints from both Israeli and Palestinian scholars. In addition, textbooks no longer contain teachings that the state of Israel should not exist. Ultimately, the curriculum seeks to raise a new generation capable of compromise with Israel.

However, these new textbooks will have a limited effect in regions with an inadequate number of classrooms. East Jerusalem, for example, is a Palestinian area with a shortage of nearly 1,400 classrooms. As of 2009, East Jerusalem schools have an average of thirty students per classroom, compared with twenty four in Jewish areas. In addition, more than 9,000 children do not attend any school.

This means that nearly a tenth of the child population in East Jerusalem is not receiving the new, peace-oriented textbook lessons. Unless these children are educated from another point of view, they will simply adopt the existing prejudices of their parents. When these children mature, they may provoke further conflicts and continue the cycle of animosity between Palestine and Israel.

As stated, over 9,000 children are currently not attending school in East Jerusalem. When these students are finally able to attend a proper school, they will be woefully behind in every subject. Many additional teachers and resources will be required to help these students appropriate grade level skills.

Under Israeli law, all children in Israel are required to be registered for school. Most students in East Jerusalem are registered by their families yet have no school to attend. The lucky ones can afford private school—others can find spots in a Palestinian waqf-supported school. Some attend overcrowded, substandard classrooms in rented apartments. The remaining children are unable to attend any school at all.

The Israeli Ministry of Education needs to be called to task for its abject failure to provide education for thousands of Palestinian children. In 2001, the Israeli High Court ruled that the Jerusalem Education Authority must allocate funds and build 245 additional classrooms within four years. Eight years later, only forty eight new classrooms have been built.

According to the state of Israel, every resident has the right to free public education. Yet thousands of children in East Jerusalem are denied this right on a daily basis. I feel that Israel’s lack of quick attention to this problem is extremely short sighted. The uneducated Palestinian children will prove a liability to Israeli attempts to foster greater understanding between Israel and Palestine. An uneducated, unskilled, and ignorant populace can only be a detriment to society at large.

The Israeli Ministry of Education has proved themselves incredibly inept at dealing with the lack of schools in East Jerusalem. Funds have been earmarked, yet no land has been purchased and only forty eight out of two hundred and forty five classrooms have been constructed. I am disappointed that the Israeli government has let this go on for so long. By refusing to give Palestinian children a proper education, they are creating yet another generation that will be protesting by throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails in the streets.

New classrooms in East Jerusalem need to be built as soon as possible. Palestinians have improved their textbooks, yet these efforts cannot yet be effective in changing the perceptions of school children in East Jerusalem. All children, Israeli and Palestinian, must be properly educated in order to create a new generation capable of peace and compromise.

Mike Brodie is a senior majoring in MESA

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