East Jerusalem leadership protests Israeli curricula

Lea Frehse | The Alternative Information Center (AIC) | 4 septembre 2013 | At the start of the new school year, the decision by five East Jerusalem schools to introduce….

Lea Frehse | The Alternative Information Center (AIC) | 4 septembre 2013 |

At the start of the new school year, the decision by five East Jerusalem schools to introduce the Israeli curriculum has provoked outspoken opposition from the Palestinian public in the city. Today, key figures of Palestinian leadership assembled in East Jerusalem for a press conference to denounce the step. The meeting was called for by the National Action Coalition and brought together representatives of civil society, among them the head of East Jerusalem’s Parents Committee and the Mufti of Jerusalem.

Palestinian activists strongly condemn what they consider a manipulative step by Israeli authorities seeking to further their control over occupied East Jerusalem. Education in East Jerusalem is run in part by Israeli authorities and in part by non-governmental groups. As agreed under the Oslo Accords, teaching in Jerusalem must follow the Palestinian curriculum and students take the tawjehee examination to graduate from high school.

Israel says it’s testing the new curriculum by parents’ demand

In fact, the Palestinian high school diploma is insufficient to enter Israeli universities, for which students must take extensive additional tests to enter. Palestinian universities, on the other hand, often do not accept Israeli diplomas.

In what it describes as a testing phase, the Jerusalem education authority has now established special classes in five East Jerusalem schools, which will follow the curriculum used by Palestinian citizens of Israel rather than the Palestinian curriculum. For many Palestinians this is a transgression: “This is a very serious step. If the Israeli authorities succeed in imposing their educational content on East Jerusalem, we could lose the minds of the coming generations,” says Abdel Kareem Lafi, head of the East Jerusalem Parents Committee.

Activists: “We would lose the coming generations”

Sawsan Safadi, spokesperson for the Awqaf Education Directorate in Jerusalem, voices strong concerns: “In practical terms, students who graduate with an Israeli diploma have difficulty in entering Palestinian higher education or the job market in the West Bank or other Arab countries. From a national point of view, the Israeli curriculum goes against the idea of a Palestinian state and our cultural heritage.”

Since 2011, Israeli authorities have gradually replaced Palestinian schoolbooks in East Jerusalem with those that omit references to Palestinian national identity whilst stressing the Jewish and Israeli character of Jerusalem and the state.

Israeli authorities have presented the introduction of Israeli curriculum as a pilot project initiated after consultation with concerned parents. Parents’ representatives denied they had asked to change the system, saying they were merely invited to discussion events. Signing up to classes with Israeli curricula remains voluntary.

Palestinian leadership calling for boycotting new system

Speakers at today’s press conference strongly urged parents to pull their kids out of any classes with Israeli curricula. Several of the new classes have already been cancelled due to low participation. “This Israeli experiment has to fail by 100 per cent in order to prevent the true undermining of Palestinian education and identity in Jerusalem,” argued Safadi.

In order to counter what many regard as a threat to Jerusalem’s Palestinian identity, civil society activists demand concrete action from the Palestinian Authority. “The tawjehee must change. It is exceptionally hard, outdated and does not equip our children with the qualifications they need here in Jerusalem,” says parents’ representative Lafi.

Israel unilaterally annexed East Jerusalem after occupying it in 1967. Today, East Jerusalem is caught in a geo-political vacuum: it is cut off from the West Bank by the separation wall while socially stratified from West Jerusalem and Israel. Palestine’s former cultural and trading hub and proclaimed capital of the State of Palestine faces rising poverty, desolation and an utter lack of political leadership. As agreed under the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian Authority must not act in East Jerusalem. Israel has successfully prevented other organised leadership from emerging.

East Jerusalem is in a limbo, so is its education

East Jerusalem’s limbo has entailed a growing inter-generational divide. While youth continue to receive Palestinian education, job opportunities are extremely scarce in East Jerusalem. The Israeli labour market remains mostly closed to Palestinians due to legal and social discrimination. Ties to the West Bank are severed by the separation wall.

As a result, more and more young East Jerusalemites seek to enter Israeli second education. As Israeli universities do not recognize the tawjehee, students must take special preparatory courses for university entry examinations after completing high school. Such courses are costly while being Palestinian at an Israeli university remains often uncomfortable. However, faced with few alternatives for their professional development, many young graduates opt for taking their chances in Israel.

And while today’s press conference is dominated by elderly, male representatives of the old establishment, young activists are increasingly hungry for action and change. Mousa, an activist from East Jerusalem in his twenties, voices his anger: “East Jerusalem has been suffering from ever tighter Israeli control for years. We don’t need more talking on this but policies – and protest.”