Linda Gradstein
The Media Line
September 13, 2012 - 12:00am

JERUSALEM -- Dressed in school uniforms and wearing small backpacks, dozens of boys walk in the street, passing a gas station and an auto body shop. They turn into a narrow alleyway and walk uphill toward a residential white stone building.

Inside, what should have been bedrooms have become classrooms. A school official, who asked not to be identified, said there are just three toilets for the 400 boys in grades 1 through 6. The classrooms are crowded, with up to 40 students per class. There is no cafeteria and no playground.


“The Jerusalem municipality rents houses like this one and tries to make it like a school but without any control on the quality,” Hatem Khweis, a spokesman for the Parents Committee in East Jerusalem told The Media Line. “Besides the overcrowding, there is a lot of violence in the schools.”


Khreis himself says that without a playground, active children often start fights with each other. Due to the conditions, he made the decision to send his own three children to private schools despite the cost.

A new report by two Israeli organizations, The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) and Ir Amim, found a shortage of more than 1,100 classrooms in east Jerusalem. The report also found that as many as 24,000 students are not enrolled in any educational framework at all, while an estimated forty-percent of students do not finish high school.


A spokesman for the Jerusalem municipality rejected many of the report’s conclusions. “It is unfortunate that ACRI and Ir Amim chose to ignore many positive trends in the education system in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem,” Barak Cohen, told The Media Line. “The municipality inaugurated dozens of new classrooms in Arab neighborhoods for the current school year and 400 classrooms are under construction.”

Cohen also said the percentage of high-school dropouts is “much lower” than the 40-percent the report is claiming and that the city is operating 15 afternoon support and tutoring programs.

Israel acquired east Jerusalem in the 1967 war and almost immediately afterward annexed it, in doing so expanding the city’s municipal borders. Palestinians reject Israeli control over the eastern neighborhoods, insisting that the area constitutes the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Although the reality is that east Jerusalem and its school system are under Israeli control, the educational curriculum and the textbooks are supplied by the Palestinian Authority. The primary language of instruction is Arabic, although students study English and Hebrew as well. But Hatem Khweis of the parents committee says the city censors some of the books.


“Last year, Israel interfered with our educational materials and erased Palestinian flags from our textbooks,” he said. “We are Palestinians. Isn’t there a Palestinian flag at the United Nations and the White House?”


The municipality responded in a statement that read in part: “The Municipality severely frowns upon any attempt to educate children to provocation and acts in coordination with school principals to make sure that the books distributed to the pupils are those that have been vetted for material that might incite or that denies Israel’s right to exist.”


Aviv Tatarsky of Ir Amim says that Israel is responsible for the educational system in east Jerusalem.


“It is Israel which chose to make east Jerusalem part of Israel and to impose Israeli law here,” he told The Media Line. “According to that law, the municipality is responsible for providing education to all the children who are living here and the facts show that this is just not happening.”


The total population of Jerusalem is 801,000, according to Israeli government statistics. Tatarski claims that Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat wants to increase the Jewish population of Jerusalem, which has declined to 64%, relative to that of the Palestinian population.


“Israel wishes to see Jerusalem as a Jewish city and having a large Palestinian population here doesn’t fit in with this,” he said. “If you provide for the needs of the Palestinian population, it can grow and prosper, so the municipality is doing the opposite and hoping people will leave.”


Responding to The Media Line’s inquiry through a written statement, Barkat sharply denied the allegations. “As one who believes in a united Jerusalem, it is my duty to manage and invest in all of the city’s neighborhoods and populations,” he said. “In the past two years, we have taken major steps to narrow the gaps and overcome many years of neglect.” The statement did not list the steps.


Palestinians say there is still a long way to go. They say the want to see more schools built. Next to east Jerusalem, they say, is a large plot of land that could accommodate several schools. The city, though, says it is already claimed by a Jewish military academy.


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