In Jerusalem, Arab Education Faces Difficult Test

In East Jerusalem, a predominantly Arab neighborhood, the politicization of education is evident with accusations coming from both Israeli and Palestinian authorities that schools are being used by the opposing party for the purposes of indoctrination and propaganda.

As reported by Kate Shuttleworth of the New York Times, just this year Israel revised the Palestinian Authority textbooks for over 32,000 Palestinian children who study under Israeli control, to take out parts that the government believes incite violence, according to the Jerusalem Municipality.

“This is a basic thing, to study your own narrative and your own history. The Israelis want to erase our culture, our narrative, by enforcing their curricula, or system of education.” Mr. Jibril, from the Palestinian Ministry of Education, said.

Parents like Yaser Alyan, a resident of the Arab suburb of Beit Safafa in southern Jerusalem, face a tough decision: Should their school-age children learn the Palestinian Authority curriculum to reinforce their national identity as Palestinians, or the Israeli one to ensure them access to Israeli universities and job prospects in the Israeli world?

Students at these Arabic-language schools where both curricula are offered have the advantage of an either-or option of what exam they choose to take in their last year of attendance. They cannot take both, but if they learn the Israeli curriculum they can take the Israeli bagrut matriculation exam instead of the Palestinian tawjihi matriculation exam. At the beginning of the school year in October the Jerusalem Municipality offered a financial incentive to Palestinian schools in East Jerusalem to introduce the Israeli curriculum for just this reason. The incentive of $550 per student choosing the Israeli curriculum was accepted by four schools out of 185 in East Jerusalem.

“Offering the bagrut is not a political issue, it’s an education issue. It’s a humanitarian duty, a religious duty. It’s about quality of life, offering new horizons in education,” Mr. Koren, an advisor to Jerusalem’s mayor Nir Barkat, said.

Palestinian students can apply to study at Israeli universities if they pass the tawjihi but must study an additional year before entering university to show they have adequate Hebrew language skills. By taking and passing the Israeli bagrut, they can bypass this.

Children such as those of Mr. Abdul-Karim Lafi, the director of the parents association in East Jerusalem, are admittedly at a disadvantage if they pursue a Palestinian education as degrees from Palestinian universities are not recognized in Israel. Not having adequate Hebrew skills or a recognized education by the state puts them at a disadvantage for finding employment and earning a good salary.

Chris Gunness, a spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which runs several schools in East Jersusalem, said inequalities between the schools there were vast.

Mr. Gunness explained how Palestinian schools, which lack the same amount of funding as Israeli schools, are overcrowded and run sometimes from rented houses lacking in specialized rooms such as science labs for students.

The vast differences in educational facilities, its politicization with the offering of two curricula — with one not being recognized by the Israeli government — lead parents such as Mr. Lafi to feel Israeli authorities “don’t only want to occupy the land, they want to occupy the minds of the people — like a brainwashing,” he said.