Israelization of education: licences of East Jerusalem schools revoked in bid to impose Israeli curriculum on Palestinians 

Palestinian school children (Issam Rimawi - Anadolu Agency)

The New Arab  /  August 31, 2022

Israel’s minister of education has revoked the licenses of six schools in Jerusalem, issuing them instead with temporary, one-year licences, under claims that the schools had included “inciteful” material in their curriculums.

The decision was issued against five schools which are part of the Al-Iman Educational Foundation and one affiliated with the Ibrahimieh College.

The administrations of the six schools have been silent as to how they will deal with the decision, but have confirmed that their lawyers are following up on the case.

Observers warn that Israel’s authorities could cancel the temporary licences at any time and note that the targeted schools all receive funding from Israel’s Ministry of Education, which has put them at risk of continuous blackmail.

Israel: Controlling the narrative 

The Israeli ministry of education stated that it had seized books containing content which glorified prisoners and their armed struggle against the State of Israel.

They also complained that books had covered topics such as Israel’s withholding of treatment from patients and deliberate harming of medical staff, and accusations that Israel was responsible for the water crisis in the Palestinian territories and for killings, displacements and massacres.

Education Minister Shasha-Biton was quoted as saying: “Incitement against the State of Israel and IDF soldiers in children’s school textbooks is intolerable and will be dealt with severely”. All schools using textbooks that contain incitement, or hateful content which demonizes the Israeli state and its symbols will have their licences revoked, she said.

The ministry said that the “inflammatory” content had been found during an inspection by the ministry’s monitoring department for East Jerusalem schools.

The principals of the six schools were summoned to a hearing. At the end of the hearing, the ministry decided they would be deprived of the permanent licence and would be granted a conditional one-year licence in order for them to amend the content. They would not be reissued with permanent licences unless the amendments were carried out.  

The Israeli authorities presented two texts from the primary school textbook Civics and Society for the third grade of primary school, one of which dealt with the arrest by Israeli authorities of a Palestinian father, and the conversation which followed between his wife and son, which highlighted and humanized the issue of the Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons.

The second text touched on the difficulties suffered by the Palestinian medical sector, including the obstacles and harassment that Israel’s authorities subject Palestinian medical staff during their work. Likewise, a year five science textbook touched on the water crisis which Palestinians suffer from due to Israel’s control over the vast majority of the water sources. A year nine social sciences textbook covered the Palestinian Nakba in 1948 and the accompanying ethnic cleansing, deportations and massacres perpetrated by Jewish gangs.

Paying the price

Activist Mohammed Safadi said to Al-Araby al-JadeedThe New Arab’s Arabic-language sister publication: “Some are saying the decision to revoke the licences of these schools is because of their refusal to hold the Israeli Bagrut examination (General Secondary).

However, genuine integrity would be refusing to ask Israel for a licence in the first place and refusing to comply with the conditions attached to it, as Dar Al Tifl school did. But applying for a licence in order to get funding without being ready to pay the price, this, in reality, is deceiving themselves, and soon those institutions will fall under the Israeli system, which has already started happening”.

Safadi added: “Schools affiliated with overseas institutions, which have funding from abroad, luxurious facilities and charge high fees, which receive regular logistical support from Palestinian, Arab and foreign foundations, have no justification for requesting a license except them wanting more money and benefits.

“Schools which are financially secure, like the Ibrahimieh schools, St. George’s, Freire, Rosary Sister’s High, Sisters of Charity, Amira Basma, Terra Santa High, and others, made a mistake when they asked for a licence: now they’re paying the price. They should throw their licences in the face of the education ministry and the municipality if they really want to take an honourable position”.

He explained that “the poorer private schools with low tuition fees have some justification for selling out [to Israel] because if they don’t, they won’t be able to survive without demanding exorbitant fees from parents.

As for those schools which have refused to ask for a licence at all, they are fighting to survive in extremely difficult circumstances, and need support at a local, governmental, Palestinian, Arab and international level to continue to survive, and maintain the quality of education they provide”.

Educational catastrophe in Jerusalem

Rasem Obeidat, a political analyst who follows education in Jerusalem, said: “There are several educational categories in Jerusalem: the municipal schools, the governmental schools, the private and independent schools, the schools affiliated to the Palestinian ministry of education, the semi-official schools (run by private contractors), and the UNRWA schools.

“However, we lack accurate numbers on the number of students in each school, and information on which curriculum is taught, whether the Palestinian curriculum, or a distorted or abridged version of the Palestinian one, or an Israeli curriculum, and whether it is complete or partial.”

Obeidat adds: “The Palestinian education ministry doesn’t have this information, nor the politicians, nor the parents’ committee unions. The Israelis, however, have 15 specialist committees out of 17 altogether, focusing on the Arab residents of Jerusalem.

“Heading these are former security officials. All of them have a strategy on how to totally remove the Palestinian curriculum and complete the Israelization of education in the city. Some of us, because of our powerlessness, rely on the school principals and teachers to safeguard students’ education and consciousness, but in reality, this isn’t enough.”

Obeidat explains: “Because of the Israeli department of education’s monitoring of the schools and specific head-teachers in them – especially those who are newly appointed – [they end up] working in line with Israel’s plan. For teachers, their priority is their salary. The danger isn’t just coming from the Israelization of the curriculum, but from some schools which are supposedly private, and which should be a bastion for the Palestinian curriculum and identity.”

Activist Anan Najib believes the solution to the revoking of the licences is for the Union of Parents’ Committees to rally and strongly reject the Israelization of the schools, stressing that “this demands efforts to unified between all sides, public and official, and that a detailed plan of action is agreed, and the parents’ committees should be the project guarantors and the ones who will lead on carrying it out”.

In May 2018, the Israeli government adopted a five-year plan called: “Reducing Social and Economic Gaps and Economic Development in East Jerusalem”, which had a budget of around 2.1 billion Israeli shekels. The plan dealt with six sectors: education and higher education, the economy and workforce, transportation, improving services provided and quality of life and health, and real estate registration.

According to a report prepared by the Israeli non-profit organization “Ir Amim”, over 43 percent of the total budget allocated to education (which was around 193 million shekels), was explicitly directed to institutions which had adopted the Israeli curriculum. In other education budget items even where the condition didn’t appear explicitly, the government stressed that support would not be directed to institutions that teach the Palestinian curriculum.