In August, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) released a report titled "Failed Grade: East Jerusalem's Failing Educational System." It's grim reading. It shows how Palestinian children are marginalized and deprived.
For tens of thousands of E. Jerusalem children, school began in late August. Inadequate educational services are provided. It's underfunded and substandard. Kids deserving better don't get it.
Unsuitable classrooms are provided. Some are in residential buildings. Thousands don't get the chance for school at all. Around 40% of others end up dropping out before graduating.
Education is supposed to be free. Many families have to pay tuition to unofficial learning institutions. Most can't afford it but do it anyway. Nearly 80% of the population is impoverished.
Intolerant conditions persisted for years. In 2012, the Jerusalem Educational Administration (MANHI) lists 88,845 E. Jerusalem children aged 6 - 18.
According to Jerusalem Municipality population registry figures, the city has 106,534 between those ages. Far reaching consequences result. Classroom capacity and new construction plans can't accommodate everyone needing education.
Conditions are contrary to Supreme Court directives. Numerous times over the past decade, the Ministry of Education and Jerusalem Municipality were ordered to provide free education for every Palestinian child.
They're permanent State of Israel residents. Israeli and international law mandate their right to free education. Thousands don't get it. City and education ministry officials know it. They promised to address discrepancies. Follow through wasn't forthcoming. It's not happening now.
At the same time, policy initiatives exacerbate the problem. East Jerusalem land is stolen. Residents are displaced. Settlement development is prioritized. Palestinians end up denied. Over a thousand needed classrooms aren't available. Construction plans are woefully inadequate.
Shortages are more severe considering the disparity between Municipality and education ministry population figures. Its size dictates resources allocated to accommodate it. As a result, thousands of kids are left out and cheated.
According to one assessment, 2,827 children from grades one through 12 don't attend school. It's based on MANHI figures. Municipality figures show over 20,000 school aged kids are denied. If five year olds are included, "numbers soar even higher."
Some families send their children to West Bank schools. They have no other choice. Data discrepancies leave many questions unanswered. More troubling is that authorities have no answers.
According to a 2009 state comptroller's report, over 1,000 needed classrooms aren't available. As of summer 2012, requirements exceed 1,100.
Over the past 12 years, hundreds of parents and concerned NGOs petitioned Israel's High Court for redress. They demand authorities honor the Compulsory Education Law. It mandates free education.
In 2001, the Court recognized that proper implementation of this law in E. Jerusalem has been obstructed by years of neglect. It ruled action be taken to construct enough classroom space. Follow through never happened. Petitioners again complained.
In February 2011, the High Court accepted ACRI's appeal. It demanded that the Jerusalem Municipality and Ministry of Education allow every child the right to register at an official school in his or her residential area.
Alternatively, they're to be given tuition reimbursement for a recognized unofficial school to attend. Justice Ayala Procaccia at the time said:
"The infringement on equality in education in East Jerusalem is not the fate of few. It is widespread and includes a significant portion of an entire population that is not accorded its rights by law and by virtue of Israeli constitutional values."
"The rate of action and the resources delegated to this cause indicate that in the coming years, chances are this difficult and complex issue will find only a partial solution."
The Court directed the State to create proper infrastructure within five years. All eligible students must be accommodated. Otherwise, the State would be liable for financial reimbursement. Judge Procaccia added:
The "creation of a special team of experts within the relevant authority to outline a program, set a timeframe and supervise its execution to ensure an appropriate response is given to the task of developing the official educational system in East Jerusalem to suit the needs of its residents in accordance with the operative directive inherent in this appeal."
In February 2012, the Jerusalem Municipality told ACRI that it established a general education forum. As a result, there's no need for a special team following the ruling.
Subsequent appeals for proper implementation of mandated policy brought little redress. A growing educational deficiency deepens.
From 2001 - 2012, only 314 additional E. Jerusalem classrooms were built. Only 33 were added during the most recent (2011 - 2012) school year.
Presently, 91 classrooms are under construction. Only six were completed for the beginning of the current school year. From now through around June 2013, another 37 are expected to be ready.
An additional 257 classrooms are in different planning stages: 51 preparing for construction; 122 being planned; and 84 awaiting land expropriation.
When completed, E. Jerusalem will have 348 more classrooms. If population figures don't increase, the shortfall will still exceed 750. Numerous neighborhoods are entirely left out. No plans loom to help them.
Overall, E. Jerusalem's education system is "substandard and overcrowded." Too few teachers and classrooms serve too many students. Thousands get left out because there's no space for them.
One school in A-Thori reflects conditions throughout E. Jerusalem. It's a boy's school. It's in an old residential building. It's substandard. Safety and hygiene conditions aren't addressed.
It was built to accommodate 300 students. Around 500 are crammed in. School density is "unbearable." Some classes are held on balconies.
Everything about this school is improper. It's not a proper learning environment. There's no heat in winter or air conditioning in summer. Too few toilets exist. There's no computer lab or parking for visitors.
Neighborhood residents complained. No one listened. Conditions remain unconducive to learning and in some respects unsafe.
Acute shortages exist for pre-schoolers. Needed kindergarten space is lacking. Many parents wanting their children to attend have nowhere to send them.
Pre-school importance is acknowledged. Lacking it constitutes a serious deficiency.
Instead of schools, Israel prioritizes settlement expansions, Jews-only commercial development, and other construction excluding Arabs. Racism and discrimination are institutionalized. Everyone not Jewish is marginalized. They're also persecuted.
For Palestinian parents wanting good schools for their children, many are entirely deprived. Thousands have nowhere to go, and no one to turn to for help.
ACRI worked jointly with Ir Amim. It's a progressive NGO. It focuses on Palestinian issues. Together they reported on E. Jerusalem's dire state. ACRI published the report.
Ir Amim's Director of Policy and Advocacy, Oshrat Maimon, said:
"The right to education is more than a budget line or a resource handed down by the Municipality. It is a right that constitutes the very basis of a community and the future of its children."
"The authorities have deserted the right to education of tens of thousand of students in East Jerusalem, advancing a policy whereby one community is promoted at the expense of another community."
ACRI's Nisreen Alyan added:
"The Jerusalem Municipality and the Education Ministry must urgently enhance their investment in education in East Jerusalem."
"The High Court has given them five years to bridge the gap in classrooms and if this is not done, the authorities will be obliged to pay tuition instead of the parents."
"A third of the timeframe provided by the court has passed, and at this rate we will be obliged to go back to the courts."
A Final Comment
Deficiencies can be rectified. At issue is doing it. Promises made are broken. Palestinian children are hugely deprived.
They need hundreds of unavailable classrooms, more teachers, educational materials, and a proper learning environment. What's in place is woefully inadequate, substandard, and in some cases unsafe.
Israeli authorities largely ignore Palestinian needs. They prioritize stealing their land for Jewish development. They're dispossessed and displaced in large numbers.
Education is a fundamental right. It's a societal bedrock. The futures of Palestinian children depend on it. It's much more than about classroom space. It's about teaching, learning, achievement, and preparation for later in life.
Longstanding Israeli policies trample on basic Palestinian rights. Substandard education deprives one generation after another. Responsible officials don't care. Their attitude reflects neglect and indifference.
Jerusalem's mayor, Municipality, and Ministry of Education bear full responsibility "to ensure an appropriate education for" East Jerusalem's children. Their report card gives them a "Failed Grade."
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at email@example.com.
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