The Struggle for the Nature of Education in East Jerusalem: The Palestinian Authority (PA) recently announced an increase in its activity to reinforce Palestinian nationalist education in east Jerusalem

The weekly PA government meeting authorized the

The weekly PA government meeting authorized the "national program" for supporting education in [east] Jerusalem (Facebook page of Rami Hamdallah, PA prime minister, and Wafa, May 29, 2018)

Sabri Saidam, PA minister of education, arrives at the graduation ceremony of the al-Asrar school. To his right is Samir Jibril, head of the education authority in the [Palestinian] Jerusalem district (Facebook page of the Augusta Victoria hospital, June 4, 2018).

Sabri Saidam, PA minister of education, arrives at the graduation ceremony of the al-Asrar school. To his right is Samir Jibril, head of the education authority in the [Palestinian] Jerusalem district (Facebook page of the Augusta Victoria hospital, June 4, 2018).

Overview

The PA recently announced it would intensify its activity in the education system in east Jerusalem schools.[1] The announcement came in response to reports in the Israeli media that the Israeli government was going to invest hundreds of millions of shekels in education in east Jerusalem to encourage a transition to the Israeli curriculum. Support for the PA education system in east Jerusalem is represented by the PA as “a national program,” and notes an effort must be made to advance it to cope with Israeli activity. As part of its activity the PA provides financial incentives for the teaching staff working in the education authority, scholarships and loans for students, and funds for various school projects.

  • The objective of the PA’s activity in east Jerusalem is to strengthen Palestinian nationalist education and struggle to prevent the Israeli curriculum from being taught in schools in east Jerusalem (where most of the students study the Palestinian curriculum). The campaign is being waged in various ways to send residents the message that Israel’s goal in introducing its curriculum into east Jerusalem schools is to erase Palestinian Arab identity, inculcate Palestinian students with the Israeli narrative and threaten Palestinian national identity.
  • On May 29, 2018, at its weekly meeting chaired by Rami Hamdallah, the Palestinian national consensus government authorized the implementation of the “national program” to support [Palestinian] education in east Jerusalem by allocating the necessary funds for educational advancement and development (Wafa, May 29, 2018). Proof of the importance given by the PA to promoting nationalist Palestinian education in east Jerusalem is the frequent visits of Sabri Saidam, PA minister of education, and of senior PA educational figures to east Jerusalem, without previous coordination with Israel. Note: On February 26, 2018, Sabri Saidam was detained by the Israeli police at the Hizma crossing and prevented from entering east Jerusalem. However, nevertheless he continued visiting east Jerusalem.
Sabri Saidam, PA minister of education (back row, fifth from left), during a visit to east Jerusalem, poses with employees of the Palestinian education administration in the [Palestinian] Jerusalem district, with the Temple Mount in the background (Facebook page of Sabri Saidam, May 30, 2018).    Sabri Saidam, PA minister of education (back row, fifth from left), during a visit to east Jerusalem, poses with employees of the Palestinian education administration in the [Palestinian] Jerusalem district, with the Temple Mount in the background (Facebook page of Sabri Saidam, May 30, 2018).
Sabri Saidam, PA minister of education (back row, fifth from left), during a visit to east Jerusalem, poses with employees of the Palestinian education administration in the [Palestinian] Jerusalem district, with the Temple Mount in the background (Facebook page of Sabri Saidam, May 30, 2018).
PA budget to support Palestinian education in east Jerusalem

According to the PA budget for 2017, 222 million shekels (about $65 million) were supposed to be allocated for educational projects in Jerusalem to support the “firm stance of the residents of east Jerusalem” (website of the PA treasury). At this stage the ITIC does not know how much the “national program” for education in Jerusalem was allocated at the May 29, 2018 meeting. In ITIC assessment, it will be hundreds of millions of shekels (no less that what was allocated last year). That would indicate that the PA ministry of education has sufficient financial resources to support a vigorous struggle against Israel in the field of education.

  • The leading figure in the PA struggle is Sabri Saidam, PA minister of education, who announced the practical measures his ministry is planning to take to support schools, teachers and students in order to strengthen Palestinian education in east Jerusalem. His most recent visit to east Jerusalem was on June 4, 2018, when he participated in the graduation ceremonies in the school that opened for sick children in the Augusta Victoria hospital in east Jerusalem (see below)
PA ministry of education projects in east Jerusalem
  • The PA’s ministry of education invests in projects it feels will promote Palestinian nationalist education in east Jerusalem, while stressing the ministry’s commitment to support east Jerusalem schools. On April 30, 2018, Sabri Saidam met with a delegation from the Palestinian Medical Education Initiative to discuss the completion of a program called ” the teacher as advisor,” which will be implemented in five schools in east Jerusalem during the next two years.
  • At the meeting Saidam noted the commitment of the ministry of education to support education in [east] Jerusalem with projects, such as the one mentioned above, to prevent negative occurrences such as student drop-out, child labor, violence and bullying. That is especially important, he said, in view of what he called “Israeli aggression against the educational sector in [east] Jerusalem.” He added that the Palestinian ministry of education seeks to extend the program to all the schools in [east] Jerusalem (website of the Palestinian ministry of education, April 30, 2018).
Israeli government decisions and the PA response
  • For Jerusalem Day, the government of Israel made a number of decisions as part of a two-billion shekel ($560 million) five-year plan for the development of east Jerusalem. According to reports, the plan, whose objective is to decrease the social and economic gaps between east and west Jerusalem, includes investment in education, employment, infrastructure and planning (Walla, May 13, 2018). The Israeli media reported that a substantial amount of the budget would be devoted to encouraging Palestinian schools in east Jerusalem to transition from the Palestinian curriculum to the Israeli curriculum. Several million shekels will be allocated to achieving that goal (Haaretz, May 14, 2018).
  • Sabri Saidam responded to the report immediately. On May 15, 2018 he announced a series of measures to support Palestinian education in [east] Jerusalem. They include the following (website of the Palestinian ministry of education, May 15, 2018):
    • Provision of Palestinian curriculum textbooks at no cost to east Jerusalem schools, including English textbooks.
    • Exemption from next year’s tuition for students from Jerusalem who want to study at the Palestine Technical University – Kadoorie in Tulkarm, or at one of its branches. Immediately following the announcement, the board of directors of the Palestinian Students Funds held a meeting chaired by the minister of education and decided to expand granting of loans to students and Jerusalemites and to raise the loan ceiling for each one by 10% (website of the Palestinian ministry of education, date, 2018)
    • Exemption from paying for [matriculation] examinations during the 2018-2019 school year, granted to students living in [east] Jerusalem.
    • 15% of scholarships and allotments will be given to students from [east] Jerusalem for studies abroad.
  • According to the ministry of education’s announcement, the steps are part of the measures and programs being implemented. It was also noted that the committee for protecting education in [east] Jerusalem, which is subordinate to the ministry of education, meets on a regular basis to monitor developments and determine when to intervene (website of the Palestinian ministry of education, May 15, 2018).
  • The following day, May 16, 2018, a meeting was held of the council for higher education, chaired by the minister of education. It issued a call for students studying for advanced degrees to conduct research into Israeli curriculums to expose the “incitement” the council claimed the curriculums contained. It also called on them to conduct research that would refute the Israeli claim that the Palestinian curriculums contained anti-Israeli incitement (website of the Palestinian ministry of education, May 16, 2018).
Visits of the PA minister of education to east Jerusalem

As part of reinforcing the connection between the PA and the educational institutions in east Jerusalem, Sabri Saidam, PA minister of education, customarily visits east Jerusalem to meet with members of the Palestinian education administration. He arrived in east Jerusalem illegally, without the necessary entrance permits. In the past he was warned by Israeli law-enforcement authorities, but has paid no attention to the warnings.

  • On May 30, 2018, Sabri Saidam arrived in east Jerusalem for a visit. He met with members of the Palestinian education authority in the [east] Jerusalem district. He posted pictures of the visit to his Facebook page, making sure they were photographed with the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock in the background (Facebook page of Sabri Saidam, May 30, 2018)
  • On June 4, 2018, a graduation ceremony was held at the al-Asrar school for young cancer and dialysis patients in the Augusta Victoria hospital in the Mt. of Olives in Jerusalem. The ceremony was held under the aegis and with the participation of Sabri Saidam, PA minister of education, and attended by other senior PA figures, among them Samir Jibril, head of the [Palestinian] education authority in the Jerusalem district, Adnan al-Husseini, governor of the Jerusalem district and Azzam al-Khatib, head of the waqf in the Jerusalem district (Facebook page of the Augusta Victoria hospital, June 4, 2018).

Sabri Saidam, PA minister of education, with students during a graduation ceremony (Facebook page of the Augusta Victoria hospital, June 4, 2018).
Sabri Saidam, PA minister of education, with students during a graduation
ceremony (Facebook page of the Augusta Victoria hospital, June 4, 2018).

Detention of Sabri Saidam, preventing him from entering east Jerusalem (February 26, 2018)

The PA ministry of education reported that the Israeli police had detained Sabri Saidam on February 26, 2018. According to the report, he was detained for an hour and then taken by the police to the Hizma crossing in east Jerusalem and warned not to enter Jerusalem again without previous coordination.

  • On February 26, 2018, Gilad Erdan, the Israeli minister of the internal security, prevented Sabri Saidam from visiting the Old City in east Jerusalem. He would have been accompanied by Rula Maa’yaa, the PA minister of tourism. The visit was prevented because of previously-obtained intelligence information from the Israel Police Force in Jerusalem (Ynet, February 26, 2018). The stated objective of Sabri Saidam’s visit was to participate in the ceremony inaugurating the first stage of the EU-funded restoration of the Terra Santa School. The ceremony was held as planned without his participation (Facebook page of the Terra Santa School, February 27, 2018; al-Quds, February 26, 2018).
  • The detention of Sabri Saidam and preventing him from entering east Jerusalem led to condemnation from the PA ministry of the education. An announcement from the Palestinian ministry of education said that Israel’s conduct was intended to damage Palestinian education in Jerusalem and force it to use Israel’s curriculum (Facebook page of the Palestinian ministry of education, June 4, 2018). The central committee of the parents of east Jerusalem students also issued an announcement, stating that the detention of Sabri Saidam by the Israeli police was an activity to “Judaize and Israelize” the Palestinian curriculum in east Jerusalem (Facebook page of Sabri Saidam, June 6, 2018).[2]

Condemnation of the detention of Sabri Saidam, issued by the central committee of the parents of east Jerusalem students (Facebook page of Sabri Saidam, June 6, 2018).
Condemnation of the detention of Sabri Saidam, issued
by the central committee of the parents of east Jerusalem
students (Facebook page of Sabri Saidam, June 6, 2018).

  • In response, Sabri Saidam wrote on his Facebook page thanking the central committee of the parents of east Jerusalem students for their announcement of support. He wrote the following: “Our campaign against the occupation is a campaign for freedom. Its result is one of two. Either we will or we will be defeated… Jerusalem flows in our veins towards independence…” (Facebook page of Sabri Saidam, June 4, 2018).

The response of Sabri Saidam to the announcement of the parents’ committee.

[1] For further information, see the February 5, 2018 bulletin "The Palestinian Authority, senior Palestinian religious leaders and local figures in east Jerusalem are waging a campaign to keep the Israeli curriculum out of east Jerusalem schools," and the March 11, 2018 bulletin "Sabri Saidam, the PA ministry of education continues waging his campaign to prevent the teaching of the Israeli curriculum in east Jerusalem schools."
[2] In ITIC assessment, behind the committee of the parents of east Jerusalem students are the PA and senior Palestinian religious figures in the PA and east Jerusalem. The committee is very active and supports the PA in its struggle against Israeli education. It has a Facebook page where it posts articles, notices and videos related to the campaign against the introduction of the Israeli curriculum.