Photo Credit: Jamal Awad/Flash90
Israeli Arab students in the Noreen school, in Jerusalem’s Beit Hanina neighborhood, January 17, 2023.

MK Amit Halevi (Likud), Chair of the Knesset Education, Culture, and Sports Committee’s Subcommittee on Curricula in Eastern Jerusalem and their Supervision, on Sunday, said that “20,000 students in eastern Jerusalem learn according to the Palestinian Authority curriculum, and it’s not a curriculum from Switzerland. It’s unacceptable that 20,000 students are being taught incitement within the State of Israel and are not subject to any supervision. That needs to change.”

The subcommittee convened on Sunday for its first meeting and heard a briefing on the school curricula in eastern Jerusalem. The subcommittee members were told that 20,000 students follow the Palestinian Authority curriculum, and 55,000 the Israeli curriculum.

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The committee heard testimony from A., a former student who wore a face mask, fearing for his life: “I attended a school in eastern Jerusalem, which follows the Palestinian curriculum. When I started studying, I didn’t learn about the State of Israel. We learned about the Palestinians and that there is an occupation. We didn’t learn Hebrew, because we were told that the occupation was temporary and it wasn’t necessary. We were taught that we should hate Israel. From the 1st grade, we learned to hate Jews. From age 10, we learned that whoever goes to murder Jews will receive 72 virgins. Some of the teachers who taught me were terrorists who had been in prison in the past, and some of the students who studied with me are in prison today.”

Chair Halevi commented on the fact that A.’s face was covered, saying: “It’s a disgrace that a former student has to come here covered up and concealed. It’s a great shame for us. We as a state accept that he can’t be protected.” 

MK Ahmad Tibi (Hadash-Ta’al) noted that “there is a shortage of 3,517 classrooms in eastern Jerusalem, and the dropout rate there is very high. Despite all the difficulties, most of the students complete a tawjihi (the PA matriculation certificate) and are subsequently admitted into Al-Quds University. Their success rate in the health ministry’s medical licensing exam is 99%.”

Al-Quds University, with its main campus in Abu Dis and additional campuses in al-Bireh, Hebron, and Jerusalem, used to have an active relationship with Brandeis University in Massachusetts, which ended in 2013 over Arab students’ Nazi salutes which the school refused to condemn.

Lara Mubariki, head of the Jerusalem Municipality’s Arab Education Department, told the subcommittee: “120,000 students study in eastern Jerusalem, of whom 20,000 attend private institutions such as UNRWA institutions, and they have no connection to the Israeli establishment. I can’t even say where they’re located. 55,000 students attend the official institutions, with the Israeli curriculum, under state supervision. Sixty percent of them go on to study at Hebrew University and the Hadassah and Azrieli colleges. Today, there are more and more students who want to register in schools with the Israeli curriculum, but there’s a physical lack of buildings. The people on the ground are eager and willing.”

MK Moshe Turpaz (Yesh Atid) said: “Ten years ago, only two schools in eastern Jerusalem––Beit Safafa and Atarot––prepared their students for an Israeli matriculation certificate. Today the figure stands at 20%. It has multiplied by a factor of 20 in a decade. This was not done by coercion but by their own choice. If the committee encourages this, most of the schools in eastern Jerusalem will be glad to learn for an Israeli matriculation certificate and integrate properly into society.”

“In education, processes take more time.” MK Turpaz added, “The textbooks only have a 3% effect on the student. All the rest of the influence comes from family, friends, and the teacher. If the teacher wants to teach incitement content, he’ll incite even if the textbook is censored.”

Natan Shor, the Jerusalem Municipality official in charge of censorship of textbooks, explained that the municipality funds the editing and printing of textbooks that are being studied in east Jerusalem. “In the 11th and 12th grades, we don’t give textbooks in east Jerusalem, but rather the Palestinian Authority does. These are the same books that are studied in Gaza, Shechem, and Ramallah. The reason is that the books conform to the questions of the Palestinian matriculation exam, in which there are incitement materials. We are instructed to perform censorship on the textbooks only up to the 10th grade.”

Subcommittee Chair Halevi called this an “open wound,” saying that “we give free rein in 11th grade. Perhaps we should consider a 20% grade adjustment factor for those who are harmed. For the next debate, I am requesting to receive the text of the Palestinian matriculation exam.”

Liron Sfard of the Education Ministry’s legal department explained why the institutions in question were unsupervised: “Historical circumstances have led to a situation whereby there are educational institutions that aren’t supervised. This is a political issue, it is known, and it isn’t decided by the Ministry of Education. This is a directive of all the governments of Israel, not of one specific minister or another.”

MK Youssef Atauna (Hadash-Ta’al) was distinctly less pragmatic. He said: “This entire debate is unnecessary. [You’re] trying to use the curricula to control the emotions and consciousness of another nation. You should be asking what is the source of the hostility and the cycle of blood that exists, and that is the occupation, which has to end. No change in the curricula will distort this reality.”

Ah, well. Reality in the Middle East. One-third rage, two-thirds quicksand.

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.