Education in Palestine: the Vision and the Reality

Last week Palestinian human rights activist Mai Abu Moghli spoke of the significant gap between the vision and harsh realities of the educational system for schools in Palestine and life under Israeli occupation to UCLU Amnesty International Society and UCLU Friends of Palestine. Currently living and working in London, she is studying for her PhD in human rights education and is also working on research projects focusing on the improvement of education in Lebanon.

Under occupation

Life under occupation for the men, women and children does not only mean checkpoints and movement restrictions but also heavy restrictions on the accessibility and quality of their education system. Palestinians living in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, only gained control of their own educational system in 1994 with the creation of the Palestinian Authority and the Ministry of Education. Before this, education in these areas was criminalised and any attempts to rectify the impact of these restrictions during curfews (which could last up to 9 months) would result in participants being sent to jail.

The creation of the Ministry of Education was very important for Palestinians, as they gained control for the first time. They centralised the curriculum, developed their infrastructure, acquired funding and decreased gender inequalities in the enrolment system for schools. The Ministry still faces huge challenges. The access and quality of education still falls to the Israelis, meaning the fulfilment of their rights to education is far from complete.

Restriction of movement

The West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem are subject to 100s of checkpoints– 600 plus in the West Bank alone – hindering the movement of the population including school children. One extreme example in a village in the north West Bank, not only involves the children needing an education permit every 3 months but the opening of the village gates to schools falls entirely on the discretion of the Israeli guards, meaning children and teachers have to queue for hours. These restrictions cause psychological impact, and demotivate children who are living in constant fear.

Detentions

Another area affecting the accessibility and quality of Palestinian education are detentions. Israelis arrest, interrogate and detain 700 children every year, and since 2000, over 8000 children have been detained and prosecuted through Israeli military courts. Similarly, 183 children are currently in Israeli prisons (31 of these students are under 16).

When a child misses a certain number of days at school they have to repeat the year, creating a lack of enthusiasm, which leads to a high dropout rate. Those in prison have even less opportunity for a satisfactory education, with little to no facilities or resources. Those under Israeli control outside Gaza, while having access to a form of education, it is limited to Maths, Hebrew, English and Arabic, and in not following any recognisable curriculum leaves detained children unable to integrate back into the education system.

Violence

The areas under discussion are renowned for the violence and violations of human rights that the citizens are exposed to on a daily basis; the children are not exempt from this. The gated communities the school children have to pass through are guarded at check points by the Israeli army, subjecting them the volatile will of these men. This not only affects students’ ability to get to school, but also can limit access for teachers to get to school too, stopping any form of normal routine.

Even after 2005 when Israel withdrew all settlers from Gaza, 500,000 still remain illegally in Jerusalem. These groups are large and extremely violent — attacking school buses and children. With 400 in Hebron alone, they are shockingly protected by the Israeli army, which turns a blind eye to their aggression. This environment means students feel under constant threat on their journey to school, and while some parents insist on safety escorts, others are reluctant to send their children to school at all.

Restriction and Destruction of Resources

Not only is accessibility to education a problem in Palestine, but also the lack of resources that are available in the education system is staggering and remain at the disposal of the Israelis. The Israeli border control allows few supplies to get to schools, and what is valuable is being destroyed; 26 schools were demolished in 2006 alone, and 37 in Area C (an area of the West Bank excluded from Palestinian use after the area was divided on political grounds) are to be demolished with 183 still vulnerable. In 2002 all Ministry of Education files were destroyed. Resources for education are increasingly subject to Israeli will and this lack of availability hinders the quality of education, the building of schools and access to training and experts to improve teaching.

Areas of Ambiguity

There are still areas under dispute for control, where education once again suffers. Israel believes East Jerusalem to be part of Israel and therefore does not recognise rules of occupation. This means Palestinians are not citizens. They are not under the Palestinian authority curriculum, but the under that controlled by the Israelis and therefore are subjected to censorship against any reference to Palestinian identity, and they are refused financial support all the way to grade 12 if they don’t follow the Israeli curriculum.

Human Rights

International human right laws stipulate that parents have the right to choose their children’s education, and that it should be in their own language and religion. It further specifies that everyone has the right to education — including child detainees — and that any occupying power should comply with this precept. Occupation and increasing conflicts within these areas mean increasing violations of these human rights as leading powers become politicized and polarized.

School children in Palestine are subject to a subtle but substantial manipulation of their education in the attempt to reduce Palestinians to a mere existence exempt from the basic human rights of other nationalities. As Mai put it, education is a mechanism for freedom and so far has defended against this oppression. Education is the escape route for so many.

There is no solution to these infringements on education other than the end of the occupation. And while this sounds simple enough, for now worldwide awareness is the only viable solution.

Alice Schulz

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