Hundreds of Children Still at Home One Week After Israel Closed Hamas-linked East Jerusalem School

Principal of al-Nukhba School says he doesn't know why Israel's Education Ministry said the institution is affiliated with Hamas.

The Al-Nukbha school in East Jerusalem.
The Al-Nukbha school in East Jerusalem. Emil Salman

Nearly a week after the Education Ministry closed an Arab school in East Jerusalem, on the grounds that it was established by Hamas and taught an anti-Israel curriculum, parents said their children are still without a school placement.

The head of the school, Luay Jamal Bkirat, said he still does not know why the ministry claims the private elementary school, located in Sur Baher, is affiliated with Hamas.

On Thursday, Feb. 23, the Education Ministry announced a closure order against al-Nukhba, which opened its doors at the start of the 2016-17 school year. According to Jamal Bkirat, the school is recognized by the Israeli authorities and has about 240 students.

Considered prestigious — al-Nukhba means “the elite” in Arabic — the school’s curriculum emphasizes the study of science and the English and Hebrew languages. Hebrew instruction begins in the second grade, earlier than in most of the city’s Arab elementary schools.

The school’s founders say they have been trying since the beginning of the school year to obtain a permanent license from the Education Ministry, and note that a temporary license was issued in September.

Jamal Bkirat said he had been told the licensing process was advancing. Two Education Ministry inspectors visited the school a number of times on various occasions, he said. They examined the textbooks that were being used and the school’s accounts, and gave their approval for the continuation of the licensing procedure, according to the head of the school.

Three months ago, however, the school received a letter from the Education Ministry ordering its closure and citing the receipt of “official intelligence” according to which al-Nukhba planned to teach Hamas ideology.

The school appealed the order to the Jerusalem District Court and then to the Supreme Court, both of which upheld the closure.

The judges said the Education Ministry had the right to close the school because it had not been issued a permanent license. They also noted that the ministry had promised to place all of the students in nearby schools.

Jamal Bkirat was detained for questioning in the course of the closure before being released. In a press release, the Education Ministry said the school “was founded and run by Hamas organizations.”

Jamal Bkirat has never been arrested or investigated for security offenses. He taught and coached soccer for 16 years in an Education Ministry school, before opening al-Nukhba. Most of the school’s teachers taught previously in official schools. Jamal Bkirat said the ministry presented no evidence to support its claims of a Hamas connection, only generalized claims.

Parents and the local and city parents committees say most of the children have yet to be placed in other schools.

Classes were held in the street outside the school on Sunday, in protest of the closure.

In a separate case, an Arab school in the northern Jerusalem neighborhood of Kafr Aqab, located beyond the separation barrier but still within city limits, could be closed at any time after the Education Ministry halted its funding.

The school is considered to be the largest in Israel with some 3,500 students, including 300 who are studying toward an Israeli matriculation certificate, or bagrut.

The Education Ministry halted the transfer of funds to the school after Israel’s registrar of nonprofit organizations withdrew the school’s certificate of proper management.

The principal, Samih Abu-Rumileh, said the problem began when the Education Ministry did not transfer funds and the school was forced to raise funds from businessmen in the Palestinian Authority, and this caused problems in accounting for the money.

The Jerusalem municipality said the school is private and the Education Ministry’s decision was approved by the Supreme Court, but the city has prepared to provide an immediate solution for all the 153 students of the school in other schools in the neighborhood, as well as by providing transportation to other official schools. The city said it would continue to make every effort to reduce the damage to students.

The Education Ministry said Jerusalem is prepared to immediately accept all the 150 students in the school. The ministry said it closed the school immediately after it received information from security authorities, which was approved by both the District Court and Supreme Court.