A fence too far
During the new school year, 3,655 Jerusalem pupils will find themselves on the wrong side of the Jerusalem security envelope stretch of the separation fence. Every morning, they and some of their teachers will have to cross through one of 11 gated checkpoints to get to school. About 55,000 city residents now live beyond the segment of fence currently under constructed, which will leave a considerable portion of city land outside the barrier.
Against this backdrop, the Jerusalem municipality has faced a serious challenge in recent months of providing thousands of residents with the services they are entitled to while preserving the delicate fabric of Arab-Jewish life in a city divided by a fence.
On the eve of the new school year, the municipality has outlined the needs and demands of pupils who live in neighborhoods beyond the fence, in an attempt to provide solutions for all of them before the start of classes.
The municipality's investigation reveals that private schools in East Jerusalem are at risk of closure, because most of their teachers carry orange, Palestinian identity cards and live on the other side of the fence. A problem is also expected in state schools in the eastern part of the city because most of their teachers, who carry blue, Israeli identity cards, also live on the other side of the fence. Completion of the fence will make it difficult for them to get to work, and their chronic tardiness may affect the stability of the school system.
To address these problems, the municipality is examining granting these teachers entry passes to ease their travel to school. If private schools close, an unknown portion of their 12,000 pupils will transfer to city schools. Migration of families to within the city limits is also expected to increase enrollment at city schools.
In response, the municipality is planning to build new schools beyond the fence and to expand existing schools in these areas. Another option under investigation is having two class sessions in the same school, as is already done in East Jerusalem schools with insufficient classroom space. But conditions of this sort are likely to increase tension and turmoil on the part of parents and neighborhood leaders.
To avoid delays at checkpoints, the municipality has decided to create a special bus route for children going to school called, "The green line." Unlike with other bus services, children will not be forced to get off the bus at checkpoints. The municipality also intends to hold classroom discussions on the personal price that city residents will be paying to allow the construction of the separation fence.
"The erection of the Jerusalem security envelope has a variety of repercussions, including far-reaching societal implications," says Yehudit Shalvi, deputy director of the Jerusalem Municipality yesterday. Shalvi, who once headed the city's education authority, adds, "I consider the subjects of current events in general, and human relations in particular, to be significant aspects of the educational curriculum. The construction of a wall in the heart of Jerusalem is no trivial thing, and it is relevant to every resident in the western and eastern city, as a factor that will influence the face of the city. The wall, first and foremost, provides security. But it also poses a risk of insularism, blockage and a hardening of the heart."
In the classroom discussions, teachers and pupils will be asked to address the question of whether it is the fence or rather other factors that actually separate the city's residents. Another topic will be the need to open windows to the public that lives on the other side of the fence. "A room without a window - a city enveloped by a wall. This might be a metaphor or the hallmark of an insular culture, an arrogant culture that presumes that it has a monopoly on truth and knowledge," says Shalvi.
The municipality promised yesterday to consider the needs of all its citizens, including those who live beyond the fence. It is now waiting for a budget from the government to make this possible. According to the plan, the city will receive NIS 8 million for the coming school year and another NIS 14 million next year. The government has yet to release the funds which would make it possible for the city to ease the burden on residents beyond the fence and provide them with basic services like street cleaning and waste disposal, and to erect new community centers, schools and public facilities to replace those that they will no longer be able to reach.