Hebrew U. to Offer Preparatory Course for East Jerusalem Palestinians

Higher education funding panel expected to approve fist class for Palestinians who passed the PA's matriculation exams, rather than the Israeli exams.

Nir Kafri

The funding committee of the Council for Higher Education in Israel is expected to decide Wednesday to approve the establishment of a Hebrew University preparatory program for Palestinians from East Jerusalem.

The first class will contain 50 students, but the plan is to expand the program. The program, for Palestinians who have passed the Palestinian Authority’s matriculation exams rather than the Israeli exams, is a response to the great demand by graduates of East Jerusalem high schools to attend Israeli academic institutions. For example, Hadassah Academic College, which has been running such a program for 12 years, receives between 800 and 1,000 applications each year, from which it accepts 50 applicants. The college is now seeking new premises so it can expand the program.

Talks between the council and the university, which began about a year ago, were expedited following approval of a program to improve the lives of East Jerusalem residents, which included funding of 200 million shekels (about $51 million). The program was approved in late June last year, a few days before the murder of Mohammed Abu Kdeir and the outbreak of violent protests in East Jerusalem.

Two million shekels were given to the council to fund the establishment of the preparatory program.

“People who can afford it go to university in Europe or the United States, people who have less go to Eastern Europe or Russia, and the rest go to Arab countries or the PA and from there they come back with degrees the acceptance of which is problematic in Israel, without Hebrew and without preparation for the relevant tests so they can practice their profession in Israel,” an official involved in the program’s establishment said.

“The Palestinian matriculation certificate is very reliable and those who receive high grades can be considered good students, but they have no Hebrew at all and the study method is by rote and not study that suits academic work. We therefore understood that to facilitate entry to the academic world we had to do something to expand the preparatory program,” said Merav Shaviv, deputy director of planning and policy at the Council for Higher Education in Israel.

Haaretz recently reported an increase in the number of students from East Jerusalem who prefer to take Israeli matriculation exams. The Jerusalem municipality says that figure has risen by 60 percent in the past two years. However, this figure still represents only 5 percent of the graduates in a given year.

After the 1967 Six-Day War, the education system in East Jerusalem remained connected to the Palestinian system in the West Bank. Following construction of the separation barrier between Jerusalem and the West Bank some 10 years ago, travel between Jerusalem and universities in the West Bank became more difficult and the demand rose for places in Israeli institutions, as well as a demand in West Bank institutions for a matriculation exam in the Hebrew language. However, most Israeli institutions do not recognize the Palestinian certificate and in any case the level of Hebrew literacy currently makes it impossible for them to study at Israeli institutions.

There are 65 Palestinian students currently studying in the Hebrew University’s existing preparatory program, but that program was designed for new immigrants and the tuition is very expensive – over 30,000 shekels a year. The new program will be funded by the Council for Higher Education.

“Jerusalem is blessed with many young talented Arabs who are seeking to become integrated into quality employment We must find the opportunity to assist them and bridge existing gaps to take advantage of this great potential,” said the head of the municipality’s education department, Moshe Tur-Paz.