Letter Shows Gulf in Funding for East, West J'lem Students

As far as education is concerned, East Jerusalem falls behind Tel Aviv and western part of the capital. A letter by the Jerusalem municipality legal adviser states Israeli students attending Arab schools in East Jerusalem get just over half the budget enjoyed by their cross-town peers.

According to the letter sent by Yossi Havilio to deputy mayor Yose (Peppe) Alalo (Meretz), official data he received states the municipality's operational spending in West Jerusalem stands at NIS 408 per elementary school pupil per year, while in East Jerusalem the municipality spends just NIS 214 per pupil per year. The information applies to official and/or municipal schools. The operational budget is meant to cover water, phone, electricity and other day-to-day expenses.

Havilio noted significant discrepancies in kindergartens, high schools and special needs schools. According to information from the municipal education administration, the sum allocated per pupil in East Jerusalem is just NIS 140 per year, but the city's accounting department noted this does not include an additional NIS 74 per pupil per year.

The data was calculated after the municipality increased East Jerusalem school budgets by NIS 1 million. Havilio warned in his letter the budget gaps raise concerns of discrimination and infringement of the right to equality, "a basic principle in the State of Israel and in Israeli law," and noted it might not withstand a legal challenge.

Havilio stressed the economic gaps have been in place for many years, and that the matter was brought up by the education department head during the last budget deliberations at city hall.

He rejected the claim the municipality was spending vast sums to rent buildings for schools in the east of the city, while the state is sponsoring the construction of new schools in the west. He wrote that this was irrelevant, since both the state and the municipality are obliged to provide housing for official educational institutions.

East Jerusalem has long suffered from a shortage of classrooms, and thousands of children are forced to study in cramped conditions, while others find themselves forced into private schools, including ones run by the Waqf Muslim religious trust.

A petition by the community administration for the development of Beit Hanina nine years ago prompted the Supreme Court to instruct the state to build 245 new classrooms in East Jerusalem.

The Education Ministry at the time presented plans to build 400 new classrooms over four years, but four years later the court said the authorities failed to honor the commitment.

Alalo said Havilio's letter clearly showed discrimination against East Jerusalem. He added Mayor Nir Barkat personally committed to him to work on changing that situation.

A Jerusalem City Hall spokesman said in response that the legal adviser was "ignoring the enormous investment by city hall in the education system in the east of the city, and presenting a slanted picture that does not reflect the great efforts made by city hall on this front. In recent years, the East Jerusalem education budget was increased by 110 percent. The schools in the east of the city don't use the Israeli curriculum and therefore have different needs."