Bennett Reveals Plan for 'United Jerusalem' Year in Israeli Schools

Some Israeli lawmakers criticize move, with one Joint Arab List lawmaker accusing the education minister of ignoring the suffering of the Palestinian people.

Jews wave Israeli flags outside the Old City's Damascus Gate as they partake in the so-called 'march of the flags' to celebrate Jerusalem Day in 2012.
Emil Salman

Education Minister Naftali Bennett announced on Monday that the next school year will celebrate “united Jerusalem,” to mark 50 years since the capture of East Jerusalem during the Six-Day War. Critics accused Bennett of trying to brainwash students and turning schools into branches of his own right-wing party.

Ministry officials, meanwhile, said they saw “great importance in increasing students’ affinity to the city, its history and heritage.” The ministry is planning to increase the number of student excursions to the city and its landmarks, including the Old City, the Knesset and the Supreme Court, as well as to war and commemoration sites.

The new program will be officially launched with a host of events and activities on Jerusalem Day (May 17).

The ministry has not finalized its plans and no details were given regarding lesson plans or how the plan would be treated in different communities. It was unclear, for example, how the topic would be delivered in Israeli-Arab schools.

MK Yousef Jabareen (Joint Arab List) criticized the plan. “East Jerusalem is occupied territory and no country in the world recognizes Israel’s annexation of it,” he said. “Bennett is using the Education Ministry as a tool for brainwashing and new political socialization, based on ignoring the suffering of the Palestinian people and a denial of its narrative. He continues to impose the narratives of Habayit Hayehudi and his colonialist ideology on the education system.”

Education Minister Naftali Bennett speaking at a meeting, February 16, 2016.
Moti Milrod

The program seems a particularly explosive choice given the current terror wave affecting the capital. Shin Bet security services figures recently revealed that 16 percent of terror attacks since last October (about 35 incidents) had taken place in Jerusalem.

Education Ministry officials said that as part of the plan, the issue of Jerusalem would be dealt with in greater depth. The plan will be tailored to all ages and will deal with the city’s history, population, heritage and historical sites, they said. These topics will be spread throughout the curriculum during the school year.

The plan will incorporate topics from existing materials in subjects such as history, language, geography, civics, literature, Bible and Land of Israel studies, while also providing new lesson plans. The ministry will encourage different institutions to develop models for teaching topics related to Jerusalem, in accordance with each school’s worldview.

At a Habayit Hayehudi faction meeting, Bennett said, “In honor of the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Jerusalem, we’ll devote next year [starting September] to our united capital. Our history began in Jerusalem, from Mount Moriah and the binding of Isaac, to the kingdom of King David. Our mission is to raise a new generation that loves Jerusalem – children who are excited to walk its streets, who feel committed to it and proud of it, who feel they are a link in the Jewish chain that never stopped praying for a return to Jerusalem under God’s mercy.”

Some parents have expressed reservations about the plan. Paz Cohen, head of Jerusalem’s parents’ committee, said, “On the face of it, the program sounds great. It’s important to learn about the city and its history, and the connection of the Jewish people to this land – as well as bringing children from all over the country to the city. However, the plan’s title [The Year of a United Jerusalem] and the way it was presented exclude some of the people living in Israel: it will deepen the growing rift between Jews and Arabs. The unity of Jerusalem must be expressed as an allocation of resources to all parts of the united city. The government’s neglect of infrastructure and education in East Jerusalem for almost 50 years is an issue that will haunt us for years.”

MK Esawi Freige (Meretz) accused the education minister of ignoring the reality in the capital. “Bennett has switched from education to ultra-nationalism to science fiction. Fifty years of occupation have not united the city but weakened it, turning it into a powder keg that ignites anew every day. If Bennett wants to teach students about Jerusalem, he can start with the institutional discrimination against nearly 40 percent of the city’s population, about revoked residency and the absence of infrastructure in East Jerusalem. The city is not united but consists of two totally different worlds, with the government doing all it can to separate them and discriminate between them.”

The Peace Now movement said Bennett’s decision “turns schools into branches of Habayit Hayehudi, in which teachers and pupils are compelled to learn and absorb controversial right-wing messages.”

In the coming year, it added, Peace Now aims to prepare information pages for students, containing real facts about Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, noting that no peace agreement is possible without a compromise over the city.

MK Stav Shaffir (Zionist Union) pointed out Bennett’s error in saying that “our history began in Jerusalem.” She posted on her Facebook page that the Bible says this actually happened at Mount Sinai. “This is no coincidence. This nation’s strength lies in the values that shaped it. Its power lies in its striving for a promised land which is not just a location but, mainly, an ideal,” she wrote.