Cabinet Approves Plan to Expand Israeli Curriculum in Arab East Jerusalem Schools

The cabinet also approved a plan to build a cable car to the Western Wall and a series of other projects in the city

East Jerusalem children on their way to school.
Olivier Fitoussi

The cabinet on Sunday approved a plan to financially induce Arab East Jerusalem schools to switch from the Palestinian curriculum to the Israeli one, as proposed by Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage Minister Zeev Elkin.

“The purpose of this five-year plan is to improve the quality of education in East Jerusalem, with an emphasis on encouraging the study of the Israeli curriculum in the schools,” the Education Ministry statement said. “This is part of an effort to improve the quality of life and the environment in the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem, and to enhance the ability of East Jerusalem residents to integrate into the Israeli economy and society, and thus strengthen the economic and social resilience of the entire capital.”

The cabinet, which convened in the Western Wall Tunnels to mark Jerusalem Day, also approved a plan to build a cable car to the Western Wall and a series of other projects in Jerusalem.

The cable car project, which has been pushed aggressively over the past two years by the Jerusalem municipality and Jerusalem Development Authority, will pass sensitive sites, including the Old City and Temple Mount. The first stage involves building two stations, the first at the historic train station at the end of Emek Refaim Street, the second near the Old City’s Dung Gate, at the entrance to the City of David and a short walk from the Western Wall.

The cabinet agreed to allocate 15 million shekels ($4.2 million) from the Tourism Ministry’s budget to plan the project, which would make the Old City more accessible to tourists and likely be a new tourist attraction itself, offering an overhead view of the Old City and its surroundings. The project, which has been discussed for years, hit a snag two years ago when Safege, a French company slated to play a key role in its planning, dropped out after the French treasury and Foreign Ministry warned the company of the diplomatic consequences. 

The East Jerusalem education plan’s goals include a gradual increase in the number of first grades that will begin studying the Israeli curriculum, with an emphasis on English and math, over the next five years. Fifteen new classes are to be added during the first year, 18 in the second, 21 in the third, 24 in the fourth year, and 27 in the fifth.

Another goal is to increase the ratio of East Jerusalem students who earn an Israeli matriculation (bagrut) certificate from 12 percent to 26 percent of those studying the Israeli curriculum in 12th grade, and to increase the percentage of those earning a technological certificate from 11 percent to 33 percent. The plan also seeks to reduce the dropout rate among 9th to 12th graders from 28 percent to 25.5 percent over the five years.

A source involved in the plan in the Education Ministry said, “The Israeli curriculum and the Israeli bagrut is a choice, it’s not required. Anyone who isn’t interested won’t join up. Whoever does join the Israeli curriculum, whether it’s an elementary school or a high school, will get economic incentives like extra teaching hours and curricular hours, an educational envelope, without undermining what was already there. Whoever was teaching the Palestinian curriculum and received X amount of funding will continue to receive it, with the additional budget that will be allocated to the Israeli curriculum.”

Bennett said, “The time has come for East Jerusalem to also study the Israeli curriculum from first grade. Jerusalem needs to be united in deeds, not in words. The more intensely the Israeli curriculum is studied, the more we can continue to strengthen the East Jerusalem education system, because that’s how you build a future.”

Elkin added, “We are bringing to the government today a series of significant decisions for the benefit of Jerusalem residents. One of them is a dramatic decision in the realm of education in East Jerusalem, which will influence the future of the youth in Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods and their integration into Israeli society in the long term.

“If today some 7 percent of [Arab] first-graders study the Israeli curriculum, we’ve set as a goal that in five years, 36 percent will study the Israeli curriculum. The plan also sets out to double the number of those who earn an Israeli bagrut certificate. I believe that sovereignty equals governance and responsibility, and it has to be expressed in the realm of education,” he said.

As part of this effort, an inter-ministerial committee will be set up to present a work plan within 30 days.

The cabinet also approved a 50 million shekel project to build an elevator between the Old City’s Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall plaza. The elevator would make passage between the quarter and the Wall, now linked by a steep flight of stairs, accessible to the elderly and disabled.

The project includes digging a 65-meter tunnel for pedestrians between the elevator exit and the plaza, and building an entrance hall and a strip of stores. According to the plan, in the distant future the fast train from Tel Aviv will stop at a subterranean station beneath the Western Wall and be linked to the entrance hall.

The cabinet further approved a plan to encourage government workers to move to Jerusalem, where a residential enclave would be built for them. According to data from the Civil Service Commission, less than half of the 18,000 civil servants working in the capital are residents of it.  

Also green-lighted was a plan to treat the waste and improve the sewerage infrastructure of East Jerusalem neighborhoods, budgeted at 90 million shekels, with another 16 million shekels allocated to oversee and enforce regulations about building-waste disposal. The plan, drawn up by the Environmental Protection Ministry, with the Jerusalem and Heritage Ministry, the municipality, and Hagichon, the municipal water company, includes improving the infrastructure for collecting and removing household waste, building a new sewage pipeline, and rehabilitating areas by removing building waste.

In addition, the cabinet allocated 10 million shekels to the city to establish a clean-air district in the downtown area, where the entrance of polluting diesel vehicles will be restricted. Another 10 million shekels of Environment Ministry funds will go to subsidize the installation of hundreds of particle filters on local buses to reduce people’s inhalation of dangerous particles. The filters will be installed on the first 100 buses by the end of this year. Bus companies that operate in Jerusalem will also purchase 10 electric-powered buses that cost 4 million shekels with help from the Environment Ministry.